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Tips for Cooking Dinners for Busy Families

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Life has a way of getting busier and busier. Here are some great tips for still cooking tasty meals for your family despite the loaded calendar.

image with sweet potato nachos and toppings

Sitting down to a delicious dinner together as a family is one of the highlights of our day. It is a great opportunity to catch up on each other’s days and discuss what lies ahead.

Plus cooking a nice dinner is almost always healthier and more economical than eating out. Not to mention the options are as endless as the options in the grocery store.

We are really busy, running small businesses, working a fulltime job and raising an amazing Little Dude. So I understand the feelings of trepidation when it comes to planning and cooking all of those meals every week.

But once you get in the habit of doing it, cooking meals for your family can be easy and fun. It is just a matter of getting started.

Recently I have embraced ordering groceries for pick-up. I can order the week’s food on my lunch break and pick it up after work.

Image of food with a heart and the saying the secret ingredient is always love overlaid on top.

Plus that way it is easy to shop the ads. I like to plan my menu around what is on sale in order to get the most bang for my buck.

I strive to share approachable family friendly meals here at Cooking With Carlee to help make sitting down to dinner as a family a bit more achievable. If you have some menu staples or tips you would like to share, I am always open to suggestions!

In the meantime, here are some tips to help get dinner on the table when life is busy. We have all been there and a little planning helps to minimize the stress.

Use your freezer

It turns out that making two casseroles doesn’t take that much more time than making one. So if you are making a freezer friendly meal tonight, make an extra and freeze it for later.

The best way to male this happen is to have some basic supplies on hand. You can use aluminum foil pans for the freezer meals or buy a few reasonably priced metal pans that you can use over and over.

Using glass pans is a little bit riskier. The temperature shock of frozen contents going into a hot oven can be a bit much for them.

Once your freezer meal is prepped, use some press and seal wrap to create a seal then cover it with aluminum foil or the pan’s lid for added protection.

Be sure to add a label somewhere with what is in the pan and what the cooking instructions are. You will like yourself a whole lot more later if you make it easy to know what to do.

Freezer graphic

If possible, pull the frozen meal out the night before and put it in the refrigerator to start thawing. Then pull it out of the refrigerator when you preheat the oven to take a little bit more of the chill off.

Add a few minutes to the cooking time to account for the colder starting temperature. Dinner will be ready with almost no effort or mess.

Buying items from the freezer section at the store can also be a great help. I always have several bags of frozen veggies and meal starters on hand.

That way in a pinch I always have something simple to help round out our meal with just a few minutes in the microwave.

In a similar way, we almost always have a bag of frozen breaded chicken tenders and frozen chicken breasts in the oven. A quick trip to the oven or instant pot is all it takes to get dinner going.

Quick takeaway: use your freezer to its maximum potential. On nights when you have time to cook a full meal, make a second for a busier night later.

Use shortcuts without shame

There is a sense of pride that comes with making a super delicious well rounded meal completely from scratch. However, that is not always possible and there is no shame in reaching for a shortcut when you need it.

Sometimes life is just to busy and there isn’t time between work, practices, games etc. Sometimes the mental fatigue of the day is just too much to get to involved in supper planning.

No matter the reason, there are plenty of options to help you jumpstart the meal. Getting your family fed is what we are after here and hopefully you have a few minutes to enjoy some quality time while you are at it.

Most grocery stores have sections near the deli or in the produce section where they have ready to use fruits and veggies. They are washed and chopped already, so you can just use them as is.

Are they a bit more expensive than doing the work yourself? Yes, but it is cheaper and healthier than eating out.

There are also frozen veggie mixes that are perfect for young prep. Chopped onions, peppers, mirepoix etc. can all be found in bags in the freezer so you can just use what you need.

dutch oven graphics

There are a lot great easy side dish options as well. Having a few quick side options on hand makes turning the frozen chicken tenders or chicken breasts we discussed earlier into dinner a stones throw away.

Another great way to cut down on the prep and clean-up is to use shortcuts in the kitchen. We love baked pasta dishes during the winter months, they are so filling and delicious.

But boiling pasta and browning meat to assemble a casserole after a long day of work seems like a lot. But did you know you can skip those steps?

No boil pasta recipes to the rescue! We have several we love and I am sure I’ll be adding more as time goes on.

Enlist the family to help

Yes, I know that sometimes getting help actually makes things take longer and you end up with more of a mess. Especially if the help is coming from your kiddos and they are young.

But it does get better once they are more experienced and you get the bonus of quality time while preparing dinner. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

Start by giving them simple tasks like washing the produce or measuring a few simple ingredients. Before you know it they will be chopping up the vegetables while you are working at the stove.

Family graphic

Little Dude loves the satisfaction and pride that come from helping and I love having a sous chef in the kitchen. At this stage in the game he really can help me save time and get dinner on the table faster.

Spouses can help as well. Maybe they can make the salad while you get the entrée ready to go. Otherwise the family can at least be the cleanup team, if you made the meal they can do the dishes!

The slow cooker and/or instant pot are your friend

If I know I am making a slow cooker dinner the next day, I like to make the morning prep as easy as possible. So before I go to bed, I put the slow cooker and any pantry ingredients on the counter so they are ready to go.

You can also pre-chop any vegetables you will be using in the recipe. Just be aware of any ingredients that might oxidize if they are prepped ahead of time (like potatoes). Those you may want to just wash the night before and give them a quick dice in the morning.

If you are running behind and don’t get the meal in the slow cooker like you planned, the instant pot can most likely make up for lost time when you get home. As long as the recipe has enough liquid, you can likely toss it in the instant pot and have dinner on the table in less than an hour.

Image with a crock pot graphic.

The instant pot also comes in handy when you forget to defrost meat. Cooking meat from frozen takes a fraction of the time with the help of that steamy pressure.

The same goes for dry beans. The instant pot can make quick work of side dishes as well.

Find a few recipes your family loves and work them into your regular rotation. Expand from there as you are more comfortable and soon you won’t even need your stove!

If you are looking for some inspiration you can check out my collection of instant pot recipes or slow cooker recipes. If you some favorites you want to share, tell me about them in the comments or on social media. I am always happy to add new favorites to our menu!

There are always sandwiches

When all else fails, there are always sandwiches. These is nothing wrong with just setting out some lunchmeat and toppings and letting everyone build a sub sandwich, or a regular old sandwich on slices of white bread for that matter.

But with just a tiny bit more effort you can get a tasty meal on the table that still feels substantial. Try whipping up some sliders for instance, you can even prep them ahead of time and just bake them off when you are ready.

Sandwich graphic.

Or make something super quick and easy like maid rites, sloppy joes or pizza burgers. All of those are a hit at our house and don’t take much longer than just browning a pound of ground beef.

I hope these ideas help motivate you to cook dinner for your family a little bit more. It doesn’t have to be a big gourmet meal every time, the important thing is you sit down together and enjoy something tasty.

Hopefully some of these tips help you get a few more home cooked meals on the table. Your family will love the food, conversation and that extra love that is cooked right in!

Life has a way of getting busier and busier. Here are some great tips for still cooking tasty meals for your family despite the loaded calendar.

Share with your friends!

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