My day often goes something like this:
Get myself ready and get the kids out the door for daycare/preschool.
Work a full day and race to get the kids before daycare closes at 6 p.m.
Try to get something on the table for dinner, followed by playtime, baths and bedtime.
Repeat five days a week.
I usually get home around 6, and if my husband and I don’t have something on the table for dinner by 6:30, the kids get “hangry.” That means that I need to have a plan that doesn’t always involve stopping for pizza, Chinese or fast food. I love to cook and bake, but I learned quickly that as a mom, my time is often limited. We may have “fancier” or more time-consuming meals on weekends, but feeding my kids something fast and nutritious is more important than cooking a gourmet meal.
While my husband is completely capable of cooking, I try to have as much prepped for him as possible. I will often make things in advance that just needs heated.
Here are some of my favorite tips/things to make:
- Slow cooker Mexican chicken. Place five to six chicken breasts in the slow cooker with a packet of taco seasoning and a jar of salsa. Cook on low for four to six hours, shred the chicken and then return it to the slow cooker. Use the chicken for tacos, burrito bowls (we like it with rice, beans, sweet potatoes, corn, peppers, cheese, sour cream and cilantro), enchiladas, salads, etc. If you have leftovers at the end of the week, the chicken makes a great base for a chicken tortilla/southwest-style soup.
- Soup and chili, especially in colder months. I usually make one large pot of soup on Sundays, which we eat a couple times during the week. For my 18-month-old, I serve her a small bowl with very little broth. My InstantPot has become really helpful with making soup, but I also cook soup on the stove or in my slow cooker. When we’ve had enough of soup that week, I like to freeze the leftovers so we can have them at another time or so I can take them for lunch. Some of our favorites include white bean with kale and sausage, stuffed pepper, chicken and wild rice, broccoli cheddar, split pea, black bean, vegetable and butternut squash with chicken and quinoa. I keep the spice level low for my kids, but sometimes my husband and I will add some sriracha or hot sauce to our soup or chili. I usually don’t use a recipe for soups, but if anyone would like me to share how I make the soups, email me at email@example.com.
- Casseroles. I can usually get two dinners from one casserole. Some of our favorites include chicken with broccoli and rice; chicken with cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and potatoes; baked spaghetti; and our version of “goulash” — ground beef, elbow noodles, spaghetti sauce and whatever vegetables I have on hand (zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, etc.). My kids can sometimes be picky if I feed them the same dinner twice in a row, so sometimes we alternate between soup and a casserole.
- Meal prep. If I have the time/energy after the kids go to bed, I do what I can to prepare dinner for the next day. That could mean chopping vegetables, marinating chicken or simply looking through my refrigerator and pantry to see what I can throw together quickly when I get home. When I’ve had a busy day at work and have not prepped or thought about what to make, I’m more likely to pick up a pizza on the way home.
- Pre-packaged food is not always a bad thing. Wegmans has a really good lemon rosemary chicken that you bake in a bag. Add some vegetables and a starch or salad, and you have a meal. The leftover chicken is great for soup. Wegmans also has good store-brand frozen meatballs that I keep in the freezer for a quick dinner. My kids love fish sticks, so I usually have a box of those in my freezer too. While I love fresh produce, I always keep several bags of frozen vegetables on hand for a quick addition to our meals. I buy bagged caesar salad kits that we eat at least once or twice a week with our meals too.
What are your tips for family-friendly dinners? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah balances life as a reporter for The Times-Tribune and as the mom of two little girls. A graduate of Ithaca College, Sarah started covering education in 2006. She has received awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association, Inland Press Association and Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association. She lives in Clarks Summit with her husband, their daughters and their sweet pug, Sadie. Reach her at email@example.com, 570-348-9133 or @HofiusHallTT.