Getting food on the table every night is one of the struggles a mom, like me is facing. And sometimes, if it’s not often, ordering take out dinner is more convenient than making it yourself. Because let’s face it, after our working hours, we no longer have the energy to prepare dinner especially if the days has been a long one.
Who doesn’t want a take out dinner though? Of course, I do too! It saves me time from beating the rush hour drive to home. It saves me from all the cutting, sauteing etc…etc… It’s like a genie has granted my wish… In short, I’m being saved by the bell.
But let’s get real here! Taking out dinner is convenient yet, it could drain your budget. Let’s say you do this often, how much money do you spend on take out dinners alone? Maybe $50 a night? Or could be even more.
My family alone loves to eat but we couldn’t afford that take out food every night. And while it requires work to make supper ready, I decided that I will make this making a meal an enjoyable task for me so everybody will enjoy every bite of the food that is being prepared on the table. Therefore, I came up with these tips that has helped me and my family.
- Plan your meals. Meal planning is the best solution that will save you from the chaos of everyday life. Aside from the fact that it will help you get food ready on time, it also is budget-friendly. I love this because I don’t have to guess every single time what I should make tonight. Guessing sometimes stresses me out but with the plan being laid out in front of me, tackling this task make it easier. How do you get started?
- First, make a list of your favorite or most common dinner that you and your family enjoy throughout the week. Tip: Download the app Pinterest. This is an awesome one and I love it. Every time I wanted to try a new recipe, I will go on the search bar and type of something that I feel like making. To be honest, I own ONLY ONE recipe book that was given by my former employer, Clueless in the Kitchen by Evelyn Raab. It was an amazing book and I have been using it. However, with today’s technology, who uses one? I, myself, for one reason, don’t want to spend money on a big book of recipes that I know will not use it that much. Also, when I learned how to cook, the recipe being passed on to me by my mom and grandma, is pretty basic. We relied mostly on the ingredients that we can find in our kitchen. Nothing fancy which I like because it brings out the natural flavor of every meal we make.
- Second, list all the ingredients that you need of each recipe. Tip: I am not a big fan of a recipe that have foot-long list of ingredients ( maybe that’s an exaggeration ). But really, I don’t like the idea of making a meal that requires too much ingredients. So when it comes to cooking, I make sure to just use what I have. Let’s say a recipe requires fresh basil but what I have in hand is dried basil. Will the recipe fail because I don’t have it? I don’t think so. What I love about this part of cooking is that I can challenge myself how to create this recipe a success in the absence of an ingredient. Now the tricky part is this, if the ingredient that’s missing is not a main ingredient that’s okay. You can ask yourself can I make it with or without? Substitute? Anything that would not complicate a meal is perfect. Don’t stress yourself out.
- Third, make an inventory of your fridge, freezer, cupboards and pantry. Check the ingredient/s that you already have. Tip: This task will be easier if you have an inventory list. Grab a piece of paper or a notebook then make 3-4 columns the write your categories. Then start looking into your freezer or fridge of every item that you have. Making this inventory also gives you an idea about the items’ expiration date. Who knows a bottle of salad dressing is already expired a month ago or longer. Inventory also gives you an idea how often do you make use of a certain condiment, salad dressing or a ketchup. Therefore, it helps you in building a stock pile. We are often lured in buying items that goes on sale yet do you really use it? Remember when this stuff reaches their shelf life, they end up in the garbage so be aware of what you really stock on.
- Fourth, make a grocery list and go shopping. Now, that your list is completed it’s time to shop. But before you go make sure you have looked into flyers to compare prices and deals. If you have not downloaded the app Flipp, make sure you do especially if you don’t have flyer subscription. Tip: Buy only what’s on the list. I, myself, is not an exception to this. I do get excited sometimes when I see a good deal at a store and it’s hard for me to walk away from it. But I always ask myself a question, do we need it? Or I just want it? Also I keep reminding myself that ” the sale/deal never ends.” It’s true, every week there’s a better deal.
- Last, print out a blank calendar and assign a certain meal to each day. You can find a lot of blank calendar templates over the internet. For me, I’m using a planner that includes meal planning and also I got weekly meal plan erasable board from a nutritionist. I use that and stick on our fridge door as a reminder. Every morning when I’m getting my coffee ready, I look at it to see if there’s something to be done like taking out meat from the freezer that will be used for dinner tonight.
- Cut your meats and poultry before freezing them. Have you noticed that pre-cut meats and poultry sometimes is more expensive? For us, I like to buy meats in bulk especially when the deal is good. Sometimes we find big packs of tenderloins and I will just split them into 2-3 recipes depending on how big it was. Tip: I don’t buy a specific cut of meats for a specific recipe. I do it myself unless they’re on sale. For example, the grocery store where we regularly shop, sells big tenderloins at a very good price. So what I do is that I will buy that and split into 3 different recipes and start cutting/slicing then store them in a plastic container and label them with a marker and a tape. And when I need to make use of it, all I need to do is to thaw it. No more cutting or slicing needed.
- Cut or slice your vegetables and pack them in a container. When your recipe requires you a lot of cutting, chopping and slicing, preparing them the night before is a good way to making dinner easier. Circumstances like getting stuck in a traffic or unexpected overtime happens therefore it is better if we’re prepared when this scenarios comes. If you have kids that are old enough to help, you can ask them to do some of the work for you.
- Create simple meals. If you’re a busy mom like me who works 8-10 hours everyday, a simple meal is the answer. You might want to make a meal that can be prepared in 30 minutes the most and maximum of 5 ingredients. Because I don’t have a luxury of time to spend on cooking. Every minute to me is important. If not, you’ll end up with end up dealing with hangry ( hungry plus angry ) family. This is one of the things that I hate the most that’s why I want to keep our meals pretty simple and easy to make.
- Use a crock pot. For meals that needs to be cooked longer like beef stews,and pulled pork a crock pot is the answer. It’s like a magic. You put all the ingredients in the pot, turn it on then viola! Dinner is served without putting much effort on it. I love to use my crock pot on days that I know I am going to stay at work late. I’m lucky because I have a husband who knows how to cook but sometimes when our schedule is crazy, making crock pot meals is the answer.
- If crock pot isn’t for you, then owning an instant pot might be the answer. I honestly don’t have one because I’m pretty content with making our meals but I have heard people who owns one loves it. It helps them make their meal easier.
- Make ahead meals. In the Philippines from where I was from, we’re used to freshly prepared foods. We buy our meats and vegetables everyday and we use our freezer very seldom. Therefore, the idea of make ahead meals isn’t adapted by most of us but now that we knew we don’t have the resources and the time to do it, make ahead meals is a good idea. For me, I do one or two meals on the weekends particularly Sundays. I love to do that so my family can pack their lunch to school and work. I also love to make big batch so I can freeze half of it and we can use it when I don’t have time to cook.
- Buy some frozen foods like pizza, chicken nuggets and vegetables. I am not very fond of frozen foods but they are great to have once in a while. In our family, we do Fun Fridays where we pop some frozen pizza in the oven or some nuggets. At the same time, we will choose a movie that everyone will like and that’s a great way to start our weekend.
- Re-create your leftovers. Sometimes eating leftovers isn’t fun at all right? Yet you don’t want to waste food. Imagine how fortunate you are to have abundance of food while others were starving. It takes a little bit of your creativity to make a very plain leftover food appealing. For example, my family loves grabbing rotisserie chicken when we go grocery shopping. And most of the time, we don’t finish the whole thing so the following morning I would shred the leftover chicken, add some mayonnaise, salt and freshly cracked pepper tom make a chicken spread for sandwich or chicken salad wrap. If not, I will cut the chicken breast into cubes and make a chicken fried rice. Now, that’s a good way to save time and money for a meal.
- Make a schedule in the kitchen. In our family, I included my kids in making dinner at least once a week. My kids were at the age wherein they’re capable of preparing simple meals like spaghetti or tacos. I also think that this is a great way of teaching your kids with some household chores and responsibility.
Making meals for my family is one the my favorite household chores. It’s where I let my mind wander freely and become creative. However, as a full-time working mom and wife, I don’t have all the time to do that. There were days when all I want is to come home where dinner is already waiting for me but that’s not always the case. Yet, this should not be the reason for not making an enjoyable meal for the family.
Dinner is the only meal where me and my family share together during the week days. My kids eat their breakfast on their own since my husband and I are out of the house before they get up in the morning. Dinner is also a time for everyone to catch up on each other’s day.
These tips that I have mentioned above have kept me sane most of the time. It allowed us to enjoy our family time together despite the chaos of our everyday lives. I hope that you find these tips helpful too.