Back to School for many also means back to sports and other extra curricular activities. Which also means that time available at home to prepare meals is short. So, how do you feed your family home-cooked meals during this busy fall season? Here are some tips to help you make the most of the small amount of time you do have.
I know, meal planning can feel like a chore. Heck, it IS a chore. But when it is done, it makes things run so much more smoothly, don’t you think? I struggle with this one myself. Sometimes having a pretty place to write my plan down helps. (Whatever mental trick gets it done is worth trying in my book.) Something else that has helped me in the past is to have “theme” nights. If it is “Soup”er Tuesday, I only have to decide which soup to have. Decreasing the decision fatigue by narrowing down the choice makes a difference for me. Whatever works for you, just get a plan in place. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but taking a small amount of time up front to make these decisions will leave you more time when you need it each evening.
Prepare ingredients ahead
Look ahead to the ingredients you will need for the meals on your plan. Need diced onions or sliced carrots for more than one dinner? Prepare enough for each meal on the menu all at once Then you are only getting out the cutting board and utensils (or food processor) once. And it doesn’t take that much more time to dice two onions than it does to dice one as long as all of the stuff is already out and set up. You will save time for gathering and washing the items you use to prepare your ingredients. (I am all about decreasing the amount of dishes that need to be washed!) You can then store the prepared ingredients for meals on different nights in the fridge or freezer until they are needed. Another option is to prepare all of the ingredients needed for several meals, gather them together into baggies by meal and then store them in the freezer. You can then dump the ingredients into the slow cooker or pan or whatever to cook them. (Some meals do better if you thaw them in the fridge before cooking.) One tip: I have found that raw potatoes do not freeze and then cook well. I just add any potatoes needed to a recipe the day I am cooking it. But usually everything else can already be in the bag.
You can take this previous tip a step further and cook ingredients or whole meals ahead and freeze. Again, it doesn’t take much extra time to make two lasagnas instead of one. Put the extra in the freezer for another night. Or when you are browning ground beef or grilling chicken, do enough for a few meals and put the extra in the freezer as a meal start for another night. This can also save money since many times you can get bulk pricing by buying larger quantities. A few times a year, I try to get together with a few girlfriends and we make a day of it. We cook and prep as many meals as we can to stock our freezers. Many hands make light work and the company makes the chore less tedious. 🙂
This is the toughest one for me, but one that will be essential this upcoming season for my family. If your kids are old enough, they can help prepare the meals. Planning and preparing meals is an important life skill, so why not get them involved now? I feel like if you can read, you can cook. At least to a certain level. (Not to detract from the talent and skill it takes to blend flavors to create new dishes and execute advanced techniques. But for our household, we keep it simple. Reading and following a recipe is enough to get some great meals on the table.) I picked up a book called Start to Cook to help me with handing over some of the responsibilities to my children. In addition to recipes, this book offers instructions of how to handle and prepare different categories of ingredients, how to tell if food is cooked, how to substitute ingredients for allergies and many more tips that are important to know in the kitchen. (You can pick up your copy here). I will use the book differently depending on which child I am working with since their ages range from 9-16.
I hope these tips help you and your family to eat better and have more time together during this busy Back to School (and sports and activities!) season. Do you have any tips not mentioned here? Please share them below.