I had an epiphany a month or so ago. I realized that I had accomplished an amazing feat in one week (Friday-Tuesday)! I actually cooked dinner five nights in a row! This is a momentous occasion in our house. Now, only one of those meals was a gourmet dinner – not something I do often – and I used leftovers in some form for three of the meals, but I did accomplish the ultimate mom goal.
Making dinner every single night can become a major chore. I love to cook, and yet some weeks I struggle with coming up with food options that are healthy, quick and that my kids will eat. When we have to do something, every day, it becomes more work than fun.
I will run you through our menu for my special week, and then I’ll give some additional ideas for quick and easy options when you are pressed for time. Keep in mind, I am not a follower of any diet. I try to make balanced meals that include meat, veggies and a starch – and I am a firm believer that kids need all of those things to keep up their energy and grow. Kids are active, they use up a ton of energy every single day (every hour, sometimes, let’s be honest), and they need food to keep going and to grow more! Even if you are on a diet, it may not be the best for your kids if you have cut a major food group out of their diet. Make sure they are getting all of the vitamins and foods that they need, even when you are trying to follow a stricter regimen.
So, Friday night I made (store bought, refrigerated) ravioli, using leftover spaghetti sauce from earlier in the week. Saturday was my gourmet dinner: I made chicken pot pie completely from scratch, roasting the chicken and making gravy and then baking the pie with a pastry crust – this is my husband’s favorite meal, and we were celebrating our nearly-finished new kitchen renovation. The whole process takes 4 hours – and it is so delicious, just a lot of work. Sunday night, I made a pre-marinated pork sirloin roast, asparagus and baked potatoes. Monday, I made chicken and wild rice soup from the roast chicken leftover from Saturday’s meal, with a garden salad. And Tuesday, I used the leftover pork sirloin in a mushroom soup sauce with canned peas over tri-color rotini noodles.
As I said before, only one gourmet meal and I used up leftovers throughout the week! And I do use canned and packaged foods. That is ok. I do not consider my kids picky, but sometimes the Hamburger Helper or Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese are just easier and I know it’s something they will eat. Frozen veggies are easy to heat in the microwave (and my absolute number one kitchen item that I highly recommend is the Pampered Chef Micro-cooker – it is the best!) and when you are pressed for time in between sports practices and other evening activities, I say use every option available.
In our house, breakfast and lunch are many times easier. I keep a variety of cereals, Eggo waffles, and bagels and cream cheese on hand for the weekday breakfast selection. My two girls like eggs but my son does not, so weekend breakfast spreads usually include hash browns, some kind of sausage and either “runny eggs” or scrambles. Lunch usually includes either leftovers, mac ‘n cheese with “stuff” in it (I often add leftover meat or canned tuna and canned peas or green beans), or sandwiches or quesadillas and fruits or fresh veggies with ranch.
Keep in mind, my above example week is totally an anomaly for me! I do not cook every night in any normal week. Many times, we go out to dinner at least once a week or more, and I usually do leftover nights when all of the kid activities are scattered and no one eats at the same time. Summer meals often include grilled meat, fresh fruits and a lot of different kinds of salad. I also love using my crock pot – seriously the best thing in the world is getting dinner taken care of early in the day and having it ready when everyone is starving in the evening! I am a huge fan of any one pot meal, soups, salads, and casseroles! Anything that is easy to throw together and has easy cleanup and very little mess is a winner!
I have many friends who use meal prep services or do make-ahead meals for the whole week on Sundays. I do not do either of those…the grocery store is a two-minute drive from my house and even if I have meals in mind to make for the week, many times the schedules change and I change things up at the last minute. And, to be real, with my hubby gone during the week we try to make the most of our family time when he is home, and I’m not usually willing to spend all day Sunday in the kitchen when we could be outside working in the yard, taking a family bike ride, or playing with kids. Plus, he really likes to cook, too, so even when I have meals planned out for the weekend, he usually changes the plan and cooks something completely different!
Our family is busy, just as I’m sure many of you are, and with three kids going in different directions and our own busy schedules, I place a lot of importance on family dinner. When we are all home at the same time, we eat together at the table with no devices and the TV off. Special pizza and movie nights are the exception – and we all need those fun times when we pull out the TV trays and enjoy the show – but for the most part our family sits down to enjoy meals together. On weekends when we are home, we do this for all three meals, and I think it is important to have that family visiting time while we eat. For meals that are more scattered or when only one or two kids are home, we eat at the kitchen counter, but I still try to put my phone away and visit with my kids while they eat.
All of us have busy lives, and sometimes we all just need to take some time to sit down and enjoy each other. In our house, family dinner is that down time when we can just relax and eat. It gives each of us a reset and time to tell everyone about school, work, or whatever funny thing happened in our week. I am a total stickler about phones at the table when we are out, too – one of my biggest pet peeves! All of us have a tendency to be too dependent on our phones (I am, too, just as much as anyone), and as I tell my husband, we should treat each other with the same respect as if we were having a business meeting. If you wouldn’t pull out your phone to read a text or email while you’re meeting with someone else, why do it when you’re home with your family? It is ok to wait half an hour and give your family your undivided attention while you eat a meal!
Actually making dinner can be hard, but whether it’s that fancy gourmet meal, or takeout pizza or Chinese, I think the most important thing is to enjoy it together. Taking that time with your kids every day to focus on them and give your undivided attention is something they will remember and cherish later. And kids pay attention to where your attention is – how many times do they keep saying “mom!” even after you’ve acknowledged them verbally? They wait to tell you something until you turn your head and look directly at them. Giving your kids your time and attention, whether they are telling you about their day, a funny story, or have something major to talk about, only takes a few minutes and is an easy reminder that they are the center of your universe.