I get it. As a working mom, you’re busy! There are so many things in a day for you to handle – work, kid sports, homework, house chores, running errands… The list goes on, but there’s also dinner to worry about every day.
You get home from work, and the kids are running around in dirty shoes asking “what’s for dinner, mom”. If you have more than one kid, chances are, the other kid is also pulling at your pants crying that they are hungry.
In a perfect world, it would nice to come home to cooked meals every day. All prepped and all you have to do is heat it up and eat. But reality is very different.
The struggle is real. The last thing you want to do at the end of the hectic day is cook. Before you start ordering take out again, here are some tips to make meal prep a little easier. In this post, I have rounded up a few of my best dinner hacks that will be especially useful for a busy mom.
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1. Use screen time
I know a lot of parents try to limit screen time, but TV can be a useful tool if you use it wisely. I usually only turn it on when I need my kids to be sitting quietly and this gives me some time to do things without any interruptions.
When my kids are home at 5pm, they are tired from school and cranky because they are hungry. These are all prime reasons for a meltdown if not dealt with appropriately. I quickly turn on their favorite show and this gives me a solid 30 minutes before they become grumpy again.
2. Limit cooking to 30 minutes
On weekdays, I do not cook elaborate meals. My goal is make food that is healthy, easy and tasty enough.
Some meals that I make include the one-pan pasta where all ingredients can be cooked together in a skillet and you don’t even need to boil the water beforehand.
On days when I cook Asian meals, I use the rice cooker to make my rice. I usually scoop in the rice and water and press “cook” before I leave the house to pick up the kids. By the time we are home, the rice will be done. All I need to do is whip up a simple stir-fry dish. In our house, we use the Japanese rice cooker Zojirushi. Although it’s a little pricey, it is small but mighty, and makes great rice! I don’t know what I would do without this rice cooker – our rice has been cooked perfectly each time (not under or overcooked), and it can handle all varieties of rice.
3. Do meal planning on Sundays
Before the work week starts, I usually take some time thinking about what I want to cook for the week. Trust me, this job takes as little as 15 minutes, but it can save you a ton of time during the week. Not to mention reduced stress as well. Write down your plan on a piece of paper, and stick it on the fridge or anywhere else visible in the kitchen.
4. Keep it simple on weekdays
It’s always tempting to try out new recipes to vary up the menu, but weekdays are not the time to experiment with new things. There are cranky kids who need to be fed, and you just don’t have the luxury of time. Leave new recipes to the weekends.
You can always mix and match ingredients to make the meals a little interesting. For example, serve breakfast for dinner (think eggs and yoghurt). Alternatively, a snack kind of dinner works too. Just lay out all the food and other healthy snacks on the side, and you have dinner served.
5. Prepare the ingredients ahead of time
To save time during the weekdays, spend some time on Sundays to cut up a variety of fruits or vegetables that you need to use for the week.
For vegetables that keep well even after you cook them, cook them ahead of time and mix/match the ingredients throughout the week for some kid-friendly meals.
On some days, you can also cheat by buying pre-cut vegetables, but this is probably not the most cost-effective way.
6. Use canned beans instead of dried beans.
It will shorten your cooking time because they are already pre-cooked.
7. Try out the foil parcel dinners
These are easy-prep and zero clean up dinner options that are seriously genius!
Prepare individually wrapped foil dinner parcels ahead of time. Wrap your potatoes, chicken, vegetables all in one pack. They can be stored in the freezer or fridge for when you’re ready to cook (which makes meal-prep on weekends possible).
When it’s time to cook, you can either cook them in the oven or grill. The flavor of food is all retained in the foil, and makes it delicious.
What’s best is that you don’t really have to clean up after cooking and eating. Just finish your food and throw away the foil when you’re done.
8. Invest in good containers
I would recommend buying see-through containers so you can see what food is stored inside. That way, it’s easy to keep track of what is available, and you minimize food wastage.
Buy oven-safe glass containers that come with a lid, and make sure they are safe to use in the microwave and freezer too. You can pack portion-sized food in the container, freeze it and just pop it into the microwave whenever you are ready to serve. There is no need to use another dish for heating purposes.
9. Take advantage of the slow cooker or instant pot
I’m sure you have also heard about the instant pot hype. It is such a nifty gadget and I love it! Even for recipes that require 6 hours of cooking can be done in the instant pot in 30 minutes! The most amazing part is that the meat will still taste tender as if it was slow-cooked in the pot all day.
10. Use other time-saving tools
Not all kitchen tools are created equal. Some can save you time when used appropriately.
Whenever I used to cook meat, I’ve always wondered if it’s cooked thoroughly. If it’s not, I often had to microwave it and ruin the taste of the meat as a result of that. Instead of playing the guessing-game, use time-saving tools like the meat thermometer. Put your meat in the oven with the probe, and when the right temperature is achieved, take it out and you’ll have meat that is cooked perfectly.
Another thing to consider is to use kitchen scissors to cut up the kids’ food. Instead of cutting every ingredient piece by piece, just use the kitchen scissors to snip it up into bite-size pieces. Trust me, this will save you tons of time.
11. Cook more so you’ll have leftovers
Double up on the recipe and you’ll have leftovers. Freeze the leftovers and you can heat it up and serve on another day. Your kids won’t know the difference.
Some of my favorite meals that can be frozen include stuffed shells, lasagna, egg muffins and baked goods.
12. Batch cook
You can consider batch cooking on some weekends to make life a little easier during the week. I do not do this often but if you have a good chunk of time over the weekend, this can be done in about 3 to 4 hours, and all your cooking for the entire week is done.
13. Have your kids help you
If your kids are old enough, you can teach them how to cut up the vegetables or help you with cooking. This is a valuable life skill and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they can learn. Start with a small snack-station, then slowly work your way up to a meal.
As a working mom, you might think that cooking a healthy dinner is not possible, but I’m here to tell you that it’s totally doable. Try out these tested tips and suggestions to help busy moms like yourself save time, money and your sanity.
Do you have any other mealtime hacks to share? Leave a comment below!
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