What’s for Dinner? A Very Busy Mom’s 5 Tips

I used to love to cook for my 3 children, but once I started working full time, it became less of a joy and more of chore.

I didn’t want to cede our dinners to the drive-thru, so I got organized, learned a few new tricks and got my cooking mojo back.

For all you parents who work, carpool, volunteer, manage a home or all of the above, here are my tips for getting dinner on the table 5 nights a week (that’s my absolute limit).

1. Have a Plan
It’s basic, but it works. I used to shop and cook each day based on the weather or my mood, but that has ended. Now on Sunday, before my big shop, I get out a cookbook, cooking magazine or my recipe collection and make a plan: Sunday-Thursday. You can look at what you need to use up or what’s on sale, then make your list and hit the store.

2. Make Doubles
Don’t make one meatloaf, make two. Don’t roast one chicken, roast two. If you’re a small family, one chicken might last two meals, but for my family one chicken is one meal. It’s no more work to double the quantity and I do this for everything: brown rice, steamed broccoli, chocolate-chip cookies.

Leftovers become sandwiches, soups, stir-fries and quesadillas. In “Time for Dinner,” a great new cookbook by the former editors of Cookie magazine, they turn a pork shoulder roast into 3 meals—the roast, posole (a yummy stew) and Cuban sandwiches.

3. Know your basics, then vary them
If you don’t love to cook, you can simplify your life by knowing a few basic recipes and then mixing them up. “Food Network Magazine Great Easy Meals: 250 Fun & Fast Recipes”, has a great idea: Mix and Match for pizza, stuffed chicken breasts, stir fries, foil packet fish and mac and cheese.

You have one basic recipe and you vary a few ingredients so you don’t have to hear, “This again?” Try this trick with meatloaf, tacos, pasta and frittatas.

4. Weekend Prep
On the weekend I do everything I won’t have time to do during the week. I pre-chop and sauté onions, clean and prep my other veggies, bake granola or cookies, make and freeze sandwiches for lunches—basically in one Sunday afternoon, I’ve got my week ready to go.

5.  Saved by the Sauce
There are sauces that are as good as homemade and they can turn frozen chicken breasts and veggies into a legit meal. Here are my personal favorites. They’re all made with the same ingredients you’d use if you were starting from scratch, so no guilt necessary.

Asian: Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki—instant Asian stir-fry or put it on salmon or chicken before grilling.

Patek (even Jamie Oliver admits to using this British brand’s sauces in pinch) is at the bigger Jewels and Whole Foods. The Tikka Masala Curry Sauce is delish.

Italian: Rao’s from the famous New York restaurant. Expensive compared to Ragu, but amazing.

Mexican: Frontera salsas are my go to for Mexican everything. Delicious as a topping, but also a great cheat. Cook pork or chicken in the Tomatilla salsa and you’ll pull in raves.

Bonus Tip: A glass of wine while you’re cooking ups the fun, as does knowing that your spouse and children are in charge of clean up!

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