Here are my Top 10 Tips to turn You into a Dinnertime Superhero. Maybe you’re already great at putting together simple and easy home cooked meals that are healthy and your family loves them. Maybe you are the queen of the drive-thru. Maybe it’s just easier to order take-out, grab a hot pizza on the way home or leave everyone on their own until they all just have a bowl of cereal. Whatever the case, statistics show that dinnertime around the table is best for families and kids benefit the most. That’s great, right? But when you are the one who has to plan a meal, prepare a meal and get everyone to show up for a meal, well, it just makes that pizza look really great. Sometimes the pizza is okay, and sometimes you want to do better. Well, you can and here’s how.
1. Prepare a menu for the week in advance. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but creating a menu will help you so much. First decide how many meals you are going to prepare in a week. If you choose a week at a time, then list the days of the week and choose a meal for each day. Maybe you’re only going to cook Monday through Thursday. Whatever your schedule, make your list first.
2. Shop for all of the ingredients for your menu in one shopping trip. This helps keep you from having to go to the store everyday and if you have the shopping trips done, it reduces the temptation to do the drive-thru or pick up that pizza again. List the ingredients for each meal on your menu, checking your pantry and refrigerator for things you may already have on hand.
3. Plan where you will store your ingredients. Don’t put all of your chicken in the freezer if you plan to make your chicken dinner tomorrow. Put the chicken in the bottom of the refrigerator (it’s coldest there and it’s the safest place so no chicken juices drip onto other foods – that’s cross-contamination and it’s gross and can make you sick).
4. Plan some meals in your week that use the same ingredients. For example, if you are making spaghetti with meat sauce and plan to also have tacos the same week, you can buy enough ground beef for both recipes and even cook all of the meat at once. Once cooked, portion out the amount for the second meal and put it into a freezer container or zip top bag for the next meal. That way, when it’s taco night, you’ll have a head start because the meat will be cooked and ready.
5. Shorten your time in the kitchen by prepping in advance. As long as we are talking about preparing ingredients ahead of time, dice all of the onions you need for the week at one time as well. Don’t dice an onion on 3 different nights if you can just pull out a portion and be ready to go. Same goes for shredded cheeses or chopped vegetables. I like to use glass containers or small zip top bags for these items.
6. Mix up your meal plan with something new. Most people have about 20 meals that they make on a regular basis and those 20 recipes keep rotating. If it’s time to add some new ideas to your menu, Follow my “What IS For Dinner” board on Pinterest. By adding even one new dish to your list of 20, you’ll be offering something new both to yourself as the cook and to your family. If you don’t have adventurous eaters in your family, then try a variation on something they already like. Does everybody love burgers? Try a new topping or a different kind of meat. Mac & Cheese is a favorite? There are enough variations on this theme to fill a month of meal planning. Give it a try, you might even find 20 new favorites!
7. Make use of shortcuts. Pampered Chef’s Deep Covered Baker can make your dinner in less than 30 minutes in the microwave. That same dinner on the stove or in the oven might take over an hour. Because it seals in the steam the flavors and keeps your meat juicy, the baker gives you great results. If you’re not in a hurry, the same baker can be used in the oven. Need a pot that can do microwave or oven cooking and more? The Rockcroks can also be used on the stovetop, under the broiler and on the grill outside! One or both of these power tools in your kitchen will help you feel like you’re already wearing that Dinner Superhero cape. These are host favorites too – let me know if you would like to earn one free or half-price.
8. Think outside the box for what your dinner recipe has to be. The traditional entree of meat and potatoes with a side vegetable is certainly not a requirement (unless you’re married to a strictly meat and potatoes guy). Make your favorite appetizer for dinner and double the recipe so there is enough for a meal. Or make breakfast for dinner. A big stack of waffles or pancakes is a fun way to make something different and still provide a filling meal for your family.
9. Plan to have leftovers. If you make a big pork roast for Sunday dinner, plan Cuban sandwiches for later in the week and use the sliced leftover roast. Make a double batch of baked chicken one night and spread barbeque sauce over the second batch for another night. My old stand-by is brown 3 lbs. of ground beef at once adding onion and garlic. Use half for tacos or shepherd’s pie and save the other half for spaghetti with meat sauce or a macaroni casserole. Making slight changes to a large quantity of meat can provide you with two or even three meals – be creative!
10. Give yourself some credit! The best tip I can give you for being a Dinnertime Superhero is to remind you to give yourself a pat on the back. If you still have take-out and pizza and drive-thru but you get your family to sit down together for even one meal that you cooked one time in a week – you are a Dinnertime Superhero. Give yourself some credit, give yourself permission to not be perfect and give yourself another chance to make a plan, prepare ahead and be a better Dinnertime Superhero next week. Good job!