Thursday, February 25, 2016

10 Hacks to Get Dinner on the Table More Often

Did you know that before they were called "life hacks" they were called "tips and hints" as in "Hints from Heloise" who had all kinds of solutions to a housekeeper's problems. So while they aren't new, and many are simply common sense, they can be life-changing and obvious at the same time!

When people feel like they can't get a meal on at home and have to eat out, take out, or order in, I think they don't realize how simple a meal can be from coming up with an idea to getting it on the table. So here are some of the Cooking Hacks I've used over the years to get meals cranked out for my family of six plus many others who have joined us around the table.

  • Come up with twelve go-to meals that everyone, including the cook, likes. Even if this were all you ate, this would probably be two weeks of meals after you include one meal out or off the list per week. These should be meals that you usually have the ingredients on hand for or can get at your regular grocery store, meals that don't take too much work or time to get together, and that the family enjoys eating.
  • Three to five of these meals should have 10 ingredients or less making them even quicker and easier to put together. If they are one dish (stove top, oven, or slow-cooker) there's the added bonus of a quick clean up! If you know you can get dinner on the table without too much work, you are more likely to make it.
  • Two or three of your go-to meals should take approximately 30 minutes or less. Pancakes or eggs easily fall into that category. Cookbooks and magazines are full of recipes that have this claim. Most of them mean 30 minutes from the time you have all the ingredients chopped, diced, and measured, but there are some that are truly quick.
  • Make planned leftovers. Cook more than your family will need to eat with the idea that the extra meat, pasta, or sauce can be turned into something different in a night or two. Then you have a meal almost ready to go!
  • Pace your learning. Don't plan a new recipe every night for a week. There's bound to be ingredients you don't know what to do with and have to research, time adjustments, unforeseen or frustrating directions. Try only one new recipe per week, maybe every other week, and keep a list of meals you like--even more than the basic twelve to make.
  • Batch roast vegetables. I love oven roasted vegetables. And I found out you can roast root vegetables (as well as others) in large batches ahead of time and refrigerate them. Once they are cooled, they keep for about a week in the fridge and can easily be reheated in the oven or microwave as a side dish. They can be added to soups, grains, salads, or mashed into spreads. And they are good for you! 
  • And speaking of roasting, use parchment, cooking bags, or foil inside pans. This saves on clean-up so much, it is worth the few extra cents it costs! (Wish I'd known this trick, excuse me, hack sooner!)
  • Keep your pantry stocked. If you have all the non-perishables on hand that you need for at least your go-to meals, you are more likely to make them. More than one family meal has been lost for want of some ginger.
  • Freezer food counts. Whether it is a frozen pizza, ravioli, or a stir-fry, just because you pulled it out of the freezer and basically only reheated it doesn't mean you didn't cook. If everyone is sitting at the table together and you are all eating, call it dinner!
  • Use Pinterest. Most of the recipes I use now are pinned to one of my Pinterest boards. Even when I have a recipe from some other source, I've searched for it online and pinned it. That way I have my recipes available anywhere I'm online and can organize them for the way I cook. I still love cookbooks, but I have books that have hundreds of recipes from which I use exactly one.
  • Make a menu. This way you know what you need to buy, what you need to thaw, and what you are going to make tomorrow so you don't have to rack your brain. Remember though, it's not an iron-clad contract. You can change and rearrange it as is best for you (or you get a craving for something else!)
  • Make a master shopping list. I set mine up in the order I go through the store so I'm less likely to forget things. (Notice I didn't say, "So I won't...") It takes a while to get it right when the store reorganizes, but my master list helps me remember the things I usually want but weren't on a recipe ingredient list or I forgot to add them to my "I ran out of" list.
  • Get everyone to help with the planning, preparing, chopping, measuring, frying, setting, and clean-up. It's not only a great way to spend time together, but it makes it more fun and less work.

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Can't wait to read Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at MealtimesDid you know it is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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  1. Some great ideas here. Lots of families don't even manage to get everyone together anymore. Great post.

  2. I so agree with your ideas here and have been using a number of these for a number of years. Well said and very much on target!! Great post!

    1. Some are the most simple and seem obvious when you hear them, but we need reminders.

  3. What a great post..looks like you covered all areas. If only families would eat more meals together.

  4. I loved this article! Such great ideas to help get the family around the table. Thanks so much for sharing on the Healthy Living Link Party! We will be featuring your post tomorrow night so make sure you stop by and grab your featured button! :)

  5. Quick meals are definitely key for me to get the entire family at the table. I agree that most times those 30 minute meals don't count prep time but the ones that do are total life savers. Thanks so much for sharing this with us at Turn It Up Tuesday...



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