Tip Tuesday — Making Dinners Easier

A few years ago, I started having a weekly tip smackdown on Tuesdays and after a while I got sick of it and petered out. But I’ve been missing it for quite some time (Oh how I love harvesting your minds for ideas!) and so I’m starting it up again. Today we’re talking about one of the never ending chores of family life, feeding the people so that the people can live.

I get sick of making dinners but unlike Tip Tuesdays, I can’t just discontinue dinner. Someone might notice. Someone might complain. Someone might call the authorities.

So I try to make it as easy as possible. Here are a few of my tips.

1. Make a plan. If I wait until dinner time rolls around, things will get grim. Boxes and cans that should really be saved for the apocalypse due to their shelf-life, lack of nutritional value, and imperviousness to nuclear radiation are often brought out and combined in unappealing ways. These meals can involve canned meat. They never involve happiness and satisfaction.

First I have a list of emergency meals I can make in a pinch. These include scrambled eggs, quesadillas, sandwiches, spaghetti that I boil and then pour the bottled sauce on top and let the noodles warm it, pancakes, etc.

Then I plan a week’s worth of “real” meals and shop for them. So, I’m never left wondering “What’s for dinner?” and even though I may decide not to really cook one day, I can use one of my fall-back meals.

2. Form a Dinner Co-op. I’ve talked about dinner co-ops and super swapping before on this blog. I’ve done this off and on for years and I love it. It’s really saved me during this pukey part of the pregnancy. Once a week I’m forced to cook a really nice main dish for a few other families and deliver it to their homes. Then the rest of the week warm delicious meals magically arrive at my door and all I have to provide are the veggies to go with them.

We all buy matching pyrex and tupperwares and pass them around as we cook so we never worry about getting our dishes back. We have a scheduled drop-off time so we know when we can expect to be fed. Once a month we send a list of the meals we’re planning on making to the scheduler, who makes a calendar for the month, spreading out the foods so that we get a good variety each week. When you’re only cooking once a week, you bring you’re A-game so we get some really delicious food. We save money buying in bulk. I don’t have to worry about dinner most of the week. It helps the kids feel a sense of community as we deliver and receive meals from various families. Each night they ask who the dinner came from. It’s like a commune but with more frequent deodorant usage.

3. Have an emergency back-up plan for crazy times in your lives. I found this in the form of a book by Mary Jo Rulnick. The book is called The Frantic Woman’s Guide to Feeding Family and Friends. It does all the planning for you, complete with shopping lists, recipes, meal plans and preparation tips for every season of the year. It’s really a great resource even if you don’t follow all of her recipe plans but if you do, it’s like a brain vacation for dinner preparation. She does all the planning and all you have to do is follow her daily instructions for shopping, prep and cooking. The recipes are simple and it’s the perfect answer for those times in your life when you just don’t have the energy left to plan one more thing.

She also has great general tips on saving time and effort in the kitchen and sections on what to do with holiday leftovers, an entire week of ham recipes and an entire week of leftover turkey ideas.

So here’s the part I like best about Tip Tuesday, the part where you leave your tips in the comment section. What do you do to make dinner time easier or more enjoyable? Do you have any simple meal ideas you can share with us?

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