In the last six months, getting dinner on the table every night has become increasingly difficult for me. Juggling school, my work, three kids, church responsibilities, friends, dance and art lessons has meant that many nights, dinner time arrives and I feel a lot of stress about what in the world I’m going to make everyone (happily, everyone in the family likes pancakes).
But having family dinner is really important to me. I love that time together as a family for us to play “185” (a random pun game Bart learned in one of his MBA courses), talk about our days, run through the next day’s schedule, make sure everyone goes to bed with a full stomach, and finish off with snuggles on the couch while Bart does the dishes.
I want my girls to have good memories of nightly family dinners. I want that time with them and Bart. I don’t want it to be something that is causing me daily stress.
I don’t know that I’ve been so happy to see a piece of food. While they cooked, I chopped up some fruit, and steamed some vegetables and ten minutes later, everyone was sitting down to dinner together. It was delicious, quick, and I wasn’t stressed about it.
Last week, when I was at Frys, I picked up a few of the new Bertolli frozen entrees which are on sale for the lowest price right now and just having them in the freezer gave me so much peace of mind. I knew that if I didn’t have time to make dinner from scratch or if I was driving in at 5:45 p.m., we could still enjoy dinner as a family.
We tried the Chicken Parm Bakes this week, and it was so great that while they cooked, I could toss together a salad and make some garlic bread (my favorite, super simple recipe is below).
It was a terrific meal, and it was so nice all day to know that I didn’t have to stress about what I was going to make and if I’d remembered to defrost something.
quick and crispy garlic bread
Quick and Crispy Garlic Bread
This garlic bread is full of flavor, but can be made in minutes!
- 1 loaf of French bread
- 4 tablespoons butter softened
- 2 garlic cloves very finely minced
- 1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice your loaf of bread in half lengthwise.
In small bowl, mix together the butter, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Spread half of it on the cut top of one half of the loaf, then the other half of the butter mixture on the other half of the loaf.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the edges are browning and the buttered top is golden brown. Slice and serve warm.
You can find Bertolli items on sale at a Kroger store near you (I want to try the Chicken Carbonara next).And I’d love to hear what your secrets for keeping your life running smoothly are, even when your plans or routine get disrupted?
Kristin @ Going Country says
Not really, I just wish.
My plans very, very rarely get disrupted, because I purposely have no commitments other than my kids. At 6, 3.5, and 1, they're pretty much all I can manage at the moment (I know others can manage a lot more, but I get crazy with a lot of meetings and out of the house stuff–introvert poster child, right here), and they're still young enough that they follow my schedule, which is fairly rigid.
I sound like the most unfun person ever, don't I? That's only partially true.
Anyway. When I get sick or something, though, the first thing to stop is my exercise, then the house cleaning, then the laundry, and last is cooking. I always, always, ALWAYS cook. (Except when I was vomiting over the holidays, like everyone else in the world, and then there were enough leftovers that my husband didn't have to cook that night.) I keep frozen stuff too, but it's stuff I made ahead of time, like extra meatballs or the huge batch of venison chili we make every year after my husband gets his first deer during hunting season. We don't have many takeout options out here in the sticks, and I don't really dig much prepared food anyway anymore (mostly the salt gets me these days). I could pretty much eat garlic bread for dinner and be happy, though . . .
I've been trying to do more prep ahead of time, especially as I'm trying to be on a food overhaul, I can't fall back on convenience foods so I try to make more than one meal at a time. Mondays are usually my time without kids or family obligations so sometimes I'll make the whole week's dinners that night. This Monday I met up with a friend so I didn't have time for that, so instead I put beef stew in the crock pot overnight so we had Tuesday's dinner, and then while that was heating Tuesday night I put pork chops in marinade for tonight's dinner. Tonight while those are grilling I'll make taco chicken for salads tomorrow and bacon wrap some scallops and stick those in the fridge for grilling on Friday. I also try to make a couple soups because we can eat those through the week for lunch or dinner.
My brother got me a meal planner for Christmas, so now on Sundays, my husband and I spend a few minutes thinking about how we can use up fresh vegetables and make the most of ingredients we already have.
I also recently made a list of our very favorite recipes (a trick I learned from you!). As someone who likes to cook and eat new things rather than the same meals over and over, I often seek out new recipes. But then I sometimes forget our tried and true favorites, which I'm always happy to eat if I can simply manage to remember them! I find I have more energy to cook if it's something we're really looking forward to eating.
Both my husband and I have a few days every week where one or both of us is usually working late, so we go to Trader Joe's and stock up on our favorites there — Indian food, pastas. Japanese fried rice, etc. it makes for a quick weeknight meal and it curbs the desire to order out.
J Platt says
We eat quite a bit of chicken in our house (I have 3 boys – 9, 11, and 13). I remember those days when they were little and sometimes I got a shower or brushed my teeth….but never both. Dinner was craziness sometimes. There were times I could pull it off and sometimes a quick drive to Wendy's was simply what happened (certainly not proud of it but ya still gotta fill the bellies).
One thing that I have learned to simplify dinner is to put 9 to 10 chicken breasts (or more) in a crockpot with a little salt and pepper and water. Let it cook all day then shred and portion 2 cups each in Ziplock bags and freeze them. It is sooooo easy to pull out the chicken and know that I could easily add spaghetti sauce and pasta and have dinner. I use it for lots of dinners, but just knowing that the chicken is already cooked is a huge timesaver and amazing peace of mind.
And sometimes it's ok if you have to serve pancakes or cold cereal. This is reality and nobody needs to beat themselves up if there isn't a full-on meal at the table every night. 🙂 So chin up and keep on, keepin on!
Love your blog, your recipes, your fashion sense, and your book recommendations!!
Oh I love this idea! Thanks for sharing J Platt. Usually I freeze raw chicken in separate ziploc bags, but this would be much faster. Totally going to do this tomorrow morning.
I do that too, freeze raw chicken. But I've found that chicken breasts are the best and so juicy when cooked at 400° for 20 minutes! Seriously, higher temperature shorter time. Or cooking a whole chicken in the crock pot for about 3 hours on high. It falls off the bone and makes its own liquid too. I still prefer the oven way with breasts but the whole chicken is sometimes cheaper.
I'm a big weekly meal planner so I usually have a good idea of what I'm making each day. However I kept getting to 5:00 and realizing my meal for the day was a crockpot one and I was out of luck for that day. So I keep frozen pizzas on hand for just such scenarios then I don't have an alternate meal I can make that day instead. But ever since it kept happening I finally put an alarm on my phone at 12:45 (when I'm already in the kitchen getting food for my kiddos) that just says "meal prep?" And it makes me look at my menu and determine if I need to get something in the crockpot, start defrosting, etc. Most crockpot meals can be done under 5 hours on high do it usually gives me a good buffer. And I've only made homemade bread twice in the year since having my 4th child. You win some, you lose some and right now my sanity outweighs the higher cost of store bought bread.
I keep some quick kid-friendly meals on hand (canned chicken soup, frozen chicken nuggets, frozen peas, spaghetti noodles and sauce) and then if we're in a rush I'll just make something quick for the kids and worry about our dinner after they're in bed.
Feisty Harriet says
Oooh, I always have a back-up plan in the freezer and/or resort to snacks-for-dinner, which usually consists of tuna and pickles and cheese and whatever veggies are in the fridge (raw and chopped, not cooked and seasoned), and fruit, if I have it.
I'm ALL about having a back-up plan!
There is definitely a mental transition that has to happen as you change from the sweet "stay home and play" stage to the extra curricular activities stage. A wise mom once told me it doesn't change. Once it starts, you're in it until they leave your home. I do a mental run through of the next day each night and plan dinner accordingly. Sometimes its taquitos that I've premade and put in the freezer, or some other quick defrost like chili or pulled pork. And sometimes it's taking 20 minutes in the morning and putting something in the crockpot.
Dinner together is extremely important to us as well, even if we only have 10 minutes between someone getting home and someone else leaving. We make it happen.
Love this post and LOVE your apron!!
LOVED this! I menu plan but sometimes sickness or schedules or forgetting to defrost or put things in the crockpot gets in the way. It's taken me awhile to realize it's ok to use those easy meals. We don't eat them nearly daily but a few times a month won't kill us. And save my sanity. =)
Amen sistah. I feel good about it because I don't rely on it very often at all, but having a back up is so great. We love the tubs of curry from costco, and I usually always have one on hand in the freezer. Just last night I told my husband to grab some frozen pizzas that were on sale to keep around. And I have loved that about storing food from my garden, just open a bottle of tomatoes and throw it with some pasta and we're good!
I could probably count on one hand the number of frozen meals we've bought in the last few years. But when Dan was in Cali (again) a few weeks ago, I just decided we were going to do frozen dinners and use disposable diapers. I don't even think I used up all the frozen meals but it was SO nice having the peace of mind that there would be something to eat if I was just too tired/annoyed/stabby.
Jackie Harris says
I always keep back-up dinners in the freezer, too. P.S. Your apron is adorable, Janssen!
J Platt says
And I have to know….how do you play "185"?
Paige Flamm says
Once I discovered the frozen meals from Trader Joes, it's been real hard to find the will power to actually cook real meals again… hence the massive amount of meat sitting in our freezer from menu plan meals that never got cooked. Also, we're thinking of getting those white chairs from Ikea for our new dining room table… do they stain like the white plastic of high chair trays, or are they pretty low maintenance?
I bought every premade frozen dinner option available at Costco when I was pregnant and sick with Tess. One of my best ideas.
I keep tortillas and cheese in the house always. If we have any leftover meat (no matter how small a portion), I will freeze it. If we are having a tough day and my plan are falling apart, I can grab the meat and throw together a quick yummy quesdilla or even a salad if I have some lettuce. I always have fruit on hand, so that goes on plates also. I have also started embracing the convenience of the pre-diced garlic and frozen chopped onions.
Monica Packer says
I laughed out loud multiple times during this post, especially at the grocery store fear. Something's gotta give, right?! I personally don't coupon because it's an enormous time sucker and I could never get the hang of it. So, that's one of my "something's gotta give." Also, Trader Joe's frozen pastas are amazing, just so you know.
My back up is the Tyson frozen chicken breasts and a steamer bag of veggies (I keep a variety on hand) Also, frozen pizza.