Shortcuts to a Homemade Dinner

Quick Tips to Get Your Dinner on the Table in a Flash

Whether you work 40+ hours a week in an office downtown, or you run the tangled web of schedules of your household, if you are a mom, you are busy. Between short meetings, long meetings, music practices, sports practices, homework, and special projects, you are beyond busy. And sadly, the most challenging task of the day is often dinner – getting it made and getting everyone to the table.

Dinner need not be an added stressor. There are many tricks to lessen the load. In fact, here are my best tips for busy moms working hard to serve home-cooked meals:

Become a weekend warrior

That is, set aside a block of time each weekend just for meal prep. Shop on Saturday morning, cook on Sunday afternoon? Wherever you can find the time, hunker down in the kitchen and bust out five dinners in one cooking session. Set yourself up for weeknight success by chopping-simmering-layering your way to a state of preparation that requires nothing more than heating up your Monday-Friday meals.

Plug – and go

Perhaps the greatest gift to busy moms – inspired by a mother herself, no doubt – is the slow-cooking crock. These days there are entire websites, books, and magazines devoted to cooking everything from soups to casseroles to desserts in the crock. Usually requiring nothing more than dumping and layering, slow-cooker meals make for simple prep work, minimal clean-up, and a wonderful aroma to greet you when you walk in the door.

Plug in dinner before you leave in the morning and come home to it in the afternoon. If you’ll be home during the day and you don’t have an actual slow-cooker, prep your recipes in the same way and let them come together in a low 225-250-degree oven. Either way, be sure to follow directions on timing to avoid drying out your dinner.

Put one pot to work

More often than not, I pull a one-pot wonder of a recipe to get everybody to the table in 30 minutes or less. This requires a thoughtfully stocked pantry – plenty of boxed broths and carbs like potatoes, rice, and pasta – as well as protein in the fridge and fresh herbs in my window box, but it comes together in no time.

Embrace semi-homemade

Take full advantage of the many grocery offerings meant to simplify home-cooking. There is no shame in opting for frozen pre-diced onions or bags of cleaned and chopped salad greens – especially if it means you’ll have more time to gather with your family! Build meals around prepped proteins like pre-shredded BBQ and marinated pork loins, and desserts around blank-canvas box mixes for cakes and brownies. Look for semi-homemade answers to whichever cooking chores consume the most of your time.

Strategize around leftovers

This was my own mom’s secret for having fed me and my sisters and our dad every night when I was growing up. Famously, she would simmer a huge pot of our family’s simple signature tomato sauce each Monday, and then work it into several meals the rest of the week – over pasta, of course, but also layered onto pizza, smothered onto sausage sandwiches with grilled peppers and onions, and even baked into a casserole with eggs and creamy ricotta.

As a busy mom myself, I build meals around chicken. At the start of a crazy week, I grill several pounds of chicken breasts and pull it out every night thereafter. Chopped into noodle soup, shredded into a creamy salad for melty sandwiches, or pulled and tossed in salsa for taco night or nachos, chicken never disappoints. It’s a brilliant way to stretch a dollar too!

Moms are a force of nature. And even though the schedules of busy moms like us don’t look to be lightening up anytime soon, the meals we make, and the way we make them, most certainly can be tweaked to a sometimes semi-homemade status that still feels like a love note from us to everyone at our tables. Settle into a sweet spot where homemade and convenience come together to make the miracle of dinnertime all it can be.

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