When baby number 3 came along, our household routines turned upside down. Here’s how I plan and prepare meals for the family (and keep sane during the witching hour)!
As all parents know, dinner prep almost always coincides with the dreaded “witching hour”, when the kids start playing up while you’re trying to get dinner sorted. For the last couple of years I had a pretty good routine set up when it came time to preparing dinner – the kids could have their allocated “screen time” (max 1 hour) while I went about preparing and cooking dinner.
However, when baby #3 came along this routine became tricky to do – primarily because dinner prep time coincides with when she goes down for her last nap before bedtime. While you could say “easy – put her in her cot and prep dinner”, baby #3 has decided that she will only sleep peacefully while being cuddled and/or on the boob. (And before the mummy shamers start commenting about how I’m setting her up for bad sleeping/behavioural habits by doing this, I’ve had two other kids do the same thing and they’ve turned out to be independent, intelligent little beings.) In the meantime, the rest of the family need to eat dinner.
While it would be nice to have a meal delivered, it’s not always possibly or healthy to do this, so these are some of the things I do to make dinner prep and cooking easy.
1. Have a meal plan.
OK, I’m going to admit that I actually don’t have a written meal plan… but in my head, I know exactly what the family is going to eat for the next few days or so. Not only does this help with shopping, but also how I’m going to plan my meal preparation and what I need to do beforehand.
2. Do dinner prep the night before (or on the weekend).
This means peeling, chopping, grating, etc. If you’re even more organised, you could chop all the veggies on the weekend for the week ahead so that they’re all ready when you need them. I also like to pre-cook beef or pork mince on the weekend and freeze them in 500g lots so I have a ready supply of meat for a quick dinner like spag bol.
3. Cook double.
I like to cook family favourites in double portions so I have enough for leftovers the next day. You could do this on a Sunday for example (when you have someone helping you out with the kids), and then do leftovers for manic Monday. I like doing this for lasagne, spag bol, shepherd’s pie, and beef stroganoff (add the sour cream just before serving though). Or you could use the leftovers for a few days’ worth of lunches – pork or beef roast are great for sandwiches.
4. Embrace the slow cooker.
Turn it on at the start of the day and when you get back from doing chores, school drop offs and pick ups etc dinner’s done – it doesn’t get any better than that. Prep the night before (chop veggies, pre-cook any meat) and then throw it all in the slow cooker the next day. My kids have loved pea and ham soup lately (an EXCELLENT way to hide carrots and celery!), as well as classic pumpkin soup which I like doing the slow cooker as it’s literally set and forget.
5. Forget about being a gourmand.
While it’s nice to feel like you’re a Masterchef contestant, the truth is we don’t have time to create Masterchef worthy meals. And that’s OK – the family are happy as long as there’s food on the table. We often have meat and three veg meals during the week because these take about 15-20 minutes to cook, and I vary up the meat and veggies at each meal. It’s healthy, the family’s happy, I’m sane. It’s all good.
6. It’s OK to have some help once in a while.
Whether that be via Deliveroo or your local chicken take away shop… as I mentioned above, my family is just happy there’s food on the table. I also tried out Lamb Shanks from Marathon Chef Direct – 7 minutes to cook lamb shanks is unheard of! – and they turned out to be a pleasant surprise! All I had to do was cook some mashed potatoes and peas to go with the shanks, and we had a lovely meal in about 15 minutes.
What meal prep and cooking tips do you have to make sure dinner’s on the table for the family?