If you’re anything like the mums I work with, dinner time can be a real struggle. You’ve been busy all day, the kids are grumpy after school, everyone’s hungry and you really can’t be bothered cooking. Night after night, this routine gets pretty exhausting, and soon enough you find yourself dreading dinner time each day. There’s pressure to keep everyone happy, there’s pressure to get dinner on the table at a reasonable time, there’s pressure to get your kids to eat enough veggies and there’s pressure to make sure you don’t eat too many carbs or calories.
There is way too much pressure around dinner time – no wonder you dread it!
As I talk about in my book ‘Quit Stressing About Food!’, your family dinner doesn’t have to be as stressful as you think. What I’m going to give you today is five really simple ways you can make dinner times easier for yourself, and for the whole family.
Do a weekly shop, and plan your meals in advance
One of the best things I do for myself is plan my meals in advance for the week (or sometimes fortnight). That way, I know I have healthy ingredients in the fridge and pantry ready to go. Afternoons and evenings are busy enough without having to go to the supermarket. The way I plan my meals is pretty flexible – I write down what we’ll have on each night (including leftovers whenever that’s possible), but I often swap out and change depending on what I feel like.
If you’re happy to shop online, you can save even more time. Click & collect options or delivery are there to make your life easier – utilise them!
Convenience without compromise
Convenience foods at the supermarket aren’t usually healthy options, but there are ways you can save time without compromising your health. For example, chicken strips for a stir fry will save time over buying a chicken breast that you have to cut yourself. Frozen, pre-cut vegetables will save time, and often have little to no nutritional difference from fresh vegetables (just choose organic if you can, or Australian-grown). A lot of women I speak to worry that convenience foods are bad for you – and yes, some of them might be. But if it’s a matter of making a stir fry with pre-cut chicken strips, frozen veggies, and a packet of rice noodles or grabbing a pizza out of the freezer – it’s a no brainer.
Use your gadgets
We all do it, and I will admit I’m guilty of this too. You know all those fancy kitchen gadgets you have, that you always forget to use? Maybe you even avoid using them because you don’t think the clean-up afterwards is worth it? Trust me, you will save a lot of time each night when you start using the gadgets you’ve got. If you have a food processor – that alone can save buckets of time! Think about how long it takes to cut up an onion (plus all the time it takes to wipe away the tears) compared to peeling an onion, popping it in a food processor and pressing the button a couple of times – voila, diced onion! Most food processors will have a grating and/or slicing attachment too, which is great for veggies and cheese.
I know it seems like it’s just making more dishes, but if it saves you time – it’s worth it.
Ask for help
You don’t have to do everything, all of the time! You don’t have to be superwoman. If you have a partner and they’re not pulling their weight, ask for their help! Even if they don’t know how to cook – there’s only one way to learn, right? And they can definitely help with cleaning up after dinner. If your kids are old enough to help, ask them to! Even if it’s just the smallest thing, like wiping down the table after dinner, get your kids and/or partner involved and get comfortable asking for their help. It shouldn’t be up to you to get dinner cooked and cleaned up every single night, if other people in the household are able to help.
Don’t expect perfect
Over the years, I’ve worked with many mums who believed that dinner meals need to be perfect – 100% wholefoods and organic, the kids should eat all the vegetables on their plate without complaint, and everyone will have a perfectly perfect dinner meal together. This expectation can be absolutely crippling, and is a big part of the reason you might dread meal times as a family. The truth is, most kids will be a bit fussy at times. Everyone has different preferences, so you might not keep everyone 100% happy 100% of the time. Every family I know and work with have nights where there’s nothing green on their plates. And that’s okay! There really is no such thing as perfect, especially when it comes to dinner time. The less pressure you put on yourself to be perfect, the easier dinner time will be.
Being a little bit prepared in advance, utilising some healthy convenience options at the supermarket, using gadgets that save time, asking for help where you can, and releasing the expectation of preparing a ‘perfect’ dinner will go a long way in saving your time and sanity. As I say over and over to my clients: You can only do the best you can do. That applies to everything in your life, and it applies to getting dinner on the table each and every night.
The more stressed you get about dinner meals, the more you dread it, and the more pressure you put on yourself – the harder it will all become. Take a step back, implement some really easy time-saving tips, and give yourself a break.
It’s not going to be easy every single night – but it can be a whole lot easier when you allow it to be. And remember: You can only do the best you can do. And that’s okay!