Do you cook dinner every night? If you do, you know it can be a grind.
Not only do you have to figure that out, you have to stay motivated to cook. You also need to be creative, organized, and feel appreciated.
Perhaps the latter part is the key. So a better question might be, are you happy as the family cook? And if not, how can you be happier in this role?
As a working mom, I’ve had to juggle job responsibilities and the weeknight dinner nearly every night. In this article, I’ll cover the six main strategies I used to make dinner for the family easier and happier for me.
What Should I Make for Dinner?
In my many years of working with families as a pediatric nutritionist, and my own experiences as a mother, cooking is often a topic of frustration for moms. Just the other day, a friend of mine said over lunch, “I am so sick of rotating through the same 12 dinner meals! I really need a new plan.”
I can relate.
[For healthy dinner ideas that apply to all families, read Healthy Dinner Ideas for Busy Athletes]
As my large family has been shrinking with kids enrolled in college and not living with me full-time, I’ve felt more ambivalence about all the tasks involved in cooking for a much smaller crew. I still look for easy dinner ideas, even though my family members at the table are shrinking!
But I know my happiness — and your happiness — as the family cook is essential to doing a good job.Your happiness as the family cook is directly tied to doing a good job at feeding your family. #feedingkids #nourishandnurture #healthyeating Click To Tweet
Here are some suggestions to help you cook dinner every night and be happier in that role:
6 Ways to Cook Dinner Every Night (& Be Happy)
1. Make a Plan
Hands down, this is the most effective way to reduce the stress, cost and frustration associated with making dinner. I had the pleasure of speaking to two experts about meal planning and easy meal preparation techniques and their insight will surely help you streamline these tasks.
In a nutshell, here’s how to do it:
Pick a day of the week (I do it on Sunday) where you map out your meals for the week. Figure out if you’re trying any new dinner recipes.
Take into consideration those days where you may be busier and target simple meals on those days.
Make a grocery list of the items you will need to execute your meal plan and pick a day to shop.
Most importantly, stick with your plan as closely as possible!
2. Have a ‘Plan B’
Sometimes our plans don’t, or won’t, work. A last minute meeting, a hubby that stays late at work, a sick child can all throw the best laid plans out the window. That’s why you need to have a backup plan.
Keep extra pasta and jarred sauce in the pantry. I load up on frozen veggies, frozen shrimp and quick cooking rice for a super fast stir fry. Or, combine canned beans, tortillas and cheese for a quick quesadilla or a burrito bowl.
Having a few easy go-to back up meals can ease the unexpected changes to your dinner plan. Because life happens.
3. Use a Menu Theme
Meatless Mondays, Tuesday Fish, Wednesday Pasta, Thursday leftovers or new recipes, and Friday Dinner Bar are just some examples of menu themes that can help you set your meal plan for the week.
It also helps you see the balance of food and nutrition components in the meals for the week. Meal themes can provide guidance for streamlining your meal planning, especially when you’re out of ideas or feeling in a slump with creative menus.
For some resources and recipes, check out my Nutrition Store where I’ve got a bunch of my favorite cookbooks listed for inspiration!
4. Keep it Quick on Busy Days
We all feel the crunch of busy-ness. Yet, being busy is not an excuse to avoid cooking for and feeding your family. Today, we have so many cooking gadgets that can help us speed up food production.
Rice cookers, Insta Pots, slow cookers, and more help us get food on the table faster than ever before.
As a working mom, I have relied on kitchen gadgets that have literally saved dinner. When I have clients in my office all day, I frequently use my slow cooker so dinner is ready when I finish the day.
(Goodness knows I am too tired to cook at that point!)
Some of my favorite cooking tools can certainly make your dinner preparation easier– a Crock pot, pressure cooker, portable grill, Panini press, or microwave–they all speed up dinner.
Check out The Nutrition Store for more of my favorite, can’t live without kitchen cooking tools.
5. Make Meals a Family Affair
There’s nothing that wears down the family cook more than doing it all, all the time! Get everyone to join in to help you. It is a family affair, after all.
Have your kids take part in meal preparation by chopping vegetables or tearing lettuce. Kids can set the table and clear it afterward.
They can load the dishwasher and wash pots and pans by hand. They can pour drinks and bring food to the table. They can also serve themselves, something called family-style meals.
6. Take a Day Off!
Every cook needs a break—make sure to schedule breaks for yourself here and there so you stay inspired. Dinner out with your partner or a YOYO night can go a long way to keeping the primary cook in the family a happier one.
How do you stay happy when cooking for your family?
I’m a stickler for manners and boundaries around mealtime. I know I’m happier when mealtimes are pleasant and respectful. Here are some of my favorite mealtime rules below — click the button to get your copy!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: October 8, 2018
Updated on: August 21, 2019