Last year, guest writer Sarah Ortmayer shared her tips for making weeknight family meals easier. These tips feel especially relevant now since many of us are cooking more than ever. With stay-at-home orders, distance learning, and all the other stressors so many of us are experiencing, figuring out what to cook has gotten even tougher. As work-from-home moms, we’re eager for strategies to make this unprecedented time easier, and we bet you are too. Below are Sarah’s tips, which we hope make meal planning and cooking a bit more fun. Please comment with your favorite weeknight meal tips and recipes!
I remember the moment I realized our dinnertime routine needed a serious overhaul. Tears streaming down my face, newborn twins in my arms, and a hangry toddler at my feet, I was facing the nightly dilemma of what to make for dinner. After a long day of keeping tiny humans alive, figuring out dinner felt impossible. I felt like I was failing. Cereal for dinner again? We could live on that for only so long.
But more than that, I didn’t want to feel like the dinnertime dilemma was owning me. I wanted to be intentional and make healthy choices for my family. Planning ahead and sticking to routines have become my saving graces in so many areas of motherhood over the years, and it all started with a revamp of our weeknight meals.
I am not an expert chef (or an expert mom), but I have come a long way since those days of newborn twins and chaotic evenings. If there is one thing I can give, it’s what I have learned, in hopes that it might help another new mama find a little more structure (and peace) in her life. I hope you are able to make some (or all) of these tips work for your family too!
How to Prepare Simple Family Meals for the Week
I like to keep things simple, so my ideas will be just that: short, sweet, and simple to fit into your chaotic life. When I started on this journey, the first thing I did was dedicate Sundays to weekly meal planning and grocery shopping. Every Sunday morning my husband and I pull out the list of 20 easy weeknight meals that we rotate through. This list will look different for every family, but I highly suggest making one that you can pull from; it makes the process even easier, and you know that everyone in your family is going to enjoy the meals.
Once we decide on our five meals, one of us heads out to get the groceries for the week. In the afternoons we involve the whole family in doing any prep work we can (chopping veggies, preparing pizza dough, etc.) so that our evening meals are even easier the day of. The kids love to help, and it’s been a great way to get them excited about cooking and trying new foods that they otherwise may not have. Our two-year-old loves to help dump pre-measured ingredients into bowls, stir things together, and even chop some soft vegetables with her kid-safe knife.
How to Take the Stress out of Weeknight Meals
Mamas, preparing weeknight meals in advance is my simple but effective secret to making dinnertime something you enjoy instead of dread. This approach has served our family well over the years (even with five kids!). When dinnertime comes around each evening, it’s no longer a stressful event. We know what we are doing, and we have the tools to accomplish it together. My husband and I take turns doing the cooking and involve a couple of our kids in the process. When we had little ones, I would wear them in a carrier, and they would be lulled to sleep as I moved about the kitchen. In my home, dinnertime has gone from a daily panic and feeling like I am failing to an empowering time of day that brings our family together and nourishes our bodies and minds.
I’ll share some of my favorite meals as inspiration. If you have some favorites, please share in the comments below! I’d love to add new meals to our rotation.
Five Favorite Weeknight Family Meals
We have quite a few favorites. They are quick, easy, and nutritious! This whole grain chicken noodle soup has been in our rotation for years.
Pizza Night is always a big hit! We make our dough from scratch on Sunday and then keep it in the fridge until Pizza Night. We all make our own personal pizza and have it exactly as we like it. We always have lots of veggie toppings available to make sure it is as healthy as can be. This is our tried-and-true pizza dough recipe.
3. Pan Meals
These one-pan dinners are so easy and can be done in lots of fun variations. This lemon chicken is a favorite at our house. One-pot meals and casseroles are also great options for weeknight meals.
Taco Night is another frequent meal for us. We usually make a big self-serve line on our kitchen counter with whole grain soft and hard shells, whole grain chips for those who want a taco salad, and all the pre-prepared toppings you could possibly want. It’s another easy, healthy way to make sure everyone is happy and can customize his or her own meal. It makes great leftovers for lunches too!
5. Stir Fry
We love these meals because they’re fast on those nights when we’re feeling extra tired. You can customize it however you like, but we keep coming back to this chicken stir fry recipe.
Those are just some of our favorites, and our list is ever-evolving and changing from season to season. As a family, we sit down every three months and revise our rotation of favorite meals. We hop on Pinterest and page through some of our favorite recipe books together until we have the most delicious list to pull from for the season ahead.
I hope I have inspired you to turn this often-stressful time of day into an adventure your family can share in together. Routine is key. It may take you a few weeks to get into the swing of it, and you might still find yourself ordering takeout every now and then, but give yourself grace and remember that there is no perfect way to do dinnertime… or motherhood. You are amazing and doing an incredible job whether you are serving a home-cooked meal or cold cereal for the third night in a row.