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9 Genius Ways to Overcome the Weeknight Dinner Struggle

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Dinner. For some reason it happens EVERY DAY. What is that? It’s like everyone in the family thinks they need to eat or something.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Feeding children is probably my least favorite aspect of parenting. One of the reasons I’m such a baby (yes, I’m a aware I’m whining) is because feeding people is just so relentless. Really, it’s breakfast already? And it’s time to pack lunches again? You want a SNACK, too? But dinner, oh dinner. Dinner takes the cake. It’s the trickiest meal of all, nestled into the part of the day that is always the most chaotic with kids (no matter how old they are!) and when I am at my most tired.

NEVER FEAR! There are, of course, many great tips out there for getting dinner on the table every day. I have a meal planning blog, for crying out loud, and that most certainly helps me tackle the task. But even with that, I still get frustrated on weeknights and I love finding new and doable ways for getting dinners on the table.

I recently decided to tap into the genius of my friends to see if they had some new ideas. And, of course, they did! My friends are brilliant, in case you were wondering. And they have some really creative, great tips for weeknight dinners!

1. Kids Cook Wednesdays (… or whatever day you want!)

As your kids get older, take advantage of their ability to find their way around the kitchen! Choose dinners that require simple supervision rather than full-on help and put them to work. My friend Emmie gets her kids involved with actually planning the meals and going grocery shopping, too. She says when they help with dinner, it not only teaches them cooking skills but time management as well. In their house, you don’t get out of homework when you cook dinner, but you do get a break from the dishes. Sounds like a good plan to me!

kids cooking

2. If One Crockpot Is Good, Three Crockpots Are Better!

We all know crockpots are a great way to go when you’re feeling strapped for time, but my friend Kaari takes crockpot cooking to a whole new level of amazing. If you’re going to go to the trouble of dragging the crockpot out, go ahead and drag out two more of those bad boys. Make three batches of whatever it is you’re cooking up for that night’s dinner. Eat one of the batches that day, and then freeze the other two. If you thought cooking a slow cooker dinner was easy, imagine how easy it is when there is absolutely no cooking involved!

3. Make-Your-Own Nights

My friend Niri had a great suggestion: Make-your-own nights! Make-your-own tacos. Make-your-own salads. Make-your-own pizza. Make-your-own sandwiches. There are lots of great meals that can be deemed “make-your-own,” and they are especially great for weeknights! Prep time is faster for mom and dad and, on especially busy nights, family members can throw dinner together when they need to, whether everyone can eat together at the same time or not.

make your own tacos night

4. Meal Planning Services

Sometimes even planning your meals can feel daunting, but you can totally get help! There are great meal-planning services out there like emeals and The Fresh 20. My friend Joey swears by emeals and says it saves her time and money. Services like Dream Dinners make the food prep super easy (and fun!) and you have meals waiting in your freezer for when you need them.

meal planning services

5. ALWAYS Have Go-To Ingredients On-Hand

This seems like a no-brainer but, seriously, it’s the best weeknight dinner advice around. I get so frustrated with myself on nights when we haven’t been to the store yet that week and I seriously can’t pull a meal together with what’s in the cupboard. On the other hand, when I do have go-to recipe’s ingredients ready, life is far less stressful! My current favorite go-to is chili. The basic ingredients are always around my kitchen, and it’s a super fast recipe to make!

6. Cook Ahead with Friends

My friend Gina does something that I have definitely heard of but have never actually done – getting together with a friend to make double batches of meals ahead of time. They meet on a Sunday to make several meals at once. They also make soup to eat that night, with enough left over to freeze for the next week. Not only is this idea helpful, it’s fun and you get some girl time in! There are great services out there like Once a Month Meals that provide recipes perfect for preparing ahead of time and freezing.

7. Put the Pressure on … Your Food!

My friend Barbara had a great suggestion that I would never have thought of on my own — use a pressure cooker! Pressure cooking is becoming popular again because it’s a quick and easy way to get dinner on the table. And if you use the new electric pressure cookers, they are “set it and forget it” easy. If you have no idea where to begin, Barbara’s pressure cooking blog is a great place to start!

pressure cookingPhoto credit: Barbara Schieving

8. Play Restaurant!

Leave it to my sparkling friend Helen Jane to remind me that weeknight meal prep can be fun. Play restaurant! Set the table after breakfast! Make fun place-cards! Use your imagination to turn dinner from a drag to a delight.

9. CORNDOGS

Charlie’s advice just might be the best yet. Simple. Easy. Fast. Plus you get to eat corndogs. Done and done.

Read more from Jane at This Week for Dinner, Kitchen Tunage and The Spoiler Alert. For more updates, follow Jane on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

Photos all credited to Jane Maynard unless otherwise indicated.

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