If you’re anything like me, then you might just have a love/hate relationship with dinnertime. On the one hand, dinnertime is probably one of the best times throughout the day for the family to spend some time together. But, on the other hand I (far too frequently) am not entirely prepared to make dinner when it needs to be made. It just sneaks up on me! Does that happen to you too?
If you find yourself pulling your hair out when dinner time rolls around, I’d like to share 6 easy ways that you can make dinnertime less stressful. So you can enjoy spending this time with your family and not spending it worrying about what to make.
Okay, I’m gonna say it. The #1 way to make dinnertime less stressful is to plan ahead. I know, I know, the whole point is that YOU DIDN’T. And we’ll get to some more ideas for those scenarios in a few. But first things first, plan to make a plan. 🙂
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be downright easy if you have the right system setup. Personally I use and highly recommend PlanToEat. It’s a recipe box / meal planner / shopping list all in one. It’s so great. I’ve been using it for years now and it is hands down my favorite way to meal plan. They even offer a free trial so you don’t have to commit until you know if you’ll like it (which I speculate you will).
Also checkout my post on meal planning tips for more ideas. But don’t feel like you have to do anything complicated. Even if you aren’t meal planning perfectly, if you’re doing something it’s better than nothing.
Have a Go-to List of Pantry Staple Meals
Planning ahead is fine and good…if you do it. But what about those days or weeks when life just gets in the way? Well here is where having a plan for when you don’t have a plan comes in handy. Trust me, that sounds way more confusing than it actually is.
A list of pantry staple meals is simply a list of at least 5-10 different meals composed of things that you typically have on hand. I recommend having a variety of different types of meals (i.e. Instant Pot, Crockpot, Baking, etc.) and using a variety of different types of main ingredients (i.e. chicken, ground beef, meatless, etc.). This way you cover all your bases.
Now if you have a night where you didn’t plan you can whip out your handy pantry staple meals list and find something that you have all the ingredients for and will work for your time constraints that day.
Keep Staple Ingredients on Hand
Since we’re talking about pantry staple meals, it’s worth noting that you should regularly keep an eye on those pantry staples that your family uses all the time, in these pantry staple meals and otherwise.
For example, if your family uses onions a lot, be sure to keep them on hand all the time, since you know you’ll need them for planned or impromptu recipes. This way you will be more prepared for the unexpected and you don’t find yourself in a situation where you can’t even make one of your pantry staple meals.
So make a list of common ingredients that your family uses regularly and make sure you always have these in stock in your pantry.
Have a Stock of Freezer Meals
Having freezer meals on hand can save you so much headache. This is especially true if you’re coming up to a busy season in your life, like you’re about to have a baby. Planning ahead for those busy/exhausting days is like giving your future self a gift.
There are several ways to stock up on freezer meals and all of them have their own benefits.
You could just make one or two extra meals when you’re cooking your regular dinner. This is nice because you don’t have to set aside a special time and it doesn’t take you very much longer to make a couple extra of the same meal.
Or you could set aside a day to do a large batch of various freezer meals. While this is certainly exhausting, I think it feels the most rewarding and allows you to get the most done in a short period of time. Services like Once a Month Meals really come in handy here so that you don’t have to come up with your own plan and shopping list.
I’ve done both of these ways and they both have their benefits. Whatever works best for you in this season of your life is what you should do. And it doesn’t always have to be the same. One month you might have time to make a big batch a freezer meals, so go for it. While the next month you might just have to go with making a few extra meals here and there.
Give Yourself Grace (to Order a Pizza)
Okay, maybe not necessarily pizza. But you get the idea. Allow yourself to have days where you don’t have to make anything. Perhaps you give yourself one day a week for the family to eat out or even have one of those freezer meals you planned in the last step.
Whatever the case may be, don’t beat yourself up if you have nights where dinner snuck up on you and you end up having to order a pizza or give the kids cereal for dinner. It happens. And guess what? It’s not the end of the world and NO it doesn’t make you a bad mom. It just makes you a busy mom. 🙂
So remember to go easy on yourself. Try to plan ahead using the methods above, but even if you’re not perfect at it or are still getting into the swing of things, your family will still eat and everything will be okay. It’s actually not even a bad idea to plan for a night your family gets pizza or eats out so that you can look forward to a having a break from making dinner one night a week.
Make Some Fun Dinnertime Traditions
Most of our ideas here have to do with planning ahead. And this is great to do and can take away so much of the stress that comes with making dinner for your family each night.
But I’d also like to throw in an idea that doesn’t have anything to do with planning what your family will eat. But rather planning to have some fun things that your family does for dinnertime. Creating special dinner traditions can help you to look forward to dinner, even if you aren’t much of a fan of the actual making dinner part.
In particular coming up with conversational games/activities can get the conversation rolling and help the family to have a little fun together. You could print and laminate dinner convo starter cards, or have a list of fun and goofy questions to ask each other, or you could play family-friendly games like “Would You Rather”.
The possibilities here are endless and it can make dinnertime a lot more fun not only for you, but for your family. Plus, having conversations together creates a closer knit family and helps you to be more aware of what’s going on with your kids and if there are any concerning changes you notice in them.
An Amazing Resource for Reducing Dinnertime Stress
When it comes to dinnertime stress, a lot of the overwhelm comes from not planning. But did you know that not planning ahead actually causes you stress in other areas too? In particular your grocery budget can get completely out of hand and even though you might not necessarily be thinking about that at dinnertime, you might be feeling the effects of that at other times.
Grocery planning and budgeting can reduce overwhelm when it comes to your meal planning but also your finances. And I have to share with you my favorite resource for learning about how to meal plan properly and how to save a ton of money on groceries all in one swoop.
I first took Grocery Budget Bootcamp a little less than a year ago or so and I was blown away. I learned how to save so much money on our groceries and that one thing created so much less stress in my life. Some of the ideas I shared with you today are even included in the bootcamp, but in so much more depth and with more instructions on how to apply these techniques.
Grocery Budget Bootcamp is only open a few times a year, but you can be added to the waiting list to be notified when it opens. It’s so worth it, trust me!
You Have the Power to Make Dinnertime Less Stressful!
I know, some days it feels inevitable. But there are many ways to make dinner less stressful. By planning ahead through meal planning, knowing what’s in your pantry, having freezer meals, etc. you will find a lot more joy when dinnertime rolls around. And by doing these things you’ll find yourself saving a ton of money on groceries too!
So plan ahead, give yourself grace, and learn how to find joy in serving your family during dinnertime.