By Rachel Hoeing

When considering my days as a future mom, I never considered the fact that meal prepping and planning could sometimes be more difficult than actually raising children, but alas, it has been a thorn in my side for many many years.

Dinnertime occurs at the most inopportune time of the day … parents are arriving home from work … kids are getting home from school … homework needs to get started … kids need rides to afterschool activities … the baby needs a bath and a 7pm bedtime … you get the idea. Unless you have a clone, it is next to impossible to get everything accomplished and completed 100%.

I feel like I am finally at a place in my parenting journey where I am not stressed about family dinners. I have made use of many modern day opportunities to cut down on my stress level and have compiled them to share with you today. I have also included some ideas from friends, so you can use one of these suggestions, or use a combination of them all!

1. Dream Dinners – I used this service about ten years ago, took a break for a while and started up again in 2017. Basically, you choose meals online, arrive at the Dream Dinners location where you will receive simple instructions for assembling your meals, take about an hour to put together your dinners, bring them home to your freezer, thaw and use when ready! In the grand scheme of things, I end up spending a little more money than I would if I just came up with these meals on my own, but as of late, the amount of time and headaches that I save are worth the extra money. I never have to think about what to make, what ingredients I am missing, etc. I simply thaw and cook. There have been very few meals that we have not raved about, and it has expanded my usual “go-to dinner menu” by far. Never would I have prepared a Saulsilito Chicken Flatbread or a Seafood Cioppino on my own!

2. Online Grocery Shopping & Pick Up – most larger chains now offer this option. Many are only $5 a trip and offer a year of pick ups for $50 – $100. There are others, including Walmart, that offer this service for free! The first few times you use online shopping, it may be a bit time consuming, but once it becomes a habit, you simply pull up your old list and adjust as needed. I have also found that I am more likely to buy an off-brand that is on sale because it shows all the options right in front of you. When I am in the actual store, I end up buying our usual items without ever checking the price.

3. Grocery Delivery – Piggy-backing on the idea of online shopping, you can also have food delivered right to your door. Some grocery stores offer this service on their own, and then there are other options like Shipt that partner with grocery stores to do your shopping for you and deliver to your door. There is usually a fee involved, and sometimes the cost of items are a tad bit more, but if you are home with sick kids, a new baby, or are feeling under the weather yourself, this can be a huge blessing! I even have friends who order with Shipt when they are going on vacation and the food is at the rental home when they arrive!

4. Fresh Market Little Big Meal – Each week you can look online to see what the meal deal may be. Once again, it takes the headache out of coming up with a new dinner idea. You walk into the Fresh Market and look for the section where that week’s Little Big Meal is showcased. (Usually fairly close to the front of the store.) Most meal deals are $20 – $25 with a savings of $10 – $15, and include enough food for four. Many also come with sides and/or desserts, which is always helpful in filling up those with a heartier appetite. You can read a little more about this meal idea here.

5. Instant Pot and Crock Pot – Ahhhh, the time-saver of all time-savers! I personally still use my crock pot quite a bit and love the fact that I can throw something in there when I leave in the mornings, and the house is filled with the amazing smell of dinner when I return. We have plenty of good recipes on TMoM in our recipe section here. I have not personally used the Instant Pot, but we recently ran a blog that definitely shows why it is a must-have for many busy moms.

6. Salad for Lunch – In addition to dinner drama, lunches can be a burden as well. And I’m not just talking about the kids – moms need to eat lunch, too! One of my favorite ideas is prepping salads for the entire week in either mason jars or Tupperware containers as individual servings. I love to buy a mix of greens (arugula, romaine, kale, spinach) and chop up in small bite-sized pieces. I put these into the containers first. I then chop up every topping and add those to the containers. I love carrots, nuts, celery, beets, edamame, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, onion, bell peppers, etc. I do not add dressing or avocado until the day I am going to eat the salad. When I do add the dressing, I put the lid back on and shake to evenly disperse the dressing and toppings. Delish!

7. Kids Lunches – I have two tried-and-true ideas for taking the stress out of this – 1. Buy lunch at school, 2. The kids pack lunches themselves. Seriously people – take this off your plate! My children packed their own lunches even in the early years of elementary school. I heard many times from other moms, “But what if all they take is Cheetos?” And to be honest, I kind of let it go. I decided they would get their proteins, veggies, and fruits for breakfast and dinner. But honestly, they are only going to be able to pack what is available to them, so if Cheetos aren’t there, they won’t pack them! I usually just encouraged mine to take one sandwich, one snacky item, and then fruits or veggies. They usually stuck to it and still do! I know many moms who thoroughly enjoy packing their children’s lunches, but for those who don’t, see suggestions #1 and #2! (If you do enjoy packing lunches, we’ve got some ideas here.)

8. Costco Rotisserie Chicken – Sounds like such a simple solution – because it is! The chicken at Costco is an amazing value and provides enough chicken to make 2 – 4 meals! You can purchase the hot whole chickens, or there are also bags in the refrigerated section where the chicken is already cut up for you. Use the chicken throughout the week for soups, pizzas, chicken salad, stir-fry, etc. Find great ideas for recipes on Pinterest.

9. Breakfast for Dinner – Not only is breakfast so easy to make, but the kids think it is such a “treat” to have pancakes, waffles or even cereal for dinner! Keep it healthy by adding fruit salad or omelettes with vegetables. Another great factor in this idea is that it is an easy night to assign another family member the task of cooking!

10. Kids Eat Free Nights – When all else fails, take them out to eat! Triad Moms on Main keeps an updated list of local restaurants that offer discounts or free meals for kids. Check it out here. (You can always find this list by clicking the “directories” tab on our website.)

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