I have discovered lots of tricks through the years for putting meals on the table quickly and simply. But this is by far the best one I’ve found for how to get ahead and make mealtime less stressful!
How I Get Ahead and Make Mealtime Less Stressful
Ready for the tip? It’s simply this:
Make as much of your meal as you can before you actually need to serve it.
Here’s an example: While my family was finishing lunch today, I made tonight’s Sloppy Joe Meat. Then I got out a couple of cans of pineapple, olives, and buns and set them on the counter. Carrots and ranch are already ready in the fridge to pull out. When dinner-time rolls around, I’ll simply warm up the Sloppy Joes and we’ll sit down and eat.
Why do I try to do this?
Well, right now we have eight kids living in our home. Five of those kids are high maintenance and some are even labeled “intensive.” So most of my time is spent caring for and chasing babies while helping traumatized teenagers learn better coping skills. Or I’m talking to case workers, or making therapy appointments, or changing diapers, or trying to help my older boys with whatever they need, and hey! I’m even trying to take care of myself too. Ah, and my hubby/favorite teammate. (UPDATE: I wrote and scheduled this post in April. We’re back down to just 7 kids for now. Praise God, he found other homes for the traumatized teenagers!)
All this – plus there’s all the normal laundry, food, and other homemaking tasks that need to be done.
So now more than ever, I’ve found that I must both keep our meals simple AND prep food ahead of time if possible. Otherwise meal prep is quite stressful.
I don’t always get food made ahead.
Not even close. Sometimes I’m throwing food together at the last minute. Sometimes I haven’t even had a chance to think of a plan for a meal before it’s actually meal time.
But if I possibly can, I try to think ahead and do as much prep as possible (and of course, I get every capable boy involved in helping with this prep!). Making food ahead is about the only way I can stay functional in my kitchen right now because we never know when someone might have a melt-down or a blow-out or another big need.
Ways to make food ahead of time
1. Make part of dinner during and/or after lunch.
While the family is still at the table or still in the kitchen after lunch, it works wonderfully to get veggies chopped, meat browned, or at the very least needed ingredients rounded up for the evening meal. Our Take Ten Challenge books give you great options and tips to help with this!
2. Make breakfast after dinner.
This is the same concept as making dinner during lunch – but I find it’s key for being able to get ahead on all of our meals the next day. If I have an ounce of energy left after a long day, it’s nice to mix up tomorrow morning’s muffins or pancake mix or breakfast bars in preparation for the next day. Even if we’re just going to have cereal, I can have one of my kids get the boxes out along with bowls and spoons so we save a few minutes the next day.
There’s something really refreshing about waking up and knowing I don’t have to do much work before feeding everyone the first meal of the day.
3. Start a crock pot meal cooking right after breakfast.
This is even better than making dinner at lunchtime because the meal prep has been done before I day gets started!
4. Do some sort of meal prep any time you find a few minutes to spare.
Sure, sometimes we might feel like there’s not an extra 5-minutes anywhere in the day. Or it might seem like 5-minutes isn’t worth much. But I find it to be amazing what I can do with a spare 5-minutes here and there. That’s when I’ll grab ingredients for the next recipe I’m planning to make. Or throw meat into the crock pot and dump on sauce. Or wash some grapes and put them into a bowl for later. Or stir together a loaf of Stir-and-Pour Bread. Or start grinding wheat so that I’ll have flour ready to bake with another time. Or give instructions to my big kids about what they can put together for a meal.
What are some helpful tricks that help you get ahead in the kitchen?