Eating Dinner Together – Part 3 (Making Real Food From Scratch)

Eating dinner together is hard.  I am busy.  You are busy.  We are all really busy.  How in the world do we successfully get food on the table every night?

Parents have jobs and homes to maintain.  Kids have school, homework assignments, and after school activities.  Getting dinner on the table, even when you have a plan, is often really tough.
For the last two weeks, I have posted on menu planning.  I Specifically showed you why a menu plan is important and how I create a workable menu.  Having a menu in place is not the only component to planning ahead.

Strategic preparations and planning also have to take place once a menu is written down.  A plan is only successful if it is seen through to the end.  Today’s post will show how I make that happen.

My best strategy?  I always look at tomorrow’s menu today to make sure that it still works.  What can be put in the bread maker or slow cooker tomorrow morning to do some of the work for me?  Did I originally plan for something that I now know will be impossible to prepare?

Maybe a sudden schedule change will leave me with zero prep time before dinner.  I will swap tomorrow’s dinner with one planned for a different day.  Am I out of a necessary ingredient?  I will adapt plans and make do with what I have.

I look at my menu. I evaluate what can be done better, easier, and ahead of time.  I make the plan work for my real life.  Some days, I am not so hot at planning ahead.

On my good days, though, I do the following five things today so that I am prepared to eat tomorrow:

1. Breakfast is ready by bedtime.

Frozen bread defrosts on the counter.  Baked oatmeal is mixed and in the fridge.  Muffins and quick breads are baked the evening before.  The fridge is checked for milk, juice, butter, etc.

If I know we will be eating something tomorrow, I have it done and ready so that I can put about three seconds of effort into it in the morning.  Knowing that we have breakfast on deck leaves me with one less morning worry when I am trying to get everyone out the door.

2. Bread products get baked ahead–sometimes way ahead.

I attempt to bake bread products on a day when my schedule allows.  Most everything I make (including pizza dough) can be successfully frozen and used another day.  Having these items stashed ahead and ready to go when convenient for me is a real time saver on busy days.

In addition to freezing homemade food, I almost always double or triple baking recipes.  If I baked two loaves of bread last week, I probably put one in the freezer.  Tomorrow, I can use it when I need it in a hurry.  This is especially helpful on days when I am away from the house virtually all day and walk in the door with barely enough time to get supper on the table.

3. I mentally organize tomorrow’s supper prep.

Do I have any veggies that need chopping?  I take care of that and store them in the refrigerator.  Can I mix up a sauce now?  Are there any leftovers in the refrigerator that can get repurposed into tomorrow’s meal?

I also look at what (if any) meat I need for tomorrow’s supper.  Typically, I cook all meat when it comes in my front door, portion it out into recipe-sized containers, and freeze it for another day.  I check my freezer the night before for precooked meat.  If I don’t have any, I am likely to get that prepared now, too.

4. Pack brown bag lunches.

Todd is responsible for his own lunches, and he usually packs them in the morning before heading off to work.  I take care of any other brown bag meals.  Sandwiches can be made, leftovers divided, and any fruits & veggies accounted for.  This is one more “night before” task that makes mornings so much easier.

5. I wipe down my kitchen.

For many, many years, this was not my strong suit.  I find dishwashing less than fun.  Scrubbing caked-on gunk from my stove-top is tedious.  I used to procrastinate doing these jobs as long as possible.

Then, I stumbled upon the FlyLady in 2010.  Her tips and pointers on keeping my kitchen clean dramatically changed the appearance of my home.  I rarely leave dishes in the sink overnight.  And my stove?  It looks pretty good.

A clean kitchen is more welcoming to cook in than a dirty one.  I am more pleasant when stumbling around my kitchen in the early morning hours if I am not faced with an enormous mess.  Plus, my kitchen is more likely to get used if I do not have to start the day cleaning it up.

It is hard to cook when staring down a mountain of dirty dishes.  For me, I function better if I take care of this task the night before.  A little planning and preparation makes my life simpler and happier.

That is how I prepare ahead to get dinner on the table.  Next week, I will talk more about my freezer and slow cooker strategies.  How do you make sure that dinner is eaten at home as a family?