How to simplify getting dinner on the table

How to simplify getting dinner on the table - four tips to take the drama out of cooking for your family

At school, I was a diligent student – a “brain strain” as my brother liked to call me – but the only subject I ever came top of the class in was home economics.

I’m no gourmet, but cooking is fun for me, a creative outlet and a way to relax. Or at least it was. Parenthood kind of ruined that.

These days, cooking is mostly a utilitarian activity. Preparing dinner is a precarious mission to get something palatable and vaguely nutritious on the table before someone has a meltdown (usually me).

Cooking dinner for kids may not be a walk in the park, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare either. Here are four things I do to make it easier.

Ways to simplify getting dinner on the table

  1. Make a meal plan

The one thing worse than cooking dinner is thinking up what to cook for dinner. Meal planning is a real sanity saver. The genius of meal planning is it relegates the daily dread of trying to come up with what to cook to a single time each week.

If you’ve tried meal planning and you hate it, or think it’s too much work, try again. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I spend no more than 10 to 20 minutes writing up a meal plan and shopping list for the week. Check out my how-to guide, complete with step-by-step pictures of my method.

  1. Keep it simple

I love cooking shows and browsing recipe books. But they’re not helpful. Besides making me hungry, they set the bar way too high. “Ordinary meals for ordinary days”, that’s my mantra. This is family dinner, not an elimination challenge. When I think back to what my mum cooked for us when I was growing up, it was nothing fancy – it was perfect.

Easy, family-friendly meal ideas include:

  1. Double down on preparation

Rather than meal prep marathons, on calmer days, I do a bit of extra prep to make the frantic days easier. Ways to meal prep while you are already in the kitchen include:

  • Make two and freezee one – double the recipe and put one portion in the freezer. Curries and chillies are excellent for this.
  • Make a big salad – serve as a main one night and side the next day, or two sides, or a side and lunch the next day. Grain-based and roast veggie-based salads last longer than green salads.
  • Make meal bases in bulk – to make cooking from scratch less of a fuss, cook extra components for meals you make regularly. This cuts down on overall preparation time. I regularly make a double batch of burger patties and falafel and triple batches of brown rice, quinoa and pearl barley. They are all waiting in the freezer and I only need to do an assembly job.
  1. Keep the kids occupied

Easier said than done and something I’m sure you’ve turned your mind to! Things that work for me include:

  • If they’re old enough (and you’re both in the mood), get them helping. Washing veggies, chopping veggies, getting stuff from the pantry.
  • When they’re little, put them in their highchair where they can see what’s going on. Crack out the play dough or give them something to eat.
  • Feed them as you prep – most nights my son has eats most of his veggies before dinner is even served. Sneaking them off the chopping board is so much more appealing (pretend you didn’t notice).
  • Put on a podcast or audiobook for them to listen to – great for kids who always want a story as soon as you start doing something.

Want to simplify more of the everyday tasks of family life? I’ve got you covered:

What tricks do you use to make getting dinner on the table easier?

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