Getting dinner on the table for your family when you’ve got little ones underfoot can be a major undertaking! You’re busy, have lots of mouths to feed and have multiple tastes to consider.
I don’t have kids yet so I’ve invited Stephanie at Mama Shark to share her tips with you in this article.
She says: “when 4pm hits, my kids seem to flip a grumpy switch and my youngest suddenly feels the need to be held continuously. Tell me it’s not just me!”
If this is a scenario you can relate to, I’ve got some help for you! Here are my top 5 easy tips to help you get dinner on the table when you’ve got little kids!
You might also like: 24+ Proven Ways to Get Dinner on the Table in Half the Time
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1. Prep in the morning
Let the crockpot be your best friend! If your kids are generally happier (or asleep!) in the mornings, do your meal prepping then! There are many, many great crockpot recipes out there that are suuuuuuper easy to throw together.
And even if your meal isn’t a crockpot meal, you can still do as much prep as possible in the morning!
I will chop veggies, prepare sauces, cut up meat…anything I can do ahead of time without spoiling the meal, I do it! (Bonus tip: I also often use that time to pull out the meat for the next day to get it thawing!)
This cuts down significantly on the time you’ve got to spend when dinner time gets closer- and it’s a big motivator, too!
Because let’s face it- by dinner time, I’m tired too; if I don’t have anything planned or prepped by late afternoon, I find it really difficult to drum up the gumption to make a meal- but if it’s already mostly done and I just need to throw it in the oven/pan/etc….that’s not too bad!
2. Befriend your appliances
It took me way too long to learn about a lot of the features on my cooking appliances- particularly the ones that allow for delayed cooking time!
I’ve got programmable features on my instant pot, crockpot, oven, and microwave, and they’ve become one of my favorite ways to avoid late afternoon meltdowns when I’m trying to get dinner on the table with my little kids around.
For example, I will often prep meat or veggies and put it in the oven and set the delay start feature to have it ready at dinner time, or put a bag of steamable veggies in the microwave and set the delay start feature on there.
Then instead of trying to read a recipe and stir with one hand while holding a cranky toddler, I can take the kids out for a walk or some other engaging activity to keep them happy for a bit- and BOOM we get home and dinner is already ready. Magic!
As long as you don’t keep high risk foods like meat or dairy at room temp for more than about 2 hours you won’t be risking food safety. Foods like raw veggies are fine to stay at room temp even longer than that.
3. Freezer meals make it easy to get dinner on the table!
I love freezer meals!
A freezer meal is a meal you made ahead of time and freeze so that all you have to do the day-of is cook it in whatever appliance it’s designed for.
A lot of freezer meals are designed for the crockpot or instant pot, so those work really well with the whole prepping-in-the-morning thing, but it doesn’t have to be limited to those two devices!
One way I create easy freezer meals is by simply batch cooking quite a few of our dinners- I almost always double or triple (or more!) our recipes.
Not only does it give us good lunch leftovers, but I often have enough to stick in the freezer for an easy meal for another day.
And bonus- those batch cooked meals are already DONE, so all I have to do is thaw and heat them up and I’ve got dinner!
It usually doesn’t take more than a few extra minutes to make a bigger batch of most recipes, so in my mind it’s totally worth the extra effort up front to not have to make as many meals in the long run.
If you’re finding these tips helpful, be sure to check out my workbook, Simple, Money-Saving Meal Ideas.
4. Have back-up meals
One of the best ways to get dinner on the table with little kids around is to have back up options. The reality is kids are unpredictable and our lives as parents are therefore unpredictable.
While it may be great to think we’re going to make this fancy meal for dinner tonight….as sure as we plan that, one of the kids is going to start barfing or the dog is going to run away right before you start cooking, etc.
So it’s good to have back-ups in place!
It’s certainly okay to order pizza from time to time, but that can get expensive quickly, and I’m a huge fan of meal planning to save money.
The Minimalist Meal Planning Workbook completely simplifies meal planning and takes you step-by-step through the process so you can stick with it once and for all!
With the right plan in place, there won’t be near as much eating out required because dinner didn’t get made!
So what kind of back up meals am I talking about?
Well, first there’s the freezer leftovers I just mentioned- those are great when you’ve got them.
Another easy way to have a back up meal is always keep certain basic ingredients in the house- maybe you always keep stuff for tacos. Or smoothies. Or sandwiches. Or whatever it is that you know you can whip up quickly!
A third option for a back up meal is pre-cooked foods, like chicken nuggets or pizza or meatballs.
Pre-made foods tend to be more expensive and less nutritious, but it’s still usually cheaper than eating out and can be handy in a pinch.
This is a part of simplifying how you eat!
5. Give yourself grace
Every parent knows that getting dinner on the table with little kids is just plain hard. And for some reason, they want to eat dinner EVERY NIGHT…what’s up with that?
So give yourself GRACE and lots of it!
Some days just don’t work out the way you want them to and something has to give. Maybe it’s making the easier but less nutritious meal. Maybe it’s letting them watch some extra TV so that you can make the meal you planned.
Whatever your dinner ends up looking like, know that you’re not alone, your kids will be okay! It’s a marathon, not a sprint- do what you can and give yourself grace on the rest!
About the Author
Stephanie Iraggi is a Mom of 2 and a blogger in the few moments when her kids aren’t begging for snacks. In her pre-kids life she was a business owner/entrepreneur and she enjoys using the skills she developed there to organize and simplify her current chaos. She writes at MamaShark.blog about becoming more efficient in the daily to day of Mom Life and has a passion for making Mamas lives easier and less stressful.
I hope you enjoyed reading these tips for getting dinner on the table with little kids!
What strategies have you found for getting dinner on the table with little kids? Comment below and let us know!