You’re probably a better person than me. You NEVER hit 4:30pm and suddenly go, “Oh, yeah: DINNER.” So this post probably will not be helpful to you. Consider it a personal note to myself that I’m putting on this blog. For me. Because almost every day this year it’s been “Oh, yeah: DINNER,” sometimes even with the “I meant to go to the store YESTERDAY” thrown in for fun.
BUT I’M SURE THAT NEVER HAPPENS IN YOUR HOUSE.
So this post is for me and that 4-6pm witching hour that happens when you have kids. (WHAT IS THAT, by the way? It’s for real.) Today I went to the store so my kitchen is fully stocked, but I can still use these hacks to help me get dinner on that table faster. Because with four kids running in circles around me in the kitchen, I’m all about FASTER DINNER.
10 FAST Dinner Hacks
1. Couscous Instead of Rice.
There is little worse than having everything ready and then realizing that you didn’t make the rice yet and it takes 25 minutes ONCE the water has boiled. You can do instant rice, I guess, but wouldn’t you rather do couscous?? Once the water boils, it’s ready in 5 minutes. Plus! It’s a 1 to 1 ratio (1 cup water to 1 cup couscous) so easy to remember. My kids love it and it’s fun to say three times fast: couscous couscous couscous. Keep it on hand in case of emergency.
2. Frozen Steam-in-Bag Veggies.
I try to have a few of these in the freezer so that any night of the week that I forgot dinner. Green things! Steamed in a bag in the microwave in about 5 minutes!
3. Semi-Homemade Dinners.
I like those freezer skillet meals, but the generally aren’t enough for a family of four. But add in more fresh veggies and more meat and you have a much easier meal. Cans that you can dump and make a meal are also pretty sweet. A can of crushed tomatoes is a balm to my soul. That may be a little strongly worded, but I feel like it can smooth over a lot of dinnertime woes. I use it as a base for pasta sauce, as pizza sauce, and love baking chicken in it (with added spices, of course). Any part of dinner that is already made is one step closer to DONE. I also love the fully cooked flavored chicken breasts that are in the freezer section. You can whip up a great salad with those!
4. Meal Planning.
Okay. So this one doesn’t work in a pinch. But I feel about 85% sure that if I planned my meals, I wouldn’t have the dinner emergency. My friend Kristi at Moms Confession has a great resource for this! Check out her Meal Planning for Busy Moms ebook.
5. Crockpot Meals.
Again, this doesn’t work at the last minute. But if I didn’t have to create dinner during the witching hour, that would be AMAZING AND MAGICAL. (Sorry I’m using All-Caps so much. Must be a lot of last-minute dinners.) Mornings are crazy, but after we get Sawyer to school, I could totally toss a bunch of things in a crockpot. (Um, and check out this damask crock pot.)
6. Eggs for Dinner.
I may have used this last night when I realized that eggs were about the only food with protein in my house. I stuck an egg casserole in the oven for about 30 minutes, but a fritatta would be a faster choice. You start it in an oven-safe skillet and when the bottom starts to be cooked, broil it for a few minutes in the oven. You can add about anything, just like a quiche, but the time is cut in half. BOOM.
7. Fancy Sandwiches.
One of Rob’s favorite dinner memories from childhood is having fancy subs. His mom would get out all the fixings (a LOT of them, apparently) and everyone would build their own sub, wrap it in foil, and then bake it in the oven. I love using the George Foreman grill and making paninis on thinly sliced bread. YUM. You can even do fancy grilled cheese paninis if you don’t have (or eat) meat.
8. Thinly Sliced Meat for Faster Cooking.
Have a bunch of boneless chicken breasts? Those babies can take like 3o+ minutes in the oven if you leave them whole. Slice them thinly, then give them a quick sear over a higher heat in a skillet and turn them down to medium for a quick <10 minute cook. I like to add liquid after the outside is seared (i.e., not pink on the outside, preferably brown). Something like white wine or even a can of crushed tomatoes with added basil or other spices. This is a huge time saver!
9. Freezer Meals.
If you have a particular day with a stretch of time, you can make a LOT of meals at one time and stick them in the freezer. This goes back to the planning. But the idea of just taking something out of the freezer and heating it up? YES. This would save the 4pm tomorrow me, who doesn’t know yet that she is already in trouble. (Because it’s 11pm and I’m writing a blog post, not making dinner plans.) I love this with my kids’ weekly lunches, so I can see making a lot of meals at one time for dinners.
10. Choose Your Own Adventure Meal.
I’ve learned that with kids, if you act excited about something, THEY get excited about something. Breakfast for dinner! Pick any two things from the fridge! Fruit for dinner! Put things on a cracker! These all make me sound like a terrible mom, totally unconcerned about health. I’m not saying this is EVERY meal. Just the ones you forget about. Just in case. Rob’s dad used to get cans with no labels from the grocery store on clearance and the kids would play a game of Mystery Can Dinner. I’m sure at the time it was awful, but oh, the memories!!!
Have you stumbled upon any fast dinnertime hacks? With some planning and a little MacGyver-ing in the kitchen, that witching hour of dinner prep doesn’t have to be such a nightmare.
I’ll be honest though: the fact that I’m the adult responsible for getting meals on the table is still sometimes surprising.
Some of these links are affiliate links! That means that buying something if you click through gives me a referral fee at NO EXTRA COST TO YOU. Thanks for supporting the blog!