Final Steps to Streamline Dinnertime

Family Fixing Dinner 1

At the end of the day, do your family activities take off like fireworks at the end of a fireworks show? As the day winds down, do you find that you have to crank up, taking children in eight different directions or having to attend all sorts of meetings? Because families are tired and busy at the end of the day, preparing dinner can seem like a monumental task, with no time to even make dinner. However, if you follow the steps listed below to streamline dinnertime, you will find that step three, preparing the meal, actually is quite simple if steps one and two have been accomplished.

As a review, step one is to plan two to four weeks of meal ideas and keep them handy and written down, and then repeat the meal cycle. In doing so, your family will have a variety of favorite meals, and they will be rotated every three to four weeks. There is no reason to eat spaghetti three times a week or to spend precious time planning family meal ideas every week.

Step two is purchasing groceries, but you should purchase them with your meal plan in hand. By having the meal plans in place, you can attack grocery store shopping with a purpose in mind for everything you place in your cart, saving time and money.

Now that you have planned the meals and purchased all ingredients accordingly, you will find that step three — preparing the meal — is not hard at all when you have everything you need at your fingertips. You can also simplify dinnertime by taking your planned meals and coordinating them against your nightly schedule and routine. Make the more time-consuming meals on evenings that are not so jam-packed, but if it is a busy evening, plan to prepare a quicker, easier meal that is on your list that week.

If you are looking for additional ideas to create quick and easy meals, here are some ideas that can be lifesavers.

  1. Cook once and eat twice. Some dishes really require very little extra work to double the recipe, so you can eat it and freeze the second portion. Examples include soups, stews, chili and spaghetti. 
  2. Cook lean ground meat in bulk and freeze it to use later. No matter what your choice is for the type of lean ground meats, cook it in batche,s and then freeze it to use later.
  3. Dust off that crockpot and get busy with it! You have heard that piece of advice before, but it truly can be a lifesaver.
  4. Buy a grill that you can use in your kitchen. You can grill veggies, frozen chicken, frozen salmon, etc. The list is endless, but it is a very quick way to cook.

The last two steps to streamline dinnertime — after you have completed the first three of planning, purchasing and preparing — is picking and punting. Step four — picking — is to pick your sides each night. Purchase abundant amounts of “side items,” like a variety of frozen vegetables, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa or brown rice, and simply pick them out each night rather than assign them to every meal. When you are planning your meals, if you get too detailed it can overwhelm you.

Step five — punting — is exactly what it sounds like, giving you permission to punt as need be. The goal of meal planning is not perfection but to help streamline dinnertime, so you don’t find yourself punting every single night!  However, when things go haywire, plan to punt. Keep emergency dinner ideas on hand, and in mind, such as grilled cheese sandwiches, salad with grilled chicken, or even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with fruit.

Sometimes, you may have to resort to eating out but, ideally, this will be an occasional necessity, a fun treat, rather than the norm. Keep in mind that when you expose your children to a constant diet of restaurant and fast food, you are exposing them to an enormous amount of calories, fat, sodium and sugar. The nutrition repercussions on a little one are enormous. Feeding your family healthy meals is one of the most nourishing and nurturing things you can do for your family.

Tracy Owens, owner of Triangle Nutrition Therapy, is a board-certified sports dietician and clinical dietician. She is the UNC-Greensboro sports dietician and also works with the athletes of Triangle Volleyball Club. She has 29-plus years of experience and develops customized nutrition solutions that are simple and easy to follow. Learn more about Tracy at


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