Dinnertime in my household is just about the craziest time of day. Thereís a baby to be fed, washed and put to bed, two dogs sitting at the door, drooling for their evening meal and the challenge of conjuring up a nutritious and hopefully edible dinner for my husband and I.
We only have one child (so far) so I canít imagine how crazy other households are at this time of day.
Being organised at dinnertime certainly helps reduce some of the craziness and impending sense of Ďhangrinessí that takes over. Being a work-at-home mum, Iím always looking for ways to save time as I make most things from scratch and I donít have an all-in-one kitchen appliance to do everything as the adverts promise.
I do, however, have a slow cooker, and itís my favourite appliance. I place all the ingredients in it in the morning, turn it on to the appropriate setting and I donít have to think about it for the rest of the day. You can even chop the vegetables or meat the night before, leave them in the fridge and then most of the hard work is done before you even get the slow cooker out of the cupboard. Donít forget to take meat out at nighttime and leave it in the fridge to defrost overnight.
Here's some I prepared earlier.
Avoid the nightly supermarket trip by planning ahead. Create a weekly meal plan by deciding on a meal for each night of the week and then work out what ingredients you need, and collect them all in one swoop. This can also help you save money by selecting only the ingredients you need and avoid buying items that might go to waste.
The slow cooker doing the work for me.
One-pan meals are generally easy to make and usually require just that Ė one pan. You may need to do some preparation work, but once everything is on the stove, thereís little work involved after. Plus thereís only one pan to clean!
If you have some time free over the weekend, spend a few hours making several meals at once and put them in the freezer for some cooking-free nights. You could have a curry in the slow cooker, while a meatloaf bakes in the oven as you whip up a batch of spaghetti sauce. Alternatively, make double the portions. I make twice the amount of food so that my husband can take one portion for lunch the next day, and I take some out (before I add the salt, pepper or chilli) for my nearly-one-year old daughter, who doesnít eat a lot, and I divide it up into little portions using a silicon muffin tray and freeze it for her for lunches.
Keeping children entertained is always difficult at dinnertime, so itís a good idea to have an activity ready for them before you begin, such as a jigsaw puzzle or colouring book. You can encourage older children to do their homework around this time or help in the kitchen by peeling vegetables. When my daughter was a baby I would put her in her bouncer in the kitchen where she could watch me. Now that she is almost one, I have a playpen set up right outside the kitchen where she can play as I cook.
How I keep my daughter entertained for five minutes...let her play in the cupboard.
Cleaning up is time consuming, so get everyone to help out after dinner Ė this will prevent you having to wash last nightís dishes, pans and utensils before youíve even started cooking. If your partner is a FIFO worker, take advantage of any offers of help you get Ė to peel vegetables, chop potatoes or wash dishes Ė anything to help dinnertime become less of a chore.