How to make preparing family dinner less stressful

Having to prepare a family dinner that 1) is balanced, 2) is healthy and 3) your kids like every day can be a source of tremendous stress. You might be staring at the fridge or pantry and having a million thoughts go through your mind. Is this meal good enough? Will my picky eater eat it? Will they say ‘not again’? You might be frustrated at having to spend valuable time preparing food when you are already tired. Plus, (if having a meal delivery service or an in-house cook is not an option), all the weight is on you. It can be exhausting and…annoying.

Here are my top tips for making it easier for you:

  1. Buy frozen products. By that I don’t mean processed foods such as french fries, fish fingers, nuggets and the like (though there is nothing wrong with such foods every now and then). The frozen products section of your supermarket is full of things you might not be aware of such as chopped onions (great when things have to go fast), frozen vegetables (already washed and cut, saving you lots of time) and fruits. Their nutritional value is just as good or even. better than fresh products because they are frozen directly after they are harvested. On that note.
  2. Buy a bigger freezer. Don’t settle for your fridge’s small freezer! If you have the space, buy a big freezer and fill it up with the frozen products described above or leftovers in small, easy to defrost bags. On top of being very practical, it can save you quite a lot of money and energy as you’ll be spending less time cooking. They way to do that is to…
  3. Batch cook! Buy a big pot and cook not for four people but for ten or more, each time. Most cooked food freezes really well. Your kids won’t even know it.
  4. Hide vegetables in sauces and soups. My kids also went through the ‘I don’t like (insert any vegetable)’ phase. What I did was to steam them and then mix them with tomato sauce. I can’t tell you how much ‘tomato’ sauce they’ve had that was mostly spinach with a bit of tomato. They also don’t see vegetables in pureed soups.
  5. Don’t be afraid to use canned food. Canned beans, corn and sardines/tuna are a staple in our kitchen. They don’t require any cooking and are nutritious and tasty. Of course there are some concerns of BPA leaking into the food, but as long as you go for the more expensive brands and you don’t have them every day, they are safe and practical.
  6. Aim for variety. Even for things like pasta, which seem to be every kid’s favorite meal, go for the different types available. You’ve got your regular pasta, whole-wheat pasta, lentil pasta, chickpea pasta, buckwheat pasta, you name it you have it. And remember you can always elevate the dish’s nutritional value by adding a secret sauce with hidden ingredients. The other day I made a pasta sauce that had broccoli and sardines. My 2 year old would never had eaten those things separately, but she devoured her pasta in a few minutes.
  7. Buy a pressure cooker for cooking meat. It’s often half the time you would need to cook it in the oven, and it becomes very soft. No time to cook and only chicken thighs in the fridge? In 20 minutes they will be ready to eat.
  8. Plan your grocery shopping list well. There’s nothing more stressful than a hungry child and you looking at an empty fridge in despair. Stock up! Don’t hesitate to buy enough for the whole week and more.
  9. Don’t try to make meals look perfect. Of course it would be great if every meal was instagram-able. But does it matter? Nobody will see it other than you and your family. It’s fine if it’s messy, as long as it’s edible!
  10. Go for the easiest recipes around, especially if you feel insecure about your cooking skills. I love the book The power of Yum for simple but very tasty one-sheet meal plans.
  11. If your recipes are so easy, involve other family members in the process. Replace having to multitask and chop while you are making sure no one kills themselves with having your toddler bring you the (plastic) plate, or your older child throwing things in the casserole, or even deciding on which spices to use. It’s never to late to get children interested in cooking anyway.
  12. Download my weekly family meal plan template and fill it in before the start of the week. You don’t have to stick to it 100%, but having a plan is better than having no plan, at least for your mental health.

Please don’t feel guilty if the best thing you can do one day is order in. You are still providing food, bellies will be full and kids will be happy. Remember, perfection is the art of never being satisfied.

This final tip is for you and your sanity. If you have small children, try not to have your main meal with them next to you.  I like to sit with them and have a small portion so that we share that moment together, but I eat the majority of my meal once they are sleeping or while someone else is with them. The reason is that I know that I will usually be getting up multiple times at the request of my kids, swiping tables or picking up things from the floor, and that’s not a way to enjoy a meal.

Do you have any other ideas on how to make dinners less stressful? Leave a comment below!

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Hi, I'm Annie!

I’m a mum of two and a coach with a mission to help fellow mums prevent burnout, eradicate stress and overwhelm and live their best lives.

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