I’m so excited to share my 10 tips to make sure dinner is never the cause of late nights for your busy family! This blog is inspired by a question from a member of our Facebook Group. We are going to stop the chaos, crying, running around, eating out, or throwing together anything in the kitchen. Or ending up with an incredible meal, but much later than you would’ve hoped. I’m also going to share with you some of my family’s favorite meals that save us a ton of time, and make clean-up super quick too!
That question that always comes up without fail for busy families is, “what’s for dinner?” and every day it’s something you have to answer. Dinner can be the most special and calming part of your day as a family! If you want to make evenings in your home a time to come together, reflect, laugh, share about your day, nourish yourself and each other, and get everyone to bed on time then keep reading because I’m bringing you all the details here!
Listen below for the entire episode on The Systemize Your Life Podcast
10 Dinner Tips For a Busy Family
We are going to dive straight in today! I am going to teach you my 10 tips for making sure that you are able to get a meal on the table and get the kids to bed on time. I do not mess around with bedtime because I am a monster if I don’t get enough sleep. There have been a few times that we have gone away from these 10 tips, and my kids go to bed late, and it throws everything off!
#1 Know Your Favorite Family Meals
These should be your go-to meals all the time! I talk about this so much because it is hard. Every family has picky eaters. We work hard on it. Everyone has different time restraints on when they can start dinner. This leads to #2: know your start time.
#2 Know What Time You Need to Start Dinner in Order to Get Everyone to Bed On Time
Not every family has the ability to start dinner at 4:30 p.m. If you do, that should be your start time! If you can’t, what can you do to make getting dinner on the table at an hour that works for your family much easier? This takes us straight to #3: prep your food beforehand.
#3 Prep Your Food Beforehand
You should not be doing all of your cooking from scratch that evening even if you are starting at 4:30 p.m. Unless I know that these are the three things I’m pulling out and putting in the pan. But if the meal has anything else, things are prepped beforehand. You need to know what you’re having for your meals in order to do this. You need to know what you are eating and what can you prepare ahead of time. Often this happens on the weekend for me. When I go to cook a meal I know whether or not it’s going to be simple, and if I can start prepping for the next meal while making tonight’s meal.
#4 Get Your Fridge and Pantry Organized!
If I could come to your kitchen and get your fridge and pantry organized for you I would because I love this so much! Mine is currently not as organized as I would like, but the good news is I can do it while I’m making dinner tonight! That is because I prepped tonight’s meal ahead of time, so it will be super simple and easy. While things are cooking I can pull everything out of my fridge, give it a good wipe down, and put it back in the order it needs to be organized.
#5 Wash As You Go
What does this have to do with quick and easy meals and getting kids to bed on time? If you have a super dirty kitchen you are not going to get to bed on time. It’s going to make it so much harder for you to navigate the things you need to do to get your kids to bed on time too. Make sure you’re washing your dishes as you go. This is the number one thing my mom taught me, and it’s stuck. We wash our dishes as we go, and there’s really not much to do when we’re done cooking.
#6 Call the Kids to the Kitchen 20 Minutes Before Dinner is Done
This is a big one for me! Make sure you are calling them well before dinner is done. Not so they can sit at the table and be bored. This is the time for them to start cleaning up their work or whatever it is they’re doing. That is their cue to clean up, wash, their hands, and start their jobs to get dinner on the table. This is a huge opportunity for them and for you. This makes it less cumbersome for you, it gives them more responsibilities, and it allows them to see how food is prepared and the hard work you do!
Without fail, I am always the last one to sit at the table. I want my kids to see and know how hard that work is. This is not a full-service resort. We say thank you. The kids get their own cups of water and get their own napkins. They ask “how can I help”? Let them see that the food just doesn’t appear.
I know this is really hard with younger kids. I used to wear my babies and give them a wooden spoon. Even when they’re so small, you can still talk to them about what you’re doing. They sat in a high chair with me in the kitchen when they get bigger. It has taught them so much!
#7 Dinner Should Be Screen Free
Don’t let your screens even be within arms reach. That includes the TV. Sometimes we have meals with the TV on, but it is a separate thing we call a “picnic dinner.” It’s a bit of a treat, and sometimes we do it too much and realize we need to come back to the kitchen table. There is a balance for my family and there can be a balance for your family. What we’ve realized is that the kids stay up too late when there are screens on.
#8 Have Cleanup Jobs
This is such a big transition point when dinner is done, and moving into their bedtime routine. If you lose them, game over. You have to keep them engaged in this pivotal moment. My kids have to ask to be excused from the table for a reason. It draws attention to what is next. When they have to ask to be excused I get to prompt them on what’s coming up next. It gives them an opportunity to see how they can continue to be involved. Whatever the first thing for the bedtime routine is should come next. We want to keep them on track after dinner is done.
#9 No Screens After Dinner
We go straight to the first domino of their bedtime routine. When we stick to tip #6 (screen-free dinner) it allows us to connect and have conversations with our kids. There are so many different things you can talk about including the food! This could be different textures, flavors, or how something was prepared. Our kids love this time. Will it be hard to transition away if your kids are used to having screens during dinner or right after? Yes, it will be hard. They will get over it when they realize how much you’re pouring into them, and the attention they are getting from you.
#10 Verbally Remind Them of Their Favorite Part of the Bedtime Routine
That after-dinner or bedtime routine needs to have something that they look forward to no matter how old your kids are. Maybe it’s something they look forward to doing with you. But here are some other things they might look forward to. Our kids have been warped by a fast-paced world. They are constantly looking for entertainment. Staying focused and following multi-step directions is very hard for them, but it’s a skill they need! The more you can prompt and keep them within the guardrails of their routines, the more they’re going to grow up to be independent and productive.
We are trying to produce a solid bedtime routine for our kids with things they can look forward to. Some of the things they look forward to are books, oil routines, and yoga books. We are always transitioning how much independence to give as each child grows. For example, one of the things we are now having our five-year-old do is to get her pajamas on by herself. Things like this give me the time and space to help my kids learn how to wrap up their day well.
The hope with this is that you will be able to use these 10 dinner tips to be able to focus on the bedtime routine, and make that a special time for your family while making sure everyone gets to bed on time!
Getting your kids involved with making dinner is a huge opportunity for them and for you. This provides help for you, it gives them more responsibilities, and it allows them to see how food is prepared and the hard work you do!
Bonus! Our Five Favorite Meals
Here are our five quick favorite meals. If you haven’t already read about my menu card meal planning system, I give all the details here. You can also get my free downloadable menu cards here! As a bonus here are some of our go-to meals that are from my meal planning system!
#1 Hamburger Bowls
When we’re at home, we have so many extra hamburger buns. One day I decided to just try fries at the bottom of a bowl with stacked ground beef and your favorite toppings (lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions)!
#2 Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
I bake sweet potatoes one hour before, and we stuff them with sloppy joe meat, ground turkey, or pulled pork with BBQ sauce.
#3 Roasted Chicken and Mashed Potatoes
Get yourself a rotisserie chicken or make your own homemade roast chicken in a cast iron skillet! Make some mashed potatoes and your favorite vegetables with it. Those are really quick and simple. You can do a huge batch of mashed potatoes and freeze them in ice cube trays, put them in a ziplock bag, put them in a skillet with milk (covered), and they reheat like fresh mashed potatoes
#4 Fish and Rice
We are not a huge fish-eating family, but we do eat it with rice and a green vegetable! I usually roast them with coconut oil- even in the summer!
#5 Homemade Mac and Cheese + Their Favorite Meat
We make homemade mac and cheese (though we used to make boxed mac and cheese) and pair it with their favorite meat like ground turkey and a vegetable.
We keep it super simple around here, and I suggest you do the same! Try to make these five meals your next five meals for next week, and let us know how it goes in our free Facebook Group!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I make meal planning easier each day?
If you haven’t heard about my menu board meal planning system, now is the perfect time to check it out! You can read more about my system here, and get my free downloadable meal cards! Planning dinner each night to set your family up for success doesn’t have to be difficult. My system will allow you to have the meals that work best for your family without the headache or chaos!