How to make dinnertime easier without having to use a weekly menu.
I’m a planner and love to map out every minute of my day. So meal plans are my lifeline to having a stress-free end to a very busy day. I do know however that not everyone is an obsessive planner. So I have come up with another option for those of you that want to make dinner time easier but don’t want to plan meals out.
Below are some of my tried and true tips that I have resorted to every now and then when I just don’t have time to set up a weekly menu. My goal with all of my planning is to make my life easier and less stressful and let’s face it…chaos of any kind is about as stressful as you can get. On those days, it’s always good to have a plan B to fall back on. This is your go-to list of plan B’s that you can keep close by when you need a bit of help at dinnertime.
How To Make Dinnertime Easier (even without a) Meal Plan
Tip #1 Assign daily themes.
By assigning a meal theme to each day, you will really narrow down your choice and make things a bit easier at dinnertime. Even though I do meal plans I still have daily themes for those days when what I have planned just doesn’t sound good.
I cannot tell you how much easier it is to choose a meal knowing it is chicken Tuesday.
This one tip alone will make dinnertime a lot less stressful.
Here is a peek at my weekly meal theme. Use this to inspire yourself to set up a theme plan for your family.
- Leftover Monday
- Chicken/fish Tuesday
- Pasta Wednesday
- Stirfry Thursday
- Fast food (homemade) Friday
- Soup Saturday (in winter) grill out Saturday (in summer)
- Family Dinner Sunday
By setting up a theme day in your own home you will make getting a meal on the table a lot less chaotic making dinnertime more enjoyable for you as well.
Tip #2 Keep a go-to list.
Every family has their favorites and our family is no different.
When I’m pressed for time and out of ideas a quick peek at my go-to meal list is usually all I need to get dinner on the table. If you do not have a go-to meal list, now is the time to get your family’s input.
Ask each of them to list their 3 favorite meals. Write everything down next to their name so you know who picked what. Round your list out by adding a few of your own meals along with some quick last-minute options.
You now have a go-to meal list!
SLCG PRO TIP: Be sure to always have ingredients on hand for these go-to meals. This way when you do want to make something on this helpful list you know you have all you need to make any of your options.
Next time you are lost as to what to make for dinner, just refer to your go-to meal list and you are good to go. This list is also great on Birthdays. There is nothing more enjoyable than making a favorite meal for the guest of honor.
Tip #3 Stock your freezer.
Another helpful tip if you hate to meal plan is to be sure your freezer has enough options to make any of your go-to meals. So, if sloppy joes are a family favorite, make sure you always have hamburger ready to go in your freezer.
There is nothing more frustrating than preparing dinner only to find you are missing a key ingredient.
Another tip? Fry up a bunch of hamburger and freeze in quart-sized zip lock bags. This super helpful tip will really cut down on dinnertime prep. With frozen prepared burger in your freezer, you will have the main job already done when you want to make tacos, sloppy joes, goulash, spaghetti, and even chili.
This time-saving tip will really make dinner time a snap! You can also do the same with chicken or turkey. Remember the more you can do when life is peaceful the more you can avoid a stressful situation especially when cooking time is short and hunger pains in your family are at an all-time high.
Tip #4 Stock your pantry.
On the same note, you also want to make sure you have all you need in your pantry. Once you choose your main dish the sides should also be easy.
To really make this part fast and simple try to keep a nice variety of ready to go side dishes on hand.
A few sides to always have in your pantry
- Mac and Cheese
- Roll mix
- Season packets
Tip #5 Dust off your crockpot.
I LOVE my crockpot and use it year-round.
Nothing solves dinner time madness than a meal you prepared in the morning. Not only will your house smell amazing, but clean up is a snap since most crockpot dishes are one-dish meals.
No crockpot? No worries, they are cheaper than you think and a great investment for your kitchen. Start your crockpot search HERE.
Another handy kitchen tool to have is an instant pot. This helpful tool does cook more quickly than a crockpot but the pressure buildup time does take a bit as well. I was unaware that building up pressure before the food cooks can take quite a while and that is important to remember when figuring your meal prep time.
Tip #6 Leftovers at the ready.
Whenever I am making a family favorite, I like to double up on those or any easy dishes so I can freeze meals to have in a pinch.
It takes the same amount of time and effort to whip up a double batch of Crockpot Chicken Fajitas.
When you are done cooking simply freeze up enough for a future dinner and you are all set!
Meals that are easy to double up
- Sloppy Joes
- Chicken nuggets
- Any casserole
- Grilled chicken
Bonus Tip: Homemade fast food meals.
Most families love fast food meals. So fast food Friday’s are a big hit in our home.
Pizza, hotdogs, mac-n-cheese, chicken strips, fish sandwiches, hamburgers, garbage fries. I could go on and on. Have a few of these goodies ready to go and you have yourself a super quick and fun meal in just minutes.
Worried about processed foods? Make as much as you can from scratch and freeze. Just a little more work and you have the same yummy foods that are not only delicious but good for you too!
Sometimes having a few tricks up your sleeve is all you need to make dinnertime easier.