How to Cook at Home When You Are Insanely Busy

No time to cook dinner? Simplify your busy lifestyle with five meal-time strategies that help you get dinner on the table fast. Perfect for the family with a full schedule!

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No time to cook dinner? Simplify your busy lifestyle with five meal-time strategies that help you get dinner on the table fast. Perfect for the family with a full schedule! #cookathome #easydinnerideas #toobusytocook

My perception of how meals would work in our home, was highly skewed by Martha Stewart…and possibly my Grandma.

Growing up, I assumed that once I became a wife, I was to be in charge of the cooking, cleaning, and general everyday flow of schedules and routines. I watched my Grandma be the amazing hostess she always is, never forgetting to ask if guests needed more food than they could possibly consume in a day, and providing cookies and dessert after every meal.

I knew that when I married, I wanted to be just like her, but the excitement of being a new wife and trying all sorts of new recipes was not exactly as I had imagined it. I was still finishing up my last two years of college, while Joseph was working two jobs to afford our small apartment and my hefty textbooks.

We rarely had time for a nice sit down meal, let alone any meal together.

My AHA Moment

After many tears, misunderstandings, and nights where I stubbornly sat at the table and ate cold food by myself, we realized we simply had to adapt. I was subconsciously trying to follow a 50’s era model for a modern-day working family, and it just wasn’t working.

Even though I’m not in college anymore, meal time is not any easier because life manages to get even busier.

How do we save time—and money—without the added pressure of grabbing a quick meal at the drive-thru OR resorting to frozen dinners that never look like the picture displayed on the front of the box?

It took us almost 6 years to figure that out and we still don’t have the perfect routine. However, these 5 strategies have helped us not only communicate with each other, but also make meal-time much more doable.

1. Plan Meals Ahead of Time

Meal planning might sound intimidating, especially if you haven’t ever done it before. But planning ahead of time is a no-brainer if you want to avoid the 5 o’clock scramble. The key is to skip any method that sounds overly complicated or takes a LOT of planning.

I tend to keep my meal planning quite simple {I don’t even assign meals to specific days} and it’s worked beautifully over the past few years.

In addition to meal planning each week, part of my morning routine is to discuss with Joseph what meals we plan to have that day. This makes it so much easier to pull meat out to thaw in the morning or do some prep work if we have a few minutes before work.

Your all-in-one meal planning hub

Build a personalized recipe collection from start to finish with The Printable Recipe Binder Kit. Type directly onto recipe cards (or copy and paste from your favorite blog!) and use the meal planning worksheets to make dinner decisions a breeze.

2. Create a list of Simple Go-To Meals

I love trying new recipes, but at the end of the day, we stick to meals that come together in 20 minutes or less. They don’t require a lot of prep, and are easy enough for Joseph to put together when I’m pulling late hours in my office.

Some of our fast and favorite dinners are:

  • Grilled Chicken Wraps {we cook the chicken beforehand and freeze}
  • Veggie Chicken Stir Fry
  • Breakfast {Pancakes, eggs, and bacon}
  • Cheese and Spinach Quesadillas
  • Hamburgers and Fries
  • BBQ Joes
  • Soup and Sandwiches
  • Grilled Chicken on Salads
  • Leftovers from the night before

Another perk, is you know exactly what ingredients to buy {and stock up on} every week. Instead of buying special ingredients for one or two meals, keep a hefty stock of items you reach for often, and can easily mix-and-match to make your favorite, no-fuss meals.

To make things even easier, check out the meal plan rotation hack that I use to completely automate my meal planning!

3. Double what you already make

While the first two strategies are pretty easy to implement, the absolute easiest way to eat at home when you’re short on time, by far, is to simply double whatever you make and freeze half. 

A stash of freezer meals means you can still serve a great supper on nights when you don’t have time to thaw meat, babysit the stovetop, or just don’t feel like cooking. It’s the best way to freezer cook without spending an entire day in the kitchen!

My favorite meals to double are casseroles, pizza dough, soups, and baked goods. And since it’s just the two of us, we can usually make a full recipe and just freeze the half we don’t eat. Plus, I’m much more willing to eat food that’s been frozen at the peak of freshness, then open up a suspicious looking container that’s been sitting in the fridge too long.

4. Incorporate a “Cheat”

There used to be a Food Network show called, Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee, and it’s one both my mom and I enjoyed watching. Why? Because it was simple! Sandra always started with a “cheat”, AKA a food item that was already made, which finished the meal in record time.

While I’m in awe of anyone who can whip up from-scratch pie crusts, knead batches of homemade pizza dough, and puree their own peanut butter, it’s not always realistic. Give yourself grace, and find a way to incorporate a “cheat” into your favorite meals.

If you need inspiration, two of my go-to dishes start with a canned bread base. Feel free to adopt them into your own weekly meal plan!

Psst… and if you’re worried about processed ingredients, there are plenty of “cheats” at the store with minimal extras. For instance, I used to stress over homemade sweet potato fries, until I found this frozen alternative. Game-changer.

5. Fall in Love With Your Crockpot

Most crockpot recipes require only a few ingredients that simmer all day and provide a scrumptious meal just in time for dinner. But you can speed up the morning prep-work by gathering all the ingredients together the night before. Assemble in a bag and dump into your slow-cooker the next morning. Easy!

One of my favorite crockpot meals are Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches. As a bonus, we always have leftovers and I’ll freeze them in 1-2 serving containers for another meal the following week.

Find even more comfort food crockpot recipes HERE.

As much as we try to implement these 5 meal-time strategies in our kitchen, there will be an occasional un-planned event where everything has to be shifted anyway, no matter how hard we’ve tried to prevent it.

Embrace the upsets, and try again next time. Busy lifestyles are always changing, so find what works for you, and make it a habit. It might take a while to find your groove, but you’ll know it when you do….just enough for life to change again!

Anytime you get dinner on the table is a huge success.

How do you simplify meal time in your home?

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6 Comments

  1. I have been married for 18 years. I have yet to master the “50’s Style of Homemaking”. Yes it is a perfect dream. But come on! LOL And I have also been so hard on myself and have often fallen into some sort of depression because I didn’t think I was good enough. I have been reading about meal planning and I think that is a great option. I have also been thinking about freezer cooking. I am definitely going to give it a try. Maybe after I master this, I’ll convince myself to go get the fridge that I really want from Lowe’s. LOL Thank you so much for your post. Your website is amazing. I’m definitely bookmarking it.

    1. Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone is the perfect homemaker! The important thing is that you figure out what your priorities are and find a system that works for you and your family. I hope you get that fridge, I’m sure you deserve it! πŸ™‚

  2. It’s like you wrote my story here. For some reason I’ve always idealized the 50’s homemaker life. Even though I’ve never had handed down homemade recipes taught to me or how to sew my own curtains. I’m not sure why I do this but I hope I stop someday like you have. I’ve been trying to be this elusive wife I dreamed up and always get disappointed in myself thinking that all the other mom’s must have this down by now. I’m going to try freezer cooking and see how that works for us. I hear Tupperware has special containers just for that very thing. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Blessings on you!

    1. I’m so glad you were encouraged by this post! As women, we are so hard on ourselves, and there’s something about domesticity that makes us never think we are good enough. Pinterest sure doesn’t help either. πŸ™‚ Give yourself grace and do what is best for YOUR family.

      P.S. I think you will love freezer cooking!

  3. I am so so so glad I am not the only one who feels like this! I’ve been married a little over a year and I try to do most of our cooking and do the dishes (but my husband dries). I feel bad if I don’t have a good meal for us ready (or forgot to thaw the meat for dinner – it’s happened more than once) and I get super upset and feel super guilty if my husband does the dishes. I also try to have a home cooked meal for us most nights of the week (even if it is only pancakes). I think I really do need to sit down sometime and try to do some freezer cooking – sure would be nice on our busy days!

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