Parenting

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organized

Today's Parent food editor, Eshun Mott, shares how she gets a meal on the table on busy nights...without losing her mind.

By Eshun Mott

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organized

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organized

Family meals

I've spent the last few days charting out the sports and dance and art classes that will take up our evenings and weekends. Now I have to sort out how we're going to fit in proper family meals on all those busy nights.

Family meals are something that have always been a priority for us, and I don't want them to fall off the radar. So what this means is I have to do a bit more strategizing. Ok, let's make that a lot more strategizing and stay consistent at it.

Here is my plan.

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organizedPhoto: Laflor/iStockphoto

02

Go-to meals

I've made a list of the "go-to dinners"—those easy meals that I know everyone likes. I've included some of the things we used to eat that have fallen out of rotation, and I added in some new recipes I want to try.

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organized

03

Weekly meal-plan

I took my go-to meals and built a weekly meal-plan. The upside of this, aside from knowing what's going to be for dinner every night, is only buying groceries you have a plan for. This means you save money and time from having to clear the slimy kale-you-bought-because-you-know-it's-good-for-you-but-never-got-around-to-tackling from the back of the fridge.

When I'm planning, I try to keep in mind what vegetables are in season (cheaper and tastier than those that aren't) and which nights I can afford to spend more time in the kitchen.

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organizedPhoto: Nadzeya Kizilava/iStockphoto

04

Freeze!

We bought a deep freeze sometime between child #2 and child #3, when I realized just how organized I was going to have to become to get everything done. It's a small one that lives under the basement stairs. We save time and money because I can buy multiples of our basics when they're on sale.

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organizedPhoto: eyenigelen/iStockphoto

05

Organized freezer

In our freezer, you'll find:
• fruits and veggies;
• loaves of bread;
• homemade chicken stock frozen flat in freezer bags (lay them on a cookie sheet until they're frozen);
• homemade banana bread and muffins;
• cookie dough (shaped into balls and frozen for almost instant cookie gratification);
• frozen packs of bacon, chicken, fish and shrimp (if I buy fresh, I transfer the meat to freezer bags in the right-sized portions for our dinners and label with the date. Sometimes I add marinade);
• and then the Holy Grail: homemade frozen dinners.

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organizedPhoto: Fernig/istockphoto

06

Batch cook

The concept of batch cooking can seem daunting, so I approach it a few ways:
• If I have a day set aside, I can work your way through a number of recipes. I crank up the music, pour tea or wine and can even help with homework while the pots simmer on the stove.
• Sometimes I just cook extra on a night when I'm cooking a dinner that freezes well.  
• Even freezing a portion or two of something that only needs reheating (like soup) means that we have some tasty lunch options up ahead.
• I monitor the contents of the freezer by keeping a list on the lid of what's inside.

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organized

More organization tips

Kitchen: 5 ideas to get family meals organized
This article was originally published on Sep 12, 2012
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