Dinnertime in my household is just about the craziest time of day!
There’s a baby to feed, wash and put to bed, two dogs are drooling for their evening meal, and then there's the challenge of conjuring up a nutritious and edible dinner for my husband and me.
Being organised at dinnertime certainly helps reduce some of the craziness and an impending sense of 'hangry’ that takes over.
Here are 6 tips to get you started:
1. Get a slow cooker
This is my favourite appliance. I place all my ingredients into it in the morning, turn it onto the appropriate setting and I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the day!
You can even chop the vegetables or meat the night before, leave them in the fridge and then most of the hard work is done before you even get the slow cooker out of the cupboard. Don’t forget to take meat out at nighttime and leave it in the fridge to defrost overnight.
2. Avoid the nightly supermarket trip
Decide on a meal for each night of the week, work out which ingredients you need and collect them all in one swoop. This can also help you save money by selecting only the ingredients you need instead of extras that may go to waste.
3. One-pan meals
These are generally easy to make and usually require just that – one pan. You may need to do some preparation work, but once everything is on the stove, there’s little work involved. Plus, there’s only one pan to clean!
4. Cook in bulk
Spend a few hours making several meals at once and put them into the freezer for some cooking-free nights. You could have a curry in the slow cooker, while a meatloaf bakes in the oven, as you whip up a batch of spaghetti sauce.
Alternatively, make double the portions. I make twice the amount of food so that my husband can take one portion for lunch the next day, and I take some out (before I add the salt, pepper or chilli) for my nearly-one-year old daughter. I then divide it up into little portions using a silicon muffin tray and freeze it for her lunches.
5. Keep children entertained
This is always difficult at dinnertime, so it’s a good idea to have an activity ready for them before you begin, such as a jigsaw puzzle or colouring book. You can encourage older children to do their homework around this time or help in the kitchen by peeling vegetables. When my daughter was a baby, I would put her in her bouncer in the kitchen where she could watch me. Now that she is almost one, I have a playpen set up right outside the kitchen where she can play as I cook.
6 Group Clean Up
Cleaning up is time consuming, so get everyone to help out after dinner. This will prevent you having to wash last night’s dishes, pans and utensils before you’ve even started cooking. If your partner is a FIFO worker, take advantage of any offers of help you get – to peel vegetables, chop potatoes or wash dishes – anything to help dinnertime become less of a chore.