February 17, 2015

4 Ways to Get Dinner on the Table



Have you noticed that members of your family want to keep eating dinner every. single. night?

My family is like that too. (And then 25% of that family complains about what's for dinner. But we won't name names).

I'm not a perfect meal maker and we don't have gourmet dinners every night (or almost any nights), but we do have family dinner most nights of the week.

HP sent me their new HP x360 (it's a laptop that you can use as a laptop, a tablet or set up as a tent or in stand mode) and it's perfect for pulling up recipes, browsing my ridiculously large Pinterest board of main dishes (or. . .carbs), and using as a cookbook when I'm rushing around the kitchen trying to get things ready for dinner.

I still remember when my in-laws came to visit for Thanksgiving in our first house back in 2006 and my father-in-law commented that he'd never seen someone cook a recipe from a laptop before.

Now it's noteworthy to me if I use a cookbook for a recipe; I do the vast majority of my cooking from recipes I find on the Internet.

Anyway, in honor of the HP x360's four modes, here are four ways that I make having nightly(ish) dinner happen at our house.

1. Make a meal plan. 

I know, this is super original and brilliant advice you have never heard before. It's kind of like that money advice that says "spend less than you earn" or that weight loss advice that says "eat fewer calories than you burn." They're annoying because they're true and because no one actually wants to do them.

But seriously, it's a lifesaver. I make my weekly menu every Sunday (and I post them on Instagram, if you're interested in seeing what we eat. And who wouldn't be?), make up the grocery list and then go grocery shopping on Monday.

HP Tablet Mode

I put that list up on the fridge and I try to look at it every morning when I'm getting the girls breakfast so I have in mind what I'll be making that night for dinner and if I need to defrost or get something going ahead of time.

2. Have a list of quick meals that you can make in 10-15 minutes. 

Even with a meal plan, things go off the rails sometimes (and by "sometimes" I mean "at least once a week").

You get home late, you realize you forgot to buy some essential ingredient, you're pregnant and suddenly what is on the meal plan makes you want to barf, etc.

Here are some of my go-to meals for when other dinners just aren't happening:
(Also, making this list makes me nostalgic for living in London where it cost about £1 to buy a bottle of really good Indian curry sauce and we had various kinds for dinner all the time when I didn't feel like making a dinner from scratch). 

3. Embrace the slow cooker. 

Seriously, it's pretty much my favorite thing on earth to put dinner in right after breakfast and not think about it again until dinner time. I try to plan at least one crockpot meal per week so that on whatever is going to be my busiest day, I can toss things in it early on and then not have to worry about dinner until five minutes before it's time to eat.

In fact, the other day, Bart said to me, "Based on how often you mention it on a day when you put dinner in the crockpot in the morning, I think you should do more crockpot meals." Okay then. 

A few family favorites:
4. Pancakes and Waffles are acceptable dinners too. 

A few people have asked me recently if I've done a bunch of freezer meals to prepare for this new baby, and the truth is. . . no. 

With Ani, I froze a half dozen items or so and ended up throwing almost every one of them away once we moved six months later. I just don't like frozen food very much and I feel like they never reheat into something I want to eat. 

Bart and I were discussing this the other day and we both agreed we'd almost always rather eat pancakes or waffles or cold cereal than pasta that's been cooked, frozen, thawed and reheated. 

Also, the girls will eat pancakes or waffles without complaint (and I have super good recipes for both that all of us love). Ten points for breakfast for dinner.

Any other secrets for serving dinner? I'm all ears.


This post is part of a collaboration with HP and the Meghan Trainor That Bass tour (we won't be doing a lot of concert attending because, hello new baby, but I love that they are making a documentary of the tour based on fan-generated footage).



16 comments:

  1. Yep! We employ all of these tactics - especially my super Type A crazy meal plan that I curated. And, if you're looking for other suggestions for 15 minute meals that you can make on the fly:

    boxed pasta (obviously)
    bean burritos (http://callherhappy.com/simplest-filling-meatless-meal-ive-found/)
    always keep a frozen something in the freezer

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  2. I'm not a huge fan of freezer meals either, but I do make use of my freezer to make meal prep easier. I love this SUPER easy vegetarian filling for tacos and it makes way more than my family can eat. Before I add the cilantro, I remove half the filling and put it in the freezer. When I reheat it in a skillet and add fresh cilantro, it tastes just as good as when I first made it.
    http://allrecipes.com/recipe/quinoa-and-black-beans/

    Also, I love to make enchilada fillings and put them in the freezer. When they're put in fresh tortillas (instead of soggy thawed ones) and baked right then it's way better than a pan of enchiladas from the freezer.

    I'm always looking for ways to do this- freeze some of the meal prep- so I can make meal prep quicker, but still taste fresh. It's been a lifesaver with baby 3 for us, but I'm sure you'll figure out your own survival tactics :)

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  3. What kind of syrup do you serve with pancakes and waffles? We have a homemade version we sometimes make, and then I'm more than happy to have pancakes or waffles for dinner. But when we only have the thick, cheap, corn-syrupy stuff from the store, I just can't get excited about that.

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    Replies
    1. I make this coconut one fairly often (http://www.everyday-reading.com/2013/04/coconut-buttermilk-syrup.html) or I just cook down some frozen fruit with some sugar and water and then add some cornstarch to thicken it up.

      Our go-to is plain yogurt and jam, and we usually keep a bottle of real maple syrup in the pantry as a back-up.

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  4. I'm assuming you mean, "spend LESS money than you earn," or possibly I'm somehow incapable of interpreting the joke, lol. But I love menus, it saves us sooooo much money! I use your old version from before Ella was born and find that it's by far the best meal planning for my family. I've shared it with in-laws and they are finding it works very well for them, too!

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    Replies
    1. Ha - you were right. Fixed to make more sense :)

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  5. I love meal planning, but sometimes I look at what I've planned and am like UGH, why do I have to keep cooking night after night. I'm awful and don't cook the same things all the time, and it turns out that was great when I was self-employed, but now that I have a regular job to go to, I just don't want to figure out new recipes when I have half an hour and am starving. I need to get my crock pot back into regular rotation.

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  6. I wholeheartedly agree with the frozen meal thing. Every time I save some leftovers that we never got to finish, I always throw them away several months later. I am just not motivated to eat frozen meals. I have a baby coming this summer, and like you, I will not be putting meals into the freezer. Meals made by others but brought to the house are completely fine, however! And let's hope that baby of yours hurries up already!

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  7. Funnily enough, this third pregnancy was the only one in which I DID freeze stuff ahead. The deer my husband got in the fall was turned into several gallons of chili that all went into the freezer. Plus when I made meatloaf, I made a couple of extras and froze them raw. Some extra taco meat went into the freezer, plus cooked rice and partially cooked roasted potatoes (basically, initially cooked until soft, them frozen and put into a really hot oven still frozen to get crispy and brown). A lot of things don't come out of the freezer well, but this stuff all did and that chili especially has been a LIFESAVER. Cereal would not ever fly as dinner in this carnivorous house.

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  8. Derek always makes fun of me for using my laptop on the counter when I cook dinner... but there really is just no other way! Although, having this one that converts from computer to tablet is a game changer!

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  9. When I become a billionaire, hiring a personal chef is first on my list. I swear it. These are great tips. I love my crock pot. I love breakfast for dinner. All of them!

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  10. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who hates frozen meals. My "out" with a new baby was cutting prep work. Especially Trader Joe's options. Pastas are always quick and filling, and I'd have my husband prep fruit and veggies so things would go quicker. One thing I have found that does freeze well is enchilada filling- thaw, assemble with shells and sauce and cheese, and bake. I can't tell the difference since the outsides are fresh. :)

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  11. I deserve an award for maxing out the cereal for dinner plan. An awful pregnancy, needy baby, and crazy summer meant like 100 cereal nights in a row, the troops revolted and it was a sad sad day :)

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  12. I'm so jealous of your new computer! I totally agree about planning your menu for the week. I'd be lost without that. Additionally, I've been doing a lot with leftovers lately. Saving pasta water, vegetable water, rotisserie chicken carcass etc, and then making a big soup at the end of the week. This way nothing goes to waste, I save money, and we get a hot healthy meal at the end of the week when I"m too tired to cook much else.

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  13. Only 25% complaints? You're bucking the average! ;) Or maybe I'm the only one that feeds 7 and gets 1 or 2 thumbs up... I don't need a gold star every night but a meal (besides pancakes or waffles) that doesn't get the "this is yucky" treatment would be awesome.

    Someday...

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  14. My boyfriend is a super picky eater and refuses most meals that aren't of the All-American meat and potatoes variety. That said, a food processor, frozen veggie burgers, and Season-All are my best friends. :)

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