Tammy’s Top Ten (t3 report) Tips to Get Dinner on the Table

Many of us recognize the drill. You’ve been flying all day – perhaps in heels. The last meeting of the afternoon ran over. There are errands to run on the way home from work and there’s homework to help with the minute you step through the door. Now, what’s for dinner?

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I won’t tell you that I’ve got this down to a science but over time, I have accumulated a few things that help me on a weekly basis. Take them. Try them. Let me know what secrets you have. We’re in this together.

1. Make out menus a week at a time. This gives you the foundation for your grocery list so that you can work to get those store stops down to once a week also. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t eat exactly what’s on the menu. Just roll it to the next week.

2. Have a leftover night. At our house, this is Thursday night. I open up the fridge and pull out all of the containers that have been put away during the week. It’s easy and it also keeps the refrigerator tidy.

3. Build up a well stocked pantry. This was my last t3 report. Add legumes, grains, pasta, tomatoes and you’ll always have a meal in a pinch.

4. Cook extra on the weekend. I don’t do this every week but when I can, I make Monday night’s soup while I’m working on Sunday night’s dinner. It’s a great time to do other prep work also; chopping nuts, cleaning vegetables, etc.

5. Have a cooking party with a couple of friends. My sister in law does this with great success. She gets together with three friends and over the course of a couple of  few hours and lively conversation, they make four dinners. Everyone leaves with their share which can go on the table or into the freezer. This is fun way to socialize.

6. Keep track of what worked and what didn’t. I keep this in a three ring binder in the kitchen and I keep my shorthand simple. Was it easy? Did the kids eat it? Was it spectacular? This saves me from repeating a disaster and gives me a short-list of those I can count on.

7. Make a pot of something that goes with everything. Ours is often brown rice. I can use it as a side with beans, spice it up and stuff it inside a pepper, ladle a curry over the top, etc.. I started doing this in graduate school and it’s a habit that stuck.

8. Give the kids chores. This depends upon their ages of course but I leave two or three assignments to be finished by the time I get home; peeling carrots, cutting up a melon, shelling peas.

9. Use your CSA as the source of your meals. Ours arrives on Thursdays at the same time that I’m doing leftover night. I take a peek and use it’s contents as the basis for the menus that I make. This week, it’s stuffed peppers and a pasta night with butternut squash and arugula.

10. Forgive yourself. You’re working hard. You want the best for your family. It’s not always going to work out perfectly so forgive yourself when you;re scrambling for take-out and celebrate it when it does work.

What can you add to the list that has worked well in your home?

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70 Comments

  1. The pre-dinner snack that keeps me civilized. An apple, a slice of cheese, some cut up carrots, a few crackers, etc. It doesn’t take much, but it reduces the “hangriness” to bearable levels until real supper is done. Growing up, Mom’s cooking process was 1 ) wash dishes; 2) prepare crudites and hand out to the pitiful and hungry ones; 3) make dinner (and yell at whoever takes the lid off the rice pot). Make it a nutrient dense snack and you have no need to worry about spoiling your supper.

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  2. Love this list, Tammy and we generally cook extra on weekends so we can have extra time to get ready for work or simply to have at the ready when we get home all tired.

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  3. This is a fantastic post, Tammy, with some hints I shall undoubtedly adopt. The brown rice one is absolutely tip top, and leftover night….I should stick it on the fridge for reference!

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  4. What a great list! i’m well past the working/feed-the-family years, but they were treacherous. i had a few tricks – the weekly menu planning, leftover exploitation, and vat o’ rice/pasta for integration into other meals. But you’ve nailed some wonderful tips!

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  5. I seldom work away from home, but when I do I have a massive cooking session on Sundays and do the whole week’s meals and stick them in the freezer. It’s the only way I can cope.

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  6. Great ideas. Love the cooking party idea. Our meal-in-a-pinch is breakfast for dinner. We always have eggs or the ingredients for pancakes or French toast.

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  7. Great tips, Tammy.

    Whenever I make soups, chilis, or casseroles ~ 1/2 goes into the freezer in meal size containers. I also cook extra rice and pasta to mix and match with other things.

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    • Yes, a double batch for later. Great tip. I used to do this so that my husband would have lunches but have sort of given up on that so why not have it for another dinner? Thanks Nancy.

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  8. Tammy, these are great. I’m not the best at cooking up ahead of time, but can see that may be really helpful at times. Will work on that one! I do have to do hubby lunches each day, and he doesn’t like sandwiches, so have to take this into consideration when I’m planning the menu. Thank you!

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    • What kinds of things does he take Debbie? Do you have kids?

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      • Usually, the left overs go for his lunch, as he can microwave. So, no left over night, but that’s okay! Just one daughter here at home, but she has eating issues, so I have to cook separate things for her than for hubby. With her autism, there are many textures and tastes that she can’t tolerate. She likes a lot of smooth things without strong flavor. She will like mostly just a few things for awhile, and then stop eating them and we have to experiment (and pray!) for what she will eat next. :)

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  9. Tammy, you have no idea how much this post is going to help me. We were eating out everyday because I was returning late + no intentions of cooking from scratch + dont know what to cook.

    Thank you. Honestly, I’m gonna go home today and make a chart. I need this.

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  10. Always inspiring, Tammy. We just discussed having a cooking evening after remembering you guys used to do a country-themed evening with friends.

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    • That is great fun. I love what authorjaneward says about having a community place where people can drop in and do this. That would be great fun! Hope you are well.

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  11. Leftovers rock, if you ask me! I agree that being prepared and planning in advance helps a lot. For me, living alone, things are pretty simple. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and cooking a few multi-meal dishes makes it work. I love your top ten series!
    Eleanor

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  12. #5 is a great idea. We also have commercial drop in kitchens set up for people to make bulk meals together in a group atmosphere, an idea I think is fabulous. #10 is something we all need to do a little more often.

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    • You’ve really got me thinking about that commercial kitchen! What is it? An old restaurant? We have a church where maybe I could do something like that.

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  13. When my wife went back to work, we rediscovered the slow cooker (Crock-Pot is trademarked, so I’m saying slow cooker).

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  14. It’s tough to be working all day and then come home and cook. We try to cook a big meal on weekends and then eat three days of leftovers! (Well, maybe two.) Then it’s quick meals or a few favorite restaurants for take-out. Such is the state of our life at the moment. :)

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    • You have to do what you have to do. I think this is an area where I would love to help families.

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  15. Great and useful tips! I always make sure that my pantry is full and to use leftovers, but I rarely plan meal ahead.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  16. A great & lovly post, my friend! I already doing some of these ideas!
    Thanks for sharing your enthousiasm with us!

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  17. A cooking party!! I love that!!

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  18. Linda

     /  November 1, 2011

    I am bound and determined to start planning a weekly menu. Thanks for the tips! Now if I can just add in a cup of discipline…

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  19. There really is no substitute for a well-stocked pantry! I’m with Lynn, and take the breakfast-for-dinner approach when I’m in a bind, or at a loss. Egg dishes: omelettes, frittatas, quiches, and the like are easy to make, take on myriad fillings, and form the base for delicious, satisfying meals.

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  20. Great post!

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  21. I love the dinner party idea. :)

    I don’t have to cook for more than myself, but still I often find myself to lack the time. The solution is to do some cooking in advance in the evenings. Stews and oven dishes are great because they make themselves on their own. I need about 15-20 minutes to chop the veggies and arrange everyting, and then I just leave everything to the low heat for an hour or two, and have food for several meals. :)

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  22. I love this list. I am a fairly seasoned mom with a 17-yr-old and a 13-yr-old but I still got some great ideas from your list. I especially love when other seasoned moms tell us it’s OK to not be perfect. We women need to tell other women that 24/7 if you ask me. WE all think we should be Super Woman.

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  23. I wish I was more successful at the “giving kids chores” item, but their schedules are so bad, I don’t have the heart. Recently, however,I went away for the weekend and my 16 year old took over cooking without missing a beat! So something must be going right!

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  24. I like tip #3 – build up a well-stocked pantry. You’re right, that works wonders sometimes to have pasta or couscous or something in there!

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  25. These are some very good tips, Tammy. Make plans–but then forgive ourselves when things don’t work out as we thought. This sounds like good advice for life, too!

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  26. what great advice – we don’t have kids and I get home early most days but since forever I have rotated our meals – meat / chicken / fish / veg and so all I have to think of is what to do! My veg dish ends up being the left overs into pasta dish :)

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    • I think you would be great at the cooking party given some of the posts that I’ve seen from you.

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  27. Having not yet been in the position of the working mother, but only the kid of one, I think what I would add is “Trick your kids into thinking that the nights when you’re at the end of your tether and there’s little in the pantry is a special wonderful treat night”. This always worked for my mum, as my brother and I used to think that the nights when we got bacon sandwiches on plain white supermarket bread were The Best Thing Ever! :P

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  28. Wonderful post, Tammy! I’m totally on board with leftovers and brown rice, but have never even thought of a cooking party with friends (other than where we eat pretty much everything :-D )… great idea, thank you!

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  29. I love leftovers, you can get creative but I usually eat them for lunch the next day. As I don’t have kids I don’t have that stress but I make a list every week of what’s in season and what I’ve seen growing on the farms where I walk the dog, that’s my inspiration. I put this together with any recipes I’ve liked/saved from other people’s blogs and work from there. My other half works in a restaurant so he doesn’t get in until about 11.30pm, we eat then which gives me longer to get it on the table!

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  30. Another great post, Tammy, thanks a lot. Leftovers are great for soups or cold meals or anything that comes to mind. I also like to cook in larger quantities and save whatever I can in the freezer for another meal. I like the idea of a cooking party. I used to do this with some friends of mine years ago : international cooking. It was a great way to learn more about cultures and ingredients.

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    • I’m planning to turn a pasta dish into soup this week. not sure how it will go but up for the adventure.

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  31. I also like to consolidate time by doing a lot of the work all at once to get it over with. The freezer is a good friend! One of the least enjoyable prepping job for me is dealing with fresh coconuts. But, it sure feels good when I’m done and have 6 months worth of coconut in my freezer ready to go! Same with my cultured veggies — get all of it done in a few hours and I don’t have to think about it again for up to a year.

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  32. I agree with all of this: weekly planning/shopping (although that’s harder to do with more limited kitchen space), using the CSA as inspiration, keeping a good pantry, leftover night. I love the ideas of making a big pot of rice for the week and the cooking party. Might have to try to get a group together for that!

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  33. Lisa H

     /  November 5, 2011

    Great post Tammy! There were a few times I made enough of one meal to freeze for another date, but we ended up eating it all week because it was so good! LOL Obviously, Hubby and I don’t mind leftovers, and our kids don’t seem to mind either (thank goodness!). The real treat comes when I have so many frozen meals, I get a break from cooking for a week (perfect for when I’m getting ready for company).
    Cooking with friends is always fun (#5). I’ve been cooking with Beth for almost ten years now. Over the years we have made so many wonderful dishes to freeze that when I pop them into the oven, it always brings great memories. Somehow, too, the food always tastes better when someone else has a hand in it’s making.

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  34. There’s some great advice here. I like to cook extra and freeze single portions. The trick is to remember to take them out for defrosting in the morning :)

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  35. I could have used this blog when I was in my teens and about to embark on life on my own. I used to cook enough for two nights…but then I met a man who really disliked leftovers. Did that ever throw me!

    I made a computerized grocery list of all the things I might need to buy. The top few were items I bought every week. Then the rest of the list was occasionals so I would circle the ones I needed this week.

    Then there’s was room to add exceptions.

    I kept copies of this list in my kitchen so it was always handy.

    Reply

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