You can always save money by cooking at home, but the best results come from taking the time to plan what you’ll prepare. And as the kids grow, you’ll have to account for the multiple activities that consume the afternoons and evenings. This is especially important if you want to preserve some time for a family meal where everyone can connect and recount the day.
Where to start? As always, with the family calendar. Make it a habit to review it routinely when you plan the meals so that you have a handle on an evening’s window of opportunity for eating; as you accumulate children, you also accumulate the activities that come with them. You might want to consider choosing a Friday evening/Saturday morning if you prepare and refrigerate meals over the weekend so that you can get to the store for the food that you’ll require for the cooking.
Another factor to consider when you plan is the length of time required to pull the meal together on any particular night. Even if there are no activities that evening, the demand of small children after a long day will cut into your available time. Is this something that is microwaveable in a few minutes or will it take a bit longer in the oven for reheating? If you truly only have twenty minutes – and with three kids, we’ve had as little as fifteen minutes on the rare night – then consider using the crockpot so that you can just ladle the contents quickly and move on. The crockpot is advantageous in that larger sizes can hold sufficient contents for further nights; and experienced cooks will attest to the improved flavor as the various ingredients further meld together over the ensuing night. Crockpot meals – are you seeing a trend here? – also allow the freedom to prepare the ingredients an evening ahead so they can simply be added the following morning. The dirty preparation dishes and utensils can be put into the dishwasher before you walk out the door.
The important things about a family meal aren’t the quantity or presentation on the table. What’s important are the discussions with the children, the teaching of the table manners necessary for the larger world and the food’s nutrition. The differences between the PracticalDad evening dinner table and that of Happy Days’ Cunningham family are that mine isn’t typically as elaborate and I look lousy in a skirt. It’s okay to serve soup and a sandwich with vegetables if that’s what is necessary to make things work in the alloted time.