1. Have a “Plan B”: No matter how good your intentions are, there will be times when you just cannot execute your dinner plan. Have a list of meals that you can fall back on when you don’t have the energy for what you initially intended to make. It’s really important to allow yourself space for flexibility. One day, shortly after my daughter was born and I was still in my sweatpants at 2 pm, my mom asked me “Did you brush your teeth today?” After thinking about it for a minute and telling her that I had actually accomplished at least that she said “Then you’ve done something today. And that’s enough.” Don’t worry when things don’t go as planned…just be sure to have eggs and tortillas on hand for days when brushing your teeth and making a burrito scramble are just about all you can handle.
2. Ask for help: Your partner may not be a Master Chef, but he/she should have at least a meal or two under his belt, even if its very simple. So ask for help on tough days. Have him chop or assemble, take care of the whole meal, or join you in the kitchen for some company. Don’t think that family meals are something you have to do entirely on your own.
3. Involve the kids: Especially as your child gets older, find ways to involve her in the meal preparations. When kids are really young, this might just mean having them in the kitchen with you as you go about cooking, but as they grow, find meals in which they can participate (in a safe environment, of course).
4. Make just one meal: As soon as you start feeding (mixed) solid foods, feed your kid(s) the same thing you’re eating. Not only does this reduce the amount of time you spend cooking (who has time to prepare two different meals?!), but it also means you’ll sit down together at the dinner table — a routine that’s been shown to have lots of positive effects on childrens’ psychological and emotional development — and will help encourage healthy eating habits. What’s more, your child(ren) will be introduced to a wider variety of foods than they might be otherwise, which will set them up for healthier eating habits later in life. What’s important here is to offer but don’t force foods; model the behavior you want to see. It can take 10-15 times tasting and seeing a food before a child likes it enough to eat it — so don’t be discouraged if they are not interested in the Brussels sprouts you put in front of them for the first time tonight; try again and again.
5. Keep staples on hand: Keeping a well stocked pantry makes meal prep and planning (as well as coming up with Plan B on the fly) MUCH easier. Take stock of what you use often — What ingredients do you find yourself using all the time? What is your typical fall-back option for a meal? What can your family not get enough of? Keep these items clearly labeled, organized (as much as is possible in a cupboard!), and in plain sight. This will also help you “take inventory” on what needs replenishing before you go grocery shopping. A few staples that I’m always sure to have on hand include: pasta and other grains, canned beans, canned tomatoes, chicken/vegetable stock, coconut milk, and nuts/seeds (including nut butters). These are foods that pack a punch, nutritionally speaking, and also ones that I use a lot.
(6. Have fun: What more can I say? If you’re not enjoying yourself, try something new.)