What’s For Tea? The Secrets of Parents That Always Have Time to Cook

Struggle to find time to cook? Want to feed your family, but never have the time? Read these secrets of busy parents that always have time to cook.

Have you seen that meme that does the rounds? Something like “Who knew that the hardest thing about being an adult was thinking of what to have for dinner every night”, well, it’s probably not the hardest thing (hello childbirth!) but, it’s certainly not easy. And it can be unbearably tedious. Add in a severe lack of time to cook faced by most of us, fussy kids that don’t want to eat anything, and everyone getting home from work, school, and clubs at different times and sitting down to eat as a family can seem almost impossible.

I know that I don’t always have time to cook. I’m the first to admit that as much as I love cooking big filling family meals, I don’t always have the time to do it justice. Monday’s are especially tough for us. I work all day, and often in the evening, I like to try and start the week with a gym trip, husband works all day, there are school runs, after school activities, nursery drop-offs and pick-ups, it’s a hectic day. We don’t all get in until 6ish, Robyn has had dinner at nursery, so whether she wants to eat with us is entirely dependant on what we’re having, and everyone is tired. I don’t have the time to cook a big meal, but even if I did, there’s a risk that no one would want to eat it.

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But, whatever your situation, there’s always ways to save time. Here’s some of the secrets behind making time to cook.

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Make the Most of Leftovers

I’m such a massive fan of using leftovers in the best ways possible. Don’t get me wrong, a pork, stuffing and apple sauce sandwich on a Monday afternoon is awesome. But, sometimes there’s just so much meat left that you know there’s no way it’s all going to get eaten, and no one wants a dry chicken sandwich on Thursday, having eaten chicken every day that week. So, I like to cook things. Stews, casseroles and curries are some of my favourite ways to use up Sunday lunch leftovers. Anything that you can throw the meat into a sauce and cook slowly is perfect. The meat is soft and tasty, and if you make a hotpot, a stew or a casserole and you can throw the veg and potatoes in too.

Utilise Your Freezer

But, that’s not the only way to use up your leftovers. You don’t have to make a different meal. Make a giant batch of chilli or spaghetti Bol, portion it up into tubs, label them and bang them in the freezer. Frozen meals like this are perfect when you are in a rush, but they’re also great for getting out for the kids if husband and I fancy a bit of a home date night or a cheeky takeaway. It’s always good to have some home-cooked meals ready to go in the freezer.

I’m not going to lie; there’s usually some fish fingers, chicken nuggets, chips, frozen pizzas and garlic bread in our freezer too! Frozen vegetables can also be a massive timesaver. Use them to bulk out a casserole or stew, or just add them to the side of those chicken nuggets!

Make Time to Cook By Cooking More

Cooking in bulk and freezing food does take longer, but, cooking two portions of the same meal doesn’t take twice as long, so long-term, it saves you time. You might also find that it saves you time to clear an afternoon for meal prep. Cook your dinners for the week if you need to. Pop them in the fridge or freezer labelled and ready to go. You’ll probably find that ingredients like peppers, onions, mushrooms and potatoes are in a lot of your family meals, so chopping a weeks worth at the same time can be a real time saver.

Prep What You Can

I’m a big prepper. I work from home, so while I am at home, and able to cook whenever, I’m busy, and I need to organise my time meticulously. I might chop my veg, peel potatoes and get ingredients out ready the night before. Things that need peeling, like potatoes and root veg, are best chopped up and covered with water in a sealed tub in the fridge. Without the water, they go a little brown and soft. Or, I’ll chop in the morning before the school run, come home and get things simmering away while I work. I often have dinner ready by 10 am and just warm it up when everyone else is home.

The parents that have time to cook don’t always have time to cook at dinner time. They plan it around their schedule, do bits here and there to give themselves a head start and make it work like that.

Get the Kids to Help

As a working mum, it’s not usually my work that takes all of my time; it’s the kids. We’ve got an open plan house, so I can’t even shut the door and cook in peace. Whenever I’ve got something to do, they want my attention. It seems to be some unwritten rule of parenting.

So, I try to get them involved. They’ve both always loved baking cakes and really get stuck in with all of it. Michael is old enough now to help with things like chopping and stirring. I even trust him with the oven.

I find as long as it’s interesting, they enjoy it. We’re building skills with baking, and fun things like homemade pizza, which they love because it’s a bit messy and they get to use their hands.

Meal Plan Carefully

scrabble tiles spelling meal plan on a blue plate
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Meal planning is such a useful tool. It saves you time, it helps you to try new foods and it can save you a lot of money on your food shops because you know exactly what you have got to buy.

But, meal planning only works if you do it carefully. Don’t just write down randoms meals for any day. Think about what you are doing that week. I know I’m not going to have time to cook a big meal on Monday. I also know that we’re out a lot on Saturdays. Then, things come up. Look at your schedule and plans for the week before you sit down to write you meal plan so that you can create a plan that will work.

Cook it Slowly

Slow cooking is another great way to save time. Slowcooked casseroles, stews and curries are all wonderful. The meat is tender and soft, the gravy or sauce is filled with flavour, and once you’ve prepped it and put it into the oven or the slow cooker, your work is done until it’s time to serve. If you spend a lot of time at home, you can do this in the oven. If not, a slow cooker can be a useful tool.

One-Pot Mid-Week Meals

Leftover Roast Beef Curry in cooking dish, surrounded by rice and bread

Onepot meals are great. They are often suitable for slow cooking and using up your leftovers. But, they can also save you time with prep, you just throw it all into the pot, and also with the washing up afterwards. We’re terrible for leaving washing up for the next morning, so it’s really nice when there’s not loads of pots and pans.

Of course a dishwasher, or husband, are good time savers here too.

Keep Your Cupboards Well-Stocked

Well-stocked cupboards, filled with all of the essentials like pasta and rice, and tins of tomatoes are super useful. They have a huge shelf life and having plenty in the cupboards and a fridge filled with fresh ingredients means that you can always knock up a quick filling meal in a hurry.

Give Yourself a Break

Fish fingers and chips won’t kill them. A jar of sauce instead of cooking from scratch won’t lead to obesity. A chippy tea picked up on the way home isn’t the end of the world. Eat healthily most of the time, cook from scratch as often as you can. Then, give yourself a break when you are short on time.

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