Working a 9 to 5 job and then adding in the time to commute, plus having kids means very little time for parents to do much of anything, especially in households where both parents work or in single parent homes. That means very few homecooked meals for many families during the work week, and instead a lot of processed foods, take-out, and fast food dining. As we all know, that’s not a very healthy diet, especially for growing children. So what’s a working parent to do? It is actually possible to make some homecooked meals for your family, even if you spend more time at work and on the road than you do at home.

Plan Ahead

Before you head out for your weekly grocery store trip, think ahead for the next week of some meals you might like to have. I personally am not into meal planning very far in advance because it’s too rigid of a structure for my likings, but that does work out for a lot of people. If this sounds like something you might like, pull out a calendar or print one off your computer and start planning out what you want to make for meals each day. Then, add each ingredient you’ll need to your grocery list so you’ll remember to get everything when you’re at the store. If meal planning isn’t your thing, you can do like I do and plan for a variety of scenarios and buy foods that you could use to make one of several different meals. For example, chicken can be prepared in a multitude of ways. You can buy chicken breasts, as well as spaghetti, bread crumbs, marinara sauce for a chicken parmigiana meal. You could also buy some chicken broth, carrots, and celery in case you decide you might want to make chicken and dumplings instead of the chicken parmigiana.

The benefit to planning ahead and making a grocery list is that when you get to the store, you’ll remember to get everything you need and are less likely to forget something. You’ll also avoid some impulse purchases if you have a plan of action and an idea of what you’d like to eat the following week.

Gather Up Some Quick Recipes

Pull up your favorite search engine (mine is Google) and type in “quick dinner recipes”. You’ll get a lot of results and a lot of different sites with many of the same recipes. Choose which ever site looks interesting to you, and start looking. If you find recipes that you like, bookmark them and/or print them out. 10 or so different recipes is usually enough variety for your standard “feed the family” meals. This is a part of the “Planning Ahead” process, and you can reference these prior to heading out to the grocery store. Look for ones that take 20 minutes or less to prepare, and an hour or less to cook.

Invest in a Crock Pot

Crock pot cooking is popular among working parents. All you have to do is throw your ingreidents in the crock pot, set the heating setting to low for 6 to 8 hours (depending on the recipe), and when you get home, you’ll have a hot, fresh homecooked meal just waiting to be dished out. You’ll want to look for special crock pot recipes, or pick up a crock pot cookbook. Many of your favorite dishes can be altered to slow cooking in a crock pot. The plus side of crock pot cooking is that when you get home, it’s all done and you don’t have to spend an hour making dinner.

When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking

There are days you’ll come home, too tired to cook or not wanting to make the effort. Many times, this is when people get pizza or Chinese delivered. But if that happens all too often, you’ll want to have a few no or little effort meal ideas on hand. Some of my favorite go-to meals for the days I just don’t feel like cooking include:

  • Spaghetti with sauce & rolls or breadsticks. Parents like it, and kids love it too. In 10 to 15 minutes, and you’ve got a meal.
  • Grilled cheese & tomato soup. The kids might be okay with just the grilled cheese sandwich, and parents who need a little something more will appreciate the bowl of soup. I recommend two kinds of cheese for an extra tasty sandwich (muenster and cheddar is my favorite combo). Pan fry the sandwiches in butter while you warm the soup in a pot. In less than 10 minutes, you’ve got a meal.
  • Breakfast for dinner. Kids will often find it fun to have breakfast for dinner, and its an easy meal for you to make. Ideas include French Toast, waffles, pancakes, toast, eggs, sausage, and bacon.

It’s possible to make homecooked meals for your family as a working parent; it just takes a little forethought and planning. Readers – what are some of your favorite, fast and easy meals to make?

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