Real Simple readers share how they get supper on the table while keeping their sanity intact.
While I prepare dinner, I put on music and let my kids, ages three and four, have a dance party. When they ask for a taste of what’s cooking, I put out a plate of raw fruit and vegetables with dips. They get their vegetables in with no fuss, then later eat some protein and starch at the table.
My husband hates eating last night’s dinner, so I’ve had to master the art of doctoring leftovers. Mine really do taste like brand-new dishes. When I cook pork, I usually make pulled-pork tacos. The next night, I serve barbecued-pork sandwiches. On night number three, I add the remainder of the pork to omelets with cheese, onions, and black beans. Each dinner has a unique flavor.
Randolph Air Force Base, Texas
We have a rule in my family: Eat all the fresh fruit and vegetables in the house first, before digging into any canned or frozen foods. As a result, we never have to throw out rotten produce, and our groceries last longer. That means fewer shopping trips, too.
New Boston, Michigan
When I want to cut prep time in half, I bake a whole package of chicken breasts, then dice them up and freeze them in two-cup portions. It speeds up my process when a recipe calls for two cups of chopped chicken—which, for me, happens frequently.
Marcie Revord Waller
Eating healthy is among my top priorities, but it’s not always one for my white-bread– and whole-milk–obsessed family. So I make sure I’m the only one in the kitchen while I’m getting dinner ready. Then my family can’t give me grief when I add flaxseed, wheat germ, and other good-for-you ingredients to their favorite recipes.
Saint Augustine, Florida
I use a large grill pan that accommodates the whole meal, which makes cleanup a breeze. I grill steaks, lamb chops, hamburgers, or salmon patties in the pan, and when the meat is almost done, I add fresh vegetables seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper. In no time, dinner is served.
Farmington Hills, Michigan
When I’m busy or uninspired, I make one easy stop at our local fish market and purchase a good fillet or two, soak it in a store-bought marinade for 10 minutes, and then broil it. While the fish cooks, I make a big salad with the produce I have on hand. It’s a delicious, healthy dinner ready in 25 minutes or less.
Michelle Gallagher Backus
To save time (and use fewer pots), I cook pasta and broccoli in the same water. I fish the broccoli out with a slotted spoon as soon as it’s done, then let the pasta keep cooking until it’s al dente.
I don’t worry about it too much. One unbalanced meal isn’t going to give anyone scurvy or an instant body-mass increase. When planning, shopping for, and cooking dinner feels stressful, I just throw together whatever is available. Recently my family dined on beef jerky (protein), fried rice (starch), and strawberry pie (fruit). It was silly but satisfying.
My 3½-year-old son has autism, and mealtime can be difficult for him. Among my many strategies for making it fun: a good, old-fashioned dessert bribe. With the sweets on the table, he knows what’s ahead and is more motivated to focus on the meal.
After dinner, I freeze all our leftovers. When I have enough to fill a large casserole dish, I thaw them out, warm them in the oven, and put them on the table with the words, “Whoever moves the fastest gets their favorite.” Meat usually goes first. Vegetables are the holdouts.
Huntington Beach, California
I always keep a grain in my pantry. Quinoa is one of my favorites. I like to load it up with vegetables and pair it with meat, fish, or tofu. Or sometimes I just toss it over a salad to boost the protein content without adding too many calories.
New York, New York
Making dinner is one of my favorite parts of the day, mainly because my husband reads to me while I cook. I’m always eager to get in the kitchen to hear the next installment of whichever novel we’re into.
When my kids were in the third and sixth grades, I instituted a rule: The cook never cleans up. After dinner, my husband and I would adjourn to the den while our children cleared the table and filled the dishwasher. Now that our kids are older and like to prep food themselves, sometimes my husband and I return the favor by taking on the cleaning.
Wayne, New Jersey
My three-year-old daughter is a big fan of poultry. Happily, buying rotisserie chicken from the grocery store makes it easy to sate her craving. I throw pieces into stir-fries, quesadillas, salads, and more.
Millburn, New Jersey
We cook on the grill as often as possible. It helps us avoid using pots and pans, so there’s less post-supper scrubbing. It’s also fun and easy.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Once a week, my family has “every man for himself” night, when each person is responsible for making his or her own meal. Dinners range from a bowl of cold cereal to warmed leftovers to salads. The only drawback: When one person dreams up an incredibly tasty dish, the rest of us get jealous.
To save time with cleanup, I line my pans with tinfoil. When the food is ready, I just throw out the foil instead of scouring the pan.
My two neighbors and I cook for one another. Every Monday night, I host them and their families for dinner at my house. Then, on Tuesday and Wednesday, I take my brood to their homes for the meal. We started the tradition for convenience, but it wound up giving us much more than that: These dinners feed our spirits and nourish our friendships. Plus, I’m down to running the dishwasher just twice a week now!
When I’m short on time, I always have a backup plan: breakfast for dinner. It’s easier and quicker to cook than the usual savory fare. And who doesn’t love pancakes and bacon at the end of the day?
We strip the kids—ages one and three—down to their diapers before dinner. That way, I don’t have to clean their clothes and the table. After supper, the little ones go straight into the bath.
Easy. I make reservations!