Dinnertime can become chaos when the home chef is out of the house for the evening. Maybe family members fend for themselves. Maybe leftovers, frozen pizza, or mac and cheese save the night. That’s all fine and good for the occasional evening, but if it’s going to happen a few nights a week, your family needs a plan to execute dinner when the home chef is not at home.

My new job has me saying hello and goodbye to my husband as he returns home from work fairly often. The first week was a disaster. One night I asked my daughter to prep ingredients while I was gone so I could quickly cook soup when I got home. Well, she couldn’t find the recipe again on my iPad so I had to start from scratch when I got home and we weren’t done eating until nearly 9 p.m. Another night I prepped everything ahead of time and told my daughter the plan to make a spin on nachos with quinoa, beans, and all the toppings. She forgot about the beans, so my husband was left scratching his head and they ended up with a completely different meal.

We needed a dinner plan that didn’t involve technology or relying on somebody’s memory. This is what I came up with: 

    1. Plan and shop. Plan the menu and shop for groceries ahead of time. Check the calendar and be realistic about what you and your family will be able to execute.
    2. Prep ingredients ahead of time. Take a look at your dinner recipe and see what you can do ahead of time so it’s fast and easy for your family to finish up later.
    3. Corral recipe ingredients together in the fridge or on the counter so nobody misses anything. I use a large baking dish.
    4. Make sure the recipe is handy. Print a copy or take a screenshot so your family can easily find it and not have to reference your Pinterest board or search through your digital recipe manager.
    5. Leave a note. After you’ve done all the organizing, leave a note for your family including the name of the recipe, where to find the dinner components, and what needs to be done to finish up. Use our FREE printable note cards to help.

This is quite a bit of handholding, and I imagine as we get used to our new schedule, things will smooth out. But, in the meantime we need a plan to make sure our healthy dinners stay alive!

How do you manage dinner prep on busy nights?