Dinner Hacks

You know that June Cleaver, picture-perfect, always put together, and ready with something for dinner mom?

Yeah, I’m not her. I’m more of the messy bun, yoga-pants-wearing, not-really-sure-what’s-happening-from-one-meal-to-the-next, kind of mom.

My child is loved and cared for. We have amazing adventures, loads of fun, and plenty of preschooler versus mama standoffs (I’d like to think I win those about 70 percent of the time). What we don’t have is a well thought out meal plan or multicourse dinners on the table every night.

For the record, it’s not that I can’t cook. It’s more that I’ve never really wanted to. I have a few dishes I make that I think are pretty tasty, but anything that requires more than 20 minutes of time in the kitchen for me feels like a waste.

I’m a single mama with a busy work schedule. So when I do get time with my girl? I would rather we spend it playing together as opposed to holed up in the kitchen.

Point being, I don’t really cook. But I do believe strongly in the value of good nutrition, and in the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for a healthy, whole-foods diet for kiddos.

Luckily, I’ve found a few tricks that allow us to stick to those recommendations, without requiring too much of my time in the kitchen.

1. Rotisserie chicken and salad

Dinner Hack

At least once a week, my girl and I head out and get a premade rotisserie chicken and salad from our local grocer. We usually make Monday nights our grocery night, and I pick up the chicken and salad while we’re there.

Not only does that then make a delicious dinner for the night, but there is usually also plenty of chicken left over for me to put into other meals during the week to come.

2. Breakfast for dinner

Dinner Hack

I’m a sucker for breakfast, and my daughter is too. Give us bacon and eggs, and we are happy girls!

Throw in a few slices of whole-grain bread, add some cheese, tomatoes, and avocados to those eggs, and slice up some fruit. We’ve got a well-balanced and delicious meal that we’re both excited to have for dinner. The bonus is that it doesn’t require hardly any time in the kitchen to make.

3. Make your own paninis

Dinner Hack

In addition to not really being a mom who cooks, I’m also not a mom who irons. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I ironed anything. But I do own an iron. And you know why? Because it’s the perfect tool for making mouth-watering paninis!

That’s right! I’ll grab a few slices of that whole-grain bread we probably picked up on our Monday night shopping trip. I slather them in butter, then throw in whatever ingredients sound most delicious that night. Sometimes mozzarella cheese, fresh spinach, and tomatoes. Sometimes that leftover chicken, some gouda slices, spinach, and peppers. And sometimes cheddar, bacon, and spinach.

OK, so spinach has a way of making it into our paninis — but that’s because I’ll take whatever chance I can get to sneak those greens into my daughter’s diet.

The sandwiches themselves? Just place them on a cutting board once they’re constructed and use the iron to smash them down, sear the bread, and melt the cheese. I usually use lots of pressure in short, 10-second bursts or so.

Delicious and quick! Throw some tomato soup in a pan while you make the sandwiches, and you have yourself a meal!

4. Sweet potato hash

Dinner Hack

This is the one thing I cook on a regular basis that probably involves the most prep work. But it’s so good, it’s worth it.

Peel and cube a few sweet potatoes — that’s the most labor-intensive part of this job. Then, melt some butter in a skillet on medium heat and add in some brown sugar and cinnamon. I’m never one to measure anything, and this isn’t really something you can screw up — just add as much as you think you would prefer for flavor!

After that, drop your cubed sweet potatoes in and use a spatula to move everything around every few minutes. Cook until the edges are crisp and browned, then serve alongside your chicken or your breakfast for dinner!

That’s right. This side is versatile.

5. Use a mixer to shred chicken

Dinner Hack

We always have leftover chicken from our Monday night rotisserie. I put that in a mixing bowl and use an electronic mixer to quickly shred what’s left. Then, I use that shredded chicken in meals throughout the week — in everything from burritos to spaghetti sauce to nachos to soup.

6. Roast your veggies

Dinner Hack

Vegetables are important. So I try to prep plenty of vegetables on the weekend for roasting throughout the week. Because if they’re already chopped up, it’s easy enough for me to throw them on a pan with some oil and salt, and walk away while they’re roasting for dinner.

Here’s my hack tip, though: When you’re preheating the oven, leave the pan in there. When you do, it will heat up as well, which means that you can then place your vegetables on it and trust that they will get roasted evenly on both sides, without having to flip them.

7. Invest in a rice cooker

Dinner Hack

I serve wild rice up to a few meals a week. Mostly because it’s so easy to make in the rice cooker (set it and forget it) and because you can do a lot with rice to change things up a little.

For instance, sometimes I cook our rice with dried cherries and just a touch of brown sugar — my daughter then thinks her rice is dessert and all is right in the world!

Bottom line

One thing I’ve learned is you don’t have to sacrifice nutrition just because you don’t love to cook. You just have to be willing to get a little creative and think outside the box when it comes to the meals you do create!

Leah Campbell