As fall activities amp up, don’t scramble to put dinner on the table. Want to spend more time eating healthy meals together and less time at the drive-thru? Spend some time planning, prepping and thinking outside the (prepackaged) box to reimagine family dinners. I spoke with a meal-planning blogger, a professional organizer and some busy local moms to get tips that eliminate the stress of dinnertime.


Spend a few minutes mapping out the week’s meals. Blogger Jane Maynard shares weekly meal plans on This Week for Dinner ( “Life is so much better when you spend 10 minutes planning out the dinner menu for the week and throwing together a grocery list based on that plan.” Maynard says. “It saves time, money and angst.”

Start by creating two or three weekly dinner menus of meals your family will actually eat, then rotate to prevent boredom. Find a free printable on Pinterest to organize recipes and grocery lists. “I have a few favorite go-to meals that are great because they are nutritious, relatively easy to make and I know my kids will eat them,” says Maynard. “That’s the holy grail right there!” Find recipes and meal plans on her blog.


Use a grocery shopping system so you always have what you need. Whether it’s a list on the fridge, notes on your phone or an app such as “Out of Milk,” where family members add to an ongoing shopping list from their phones, pick a system that works for your family to avoid multiple trips to the store.

Stock the Pantry

Professional organizers often favor minimalism in the kitchen. Since nothing derails cooking more than a messy kitchen, stick to staples you use regularly rather than a tightly stuffed pantry.

To make cooking more inviting, cut down on the number of single-use gadgets, collector plastic cups, coffee mugs and other items that make keeping the kitchen clean a challenge.


Taking time on Sunday to tackle preliminary chopping and cooking saves precious time during the week. Prepare as many meal elements as possible in advance.

  • Get kids involved in washing and chopping fruit, vegetables and herbs

  • Roast veggies

  • Make sides such as rice or quinoa

  • Mix together sauce

  • Buy frozen fruits and vegetables to make cooking a cinch

Utilize Kitchen Tools

  • Freezer
    If spaghetti and meatballs are a family favorite, make a double batch of meatballs and sauce: freeze half for the following week.

  • Slow Cooker
    During busy nights filled with practices, a slow cooker is a super helpful tool. It’s quick to put ingredients in and try different combinations. The aroma of a fully prepared dinner when we get home is terrific! Go to This Week for Dinner for Jane Maynard’s tried-and-true slow cooker recipes for Carnitas Tacos and Korean Beef BBQ. 

  • Grill
    Grill extra meat and veggies on the weekend. Toss on salads, stir-fry, sides or sandwiches during the week.

Use Your Noodle 

Ease into the week by designating Monday as “Pasta Night.” Use prepared meatballs or precooked sausage for a quick, easy meal.

Rethink Dinner

If a traditional family meal around the table is an ideal that seems out of reach, reimagine how dinner works best for your family.

  • Bring a cooler to the park when picking kids up from practice. A picnic dinner after soccer could be a new tradition.

  • Kids love breakfast for dinner. An egg scramble, hearty oatmeal or yogurt parfaits come together in minutes and are healthy options.

  • Put cut vegetables, fruit and sandwich fixings on the table and fuel your crew with a healthy make-your-own salad and sandwich night.

Take Baby Steps 

If you want healthy dinners, make them a priority, but don’t beat yourself up when life happens. Increase the number of times your family eats together by a day or two, be realistic and choose strategies that work.