You’re looking to get started with family cooking. Because you want to feed your family better, save money by cooking from scratch and stick to your grocery budget. But you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to even begin? These are simple and easy tips to follow so you can make relaxed family meals happen, too!
Family meal times around a dining table have always been important to me. That’s why it was even worse for my self-esteem as a new mom when I just didn’t know how to make it happen.
I mean, I technically did know how to make them happen. I just didn’t seem to have the skill set to turn knowledge into action.
I wrote a little bit about our struggles when I told you all about the simple 3 step dinner routine we put into place. But that was admittedly just one step to making family meal times work.
I was constantly overwhelmed with balancing a home, a relationship, work and now also a baby and a family routine. And the restless nights didn’t really help either.
But little by little I figured out some stuff, changed a few habits around and made regular meal times somewhat work.
It wasn’t easy, but I want to share with you what worked for me. Because do you know what? Cooking for and with a family is an entirely different skill than cooking for just one or two people, no kids involved.
These are my best tips to start ditching the ready meals and get started with family cooking:
Change Your Mindset
As moms we often think we need to do it all at top speed and maximum perfection.
If you want to change things about your routine, it’s best to start out small. Set tiny goals. Cut yourself some slack.
But however small your goal is (my first goal was to wipe down the dining table every night – not joking), make yourself do it. You will feel so good for accomplishing that tiny step, and when you’re ready – add something more. And then something more again and again and again.
Don’t Start With Recipes
Say what?! I know, this used to be a recipe-only blog. Amazing thing for me to tell you to stop looking for recipes, huh?
Let me tell you a little secret: Recipe blogging burned me out. How many new recipes can someone come up with? Sure, I still never follow recipes and always put my own twist on things. Because I’m just not the type to follow instructions.
But it’s a relief not feeling like I have to come up with the next superstar of my Pinterest dinner board every single time I’m in the kitchen. Or make a completely new dish at every meal.
The secret to exciting cooking? Knowing a repertoire of basic recipes by heart, and having enough cooking skills to modify them to become something new. Bam.
But when you’re just starting out, focus on what you already can cook and use that to get into the habit of regular meal times.
Teach Yourself New Skills
As I already said – cooking for a family is something entirely new.
Once you get into the routine of somewhat regular meals as a family, you can start exploring what’s out there.
Research what you really need in your pantry, and which kitchen tools you can throw out without regret. Learn to meal plan.
And when it doesn’t overwhelm you any longer: Learn new recipes. Now difficult ones, basic ones you can customize.
So if for example you find the perfect recipe to make a French toast casserole for Saturday morning – you already know so much more. Because once you know how it works with blueberries, you can probably make it with apples, pears, peaches, raspberries or chocolate chips as well.
Get Help From Others
Everyone in your household can (and should!) pitch in.
Your partner. Your kids. The Thai take away.
Yes, I said take away. It can also be a regular charity soup lunch. A weekly church potluck. Sunday dinner at grandma’s. You don’t have to do it all, lady.
Just one night a week off can lift such a huge weight off your shoulders. It sounds almost unbelievable, but I absolutely found this to be true.
And help doesn’t stop at cooked meals. If you feel like your mealtimes are a constant struggle, ask your mom. Ask your friend with five kids who always seems to have a tidy entryway. Or go ahead and ask me!
Have The Right Tools and Staples On Hand
Seriously, my kitchen used to be such a disorganized mess.
I’m not claiming my kitchen is always spotless now, or that every single jar is labelled (I think there’s three with a label, and they’re peeling off).
But I only keep in my kitchen what I know I really need. It’s free of most things (let’s keep it real) that don’t belong there, it’s organized and it’s working for me.
I also used to have a pantry full of things I had no clue were even there. Now I only keep the essentials on hand. After a while, you’ll figure out what your family goes through on a weekly and monthly basis, and it will become easier and second nature to keep a stock of these things.
Meal Planning, Shmeal Planning
OK, first I’m telling you to forget all about endless recipes. Now I’m telling you to forget about meal planning, too? When there used to be a weekly meal plan on this site (at least for a little while)?
No, I’m not telling you to completely forgo meal planning and just winging it. But real-life meal planning doesn’t depend on lining up recipes you find in a book or on the Internet.
It also doesn’t depend on someone else planning your meals for you – they don’t know your cooking skills, your kitchen situation or your family’s pickiest eater.
Meal planning should be quick, it should be easy and it shouldn’t give you a weekly headache.
Plan with staple meals you know by heart. Plan with easy breakfast and lunch options. Plan with a night off. And plan according to your lifestyle right now!
I just made this mistake again last week – an over-ambitious meal plan. We cooked one meal from it and then threw out the plan. If you have a lot on your plate right now, or are just starting out – keep it as simple as you can.
Ever since I figured all of this out, I’ve become way more relaxed about a regular eating schedule for our family
- I’m managing better and better to cook from scratch without feeling overwhelmed. When Em was a baby, making toast was overwhelming for me. I kept thinking I had to make elaborate meals, now that I was a mom. Bake dinner rolls from scratch every night. Since I let all those feelings go, I know I’m doing enough by providing a home cooked dinner for my daughter most nights of the week.
- I’m not having nervous breakdowns because of failed recipes on busy nights. Because I worked on learning basic staple meals instead of cooking new recipes every night, I have way less kitchen fails now. Not only are kitchen fails a waste of money, they’re also really hard to handle when a hungry toddler is waiting for her food.
- I’m also not having nervous breakdowns because of meal planning anymore. Or at least I’m having way less of them. Sure, I can’t always admit that I’m not up for more than oatmeal or avocado toast on weekday mornings. And that’s when I end up with meal plans I can’t pull off. But it rarely happens that I’m in tears over meal planning now, and this used to be a regular occurrence.
- We’re making one of the most important things to me happen. Family meals are so near and dear to my heart, it was incredibly important to me to have them in our life. And now we do, which makes me very happy and takes away a lot of anxiety and mom guilt!
Does this mean we’re always dining on time as the perfect little family?
No, of course not – we’re human! There’s days when life just gets so busy that our entire schedule gets jumbled around. Times when we have to grab a quick sandwich on the go. Moments when I really can’t cook. Meals we have at McDonalds, because goodness knows it’s the best option right then and there.
And I’d be lying if I told you my daughter has never eaten dinner on the couch. At least the TV wasn’t on.
But do you know what the secret to dealing with it is? Letting yourself be OK with what you’re doing. Knowing that tomorrow will be another day with another three meals and two snacks you can attempt to feed your kids at a table, on time, cooked from scratch.
Or not cooked from scratch. At the end of the day – every little step you take to change your family’s eating habits and cut out processed foods will help you down the line. Even if, right now, you need to cheat every know and then.