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Help! I’m Too Tired to Cook

Yesterday I got a letter that took my mind back to the years when our boys were small and I was too busy, too tired and too stressed to cook.

Dear Mary: I know where the money is leaking out of our household: Fast food. We are expecting our fourth child and I am so bushed at the end of the day, we get take-out 2-3 times a week. What can I do? It gets to be dinnertime and out comes the phone book. It’s all I can do to just get through the day. Carly

A construction site in the snow

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Dear Carly: The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead. So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys only 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your husband to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.

Set the table. I know you’re going to think this is nutty, but it really works. Set the dinner table for the next day before you go to bed at night. Waking up to a nicely set table sends a silent message that dinner is so important, we eat around a table—not in front of the TV. And it will help you to start thinking about dinner long before you run out of steam. Hint: Even a five-year old can learn to set a table, so delegate.

Shine the sink. I learned this from Marla Cilley, author of Sink Reflections. Before you go to bed, clear out the sink of everything (either wash the dishes or load them in the dishwasher), scrub, rinse well and then shine it with a towel. Five minutes to a new attitude. There really is something magical about waking up in the morning to an empty, clean and shining sink no matter what condition the rest of the house is in.

Surely there’s no more difficult job in the entire world than being a mom to four young children. And nothing more rewarding. Make dinnertime an anchor in your day now while your kids are young. The tradition will come back to bless you as they get older.

Even though they’ll never tell you, dinnertime will become something they know they can count on in an otherwise uncertain world. So enjoy these precious days and take it from me: It gets easier.

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  1. NC says:

    Excellent advice, Mary. I did something similar, with a list of meals that everyone liked, and rotated them. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but sitting down together to eat is something you will not regret doing.

  2. JuanitaS says:

    My problem is that I’m tired of cooking. I used to love it but lately is has become a chore especially when trying to make something everybody will eat. You keep making the same things to save time and keep the household happy. I have crockpots – I use them all the time.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I have a large family (7 kids) and I know what you are going through! But, we never eat fast food and this is how we manage to cook every night: Slowcooker – all the work is done early in the day before you are tired. Look for recipes without a lot of browning/chopping/etc. Casseroles – many can be assembled early in the day or the night before. Lunch for dinner – As long as all the food groups are on their plates, does it matter if you have sandwiches and mini-carrots at 5pm? “Back of the box” recipes – Use semi-convenience products like canned soup, flavoured rice, to stretch a boring meat. It’s still healthier and cheaper than take out. Avoid “30 minute recipes” – Most of these require you to stand there chopping, sautéing, and stirring for 30+ minutes. Look for recipes that you stick in the oven and forget about. Cook enough for two meals – I love chilli, spaghetti sauce and soup, because it is really easy to double up and make two nights supper at once.

    I hope you this helps and everything works out for you and your family!

  4. SaveYourself says:

    I can go one better with the crockpot suggestion…..go to GoodWill and buy a second crockpot. Choose your “cooking” day, then load one crockpot with chicken, the other with hamburger or roast, etc. After it’s cooked and cooled, divide the meats into serving portions in freezer bags. Voila! Meat for the week! My biggest challenge was always getting meat thawed & cooked in time for dinner. And definitely freeze the broths!

  5. Jenny says:

    Definitely agree with the crockpot suggestion! When the weather gets nice, my husband barbecues at least twice a week which leads to a much easier cleanup. Vegetables can be cooked on the BBQ, too!

  6. Dawn says:

    The dinner routine is my biggest regret now that my boys are 18 and 22. As a single parent family we just fell into a bad routine. Now that the time has passed I see how we missed the opportunity to connect that was and is very important. It’s tough – but don’t let the daily struggle take away some of the most significant bonding time with your family.

  7. Sharon says:

    Load the crockpot with chicken breasts, bone in with the skin pulled off. Season and eat that with something simple tonight; it tastes like rotisserie chicken w/out the slimy skin. Save the broth and the chicken to make other meals–chicken pot pie, spaghetti, dumplings, enchiladas. Best time saver I’ve found!

  8. Knitting Again says:

    When I had kids at home and a full time job, I cooked double meals. One for the table, and one for the freezer. Too tired to cook nights I just pulled from the freezer instead of fast food.

    • Lorna says:

      This was my suggestion too. Meatloaf, raw, can be baked right from the freezer. It just takes a few more minutes in the oven. I also purchased aluminum foil pans which I washed and reused until I felt they had done their last meal. The point is that I had dedicated pieces for the frozen meal. A thrift store item would work also.

      I also make up mixes of my own, cornbread, dry ingredients for cookies. I have a ten year old who likes to help with this. I write on the label the temp. and time and the amount of wet ingredients. Reuse plastic food grade bags for the same item and you will save time writing the next time you have a mix making session.

  9. Diane Hildom-Spangler says:

    I’ve been using the empty sink routine for a while now, with the addition of the cleared table and the made bed. Amazing how everything else starts to fall into place. Good attitude instead of depressed. It’s how you eat an elephant….or move a mountain: one spoonful at a time.

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