tired depressed young mother too tired to cook in contemporary kitchen

What to Do When You’re Too Tired to Cook

Don’t worry—I won’t lecture you on meal planning (promise!). Instead, I have some real-life solutions that helped me survive the chaos of parenting and self-employment. Think of it as your survival guide to reclaiming dinner time sanity—because, let’s face it, we could all use a little more order and a lot less drive-thru.

tired depressed young mother too tired to cook in contemporary kitchen

If money is leaking out of your household and you aren’t quite sure where it’s going, I have an idea: Fast food. Busy households mean tired people—too tired to cook. And that can easily result in getting take-out two or three times a week. Does anything there sound familiar?

The last thing you need is 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 17 months apart, self-employed, debt-ridden) 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. At the end of a busy day, suddenly, being too tired to cook ceases to be your first reaction.


Ask your spouse to handle one weekend dinner each week 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 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.

Double Up

Once you have your base menu and sufficient ingredients, double the recipe.

Example: Meatloaf (by the way, I have the world’s best meatloaf recipe for you  … seriously, even the biggest meatloaf hater will beg for seconds, it’s that good). It takes the same amount of time and effort to make one recipe of meatloaf as it does to double the recipe to make two. Bake one for tonight’s dinner and freeze the second for next week. See where I’m going here? Time off for the cook.

Set the Table

I know you’re going to think this is nutty, but it works:  Set the dinner table for the next day before you go to bed at night. I learned this from Emilie Barnes, author of “More Hours in My Day” (Harvest House).

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. It will also help you to start thinking about dinner long before you run out of steam.


Shine the Sink

Thank you, Marla Cilley, author of “Sink Reflections” (Bantam), flylady.net, for teaching me this amazing trick.

Before you go to bed, clear out the sink of everything (either wash the dishes or load them in the dishwasher), scrub, and rinse the sink well. Last, 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.

Days are Long, Years are Short

Indeed, there’s no more difficult job in the entire world than parenting—and nothing more rewarding. Being too tired to cook is understandable. However, when you make dinnertime an anchor in your day while your kids are young, the tradition will come back to bless you as they age.

Even though they’ll never tell you, dinnertime will become something the kids know they can count on in an otherwise uncertain world.

Enjoy these precious days and take it from me: The days are long, the years are short.

Hang in. It gets easier.


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16 replies
  1. Winifred Kay Jones says:

    I found I fixed meals, freezing them to thaw for dinner. I cooked one day a week and made 2 weeks meals. We got pizza that day. I was an OR nurse so days off varied. Later on my girls were grown and I was a widow cooking for one. Doing the same meal prep worked great. Last year I was put on a low sodium diet. I went over foods I liked and modified them for the restrictions and once again cooked and put into single servings to freeze. Win win over 50 years!

  2. Anita says:

    I find that it’s easier when I have a few staples and/or special items on hand for quick meals. Some of our current quick meals: breakfast burritos, Ramen with frozen vegetables, French toast, lentil soup, grilled cheese and tomato soup, waffle fry nachos, chopped or roasted veggie salads (lots of leftovers can find their way in there)… Enlisting the kids’ help once they’re of school age is also important. Tweens and teens can even be assigned a day of the week to cook independently or with support as needed. (Yes, they’ll resist, but you can insist.)

  3. Bill Fegles says:

    “The days are long, the years are short”. When I was a young man that was told to me. Over the years I have found it to be true and have repeated it to many younger friends and couples. People remember it and I still get a “thank you” from those who have found it to have been helpful in their life.

  4. Marcia says:

    While I love all of your advise and tips, I am a little taken aback that you insinuate or assume that the woman should be in charge of cooking dinner every night. Why not split it evenly between mom and dad (instead of dad only taking one night and needing to give it a “fun” label) and get takeout once a week?

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Absolutely no hidden agenda there, Marcia. I trust my readers to use information, motivation, ideas, tips, experiences shared on this blog in ways that fit into their chosen ways of life. Please don’t search for ways to be offended. Use what you can then toss the rest to the wind.

      • Marilyn says:

        I’m sorry but when reading this line, I stopped “Ask your spouse to handle one weekend dinner each week and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner” I was disappointed. You are an influencer, hidden agenda or not, words matter.

      • Alicia says:

        I agree with the other commenters. I don’t think anyone is looking for ways to be offended, just pushing back on the assumption that women are responsible for meals and men “get to” do the fun ones if they choose to. If that’s how families decide to structure it, fine, but let’s start with dividing it equally and then going from there. Makes for less resentment and a happier marriage, in my experience!

    • Betty Thomas says:

      I don’t think Mary pointed to one gender over the other in the meal making department. She could have easily said it was Mama’s Marvelous Meals but that isn’t the point here is it? Best not to nitpick every single detail but to look at the big picture. Someone will be putting a delicious but fast meal on the table when one more thing to do feels more like a chore than a pleasure because we are tired.

  5. Linda Pries says:

    I always have a few frozen pizzas, tv dinners and/or pot pies in the freezer for those days. Quick, easy and always enjoyed by the family and a whole lot less expensive than ordering take out.

  6. Carol says:

    You are spot on with your recommendations! I love having several recipes we all like and doubling the recipe means meals in the freezer.

  7. Denise says:

    When we had a busy Friday night, which was almost every Friday night growing up, my Mom would make breakfast for dinner. We did that when we were raising our family too. Breakfast is pretty quick to prepare and we typically have everything we need in the frig and pantry already.

    • Nancy says:

      When I grew up, my family did the same meal of the day for the week, the. Rotated it for the next week. You always knew what’s for dinner. It also made the shopping list the same and much easier.

  8. Laurie says:

    I write my menus with a dry-erase marker on a framed picture listing the days of the week (and embellished with a little art.) It was once as simple as a piece of notebook paper behind the glass. It hangs on the kitchen wall and reminds me to get things out of the freezer or start dinner prep if I have a few free minutes during the day of homeschooling. Anything I can prep early in the day helps relieve stress later!


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