Tip #1: Keep Meals Simple:
Busy families need meals that are simple to prepare so that dinner is on the table quickly. Three examples that come to mind are rotisserie chicken, frozen turkey meatballs and frozen, grilled chicken breast strips. There’s a lot you can do with these 3 items:

• Rotisserie chicken can be eaten as is and it can be used for leftovers, such as chicken pasta salad, chicken salad sandwiches on a whole wheat bun, chicken & rice burritos, chicken entrée salad, and chicken enchiladas.
• Turkey meatballs can be heated in pasta sauce and served over pasta or made into meatball sandwiches using hot dog buns or hoagie rolls, topped with shredded mozzarella and placed under the broiler for a minute to melt the cheese. My boys love these!
• Frozen grilled chicken strips can be microwaved and added to pasta, salad, burritos, quesadillas, soups, pretty much anything!

Tip #2: Prepare Extra:
When you go grocery shopping, plan 30 minutes for preparing what you bring home so it’s “ready to eat” or “ready to cook”.

• Wash and cut up grapes into small bunches; wash strawberries and cut carrots into carrots sticks and store in containers labeled “washed”; cut up broccoli so it’s ready to steam or stir-fry. My kids are much more likely to grab these foods after school if they’re ready to eat and don’t require much (or any) effort.
• When cooking chicken, steak or pork, cook extra! The time it takes to grill 1 piece of protein is the same as several pieces. Use these leftovers for lunch or dinner in the days ahead. For example you can add them to rice, salad, burritos, etc.

Tip #3: Freeze Leftovers/Extra:
This goes along with Tip #2. While you’re cooking, make extra and freeze the left-overs to use in a pinch. I do this all the time!

• Lasagna, casseroles, soups and chili: Great meals the day of and great leftovers, especially if you freeze them in individual portions. Then on those nights when part of the family is home, you can prepare the number of portions you need.
• Burgers (ground turkey or lean ground beef): When I make burgers, I always buy extra meat and while making the patties for the dinner, I make the rest of the patties and wrap them in plastic wrap, then foil and put them in a freezer bag labeled with the kind of burgers and date. I also freeze the leftover buns. That way I have a great, quick meal that’s easy to thaw in the microwave and cook on the stove top or gas grill.

Tip #4: Use recipes with a few ingredients: What comes to mind is about 5 ingredients. The idea here is that if there are only 5 or so ingredients and ones that are typically in your cupboard, then it won’t take long to get it on the table. Some examples from my book, 400 Moms, include Pizza Bagels, Pizza Quesadillas, and Chicken Pasta Salad. Here are a couple websites that can expand the options:
Cooking Light
Food Network

Tip #5: Use recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less:
This is a little like Tip #4. Dinner can’t have too many ingredients and be on the table in 30 minutes. Using frozen vegetables can help a lot with this issue because they’re already washed and cut, ready to throw into the dish. Two more benefits of frozen vegetables is that they can decrease waste (you know, all those rotting fresh vegetables in the refrigerator bin) and they have as much or more nutrients than fresh vegetables because they retain their nutrients when they have been flash frozen. (They aren’t losing nutrients as they sit in the refrigerator for days.)

Tip #6: Plan dinner meals before going grocery shopping:
This strategy ensures that you have all the ingredients you need when it comes time to prepare dinner. Once you know your dinner plans for the week, you can create your grocery list, which decreases the extra trips to the grocery store during the week. And actually, those trips to the grocery store usually don’t happen, and take out or fast food is ordered instead.