What’s For Dinner? Real Life Tips for Getting Dinner on the Table

Everyone wants to eat everyday! Multiple times a day! There’s no stopping it and most often that thankless repetitive job falls to us mothers. I’ve been asked by numerous people to offer suggestions on how I regularly make healthy and simple meals. I guess if I can get dinner on the table while living the demands of an off grid life, anyone can do it! One woman asked recently, “Do you ever work so hard that you are just too tired to make dinner? What do you do in that situation?” The answer to her first question is a definite YES! And this article is my answer to her second question. These are the things that I have found that help me the most when trying to get a quick and healthy meal on the table.

Remember that food is just food.

Ma Ingalls feeding the fire for the smoked venison.
Ma Ingalls feeding the fire for the smoked venison.
I put this as number one because I remind myself of it all the time. Please keep reading and I’ll explain. Food can be enjoyable and often is. But when I am strapped for time and have a million other things to do, I try to remember that food is just food. It helps me put things in perspective. Because I live on our off grid homestead, I’ve often thought about how the original homesteaders would have eaten over a century ago. I’ve come to the conclusion that they kept meals simple because a lot of their time spent with food was focused on production and preservation. They planted their own gardens, baked their own bread, and made their own cheese. They raised livestock and hunted for wild game; which they butchered, salted, and smoked to keep without refrigeration. For a summer dinner, they could have had a slice of bread with sausage and cheese, and raw vegetables from the garden. In the winter, they may have cut up some smoked venison and fried it up with some potatoes stored in their root cellar. My point is that we as Americans have come to believe that we need so much variety! Healthy meals, made with real ingredients (not processed), are really possible without a lot of stress if we remember to keep it simple.

Have a plan.

I’m not talking about meal planning, although that can be great if that is your thing. I did meal planning for a few years. It worked, but I spent way too much time meal planning! It was just another thing that needed to get done. When I say to have a plan, I mean to realistically think about what you have to fix and how long it will take you for the time you have to spend on it. I try to think about dinner in the morning so that I at least have an idea of what I will fix. This is really important if you need to get something out of the freezer. When the time comes for dinner prep, I can grab my ingredients and get started because I already know what I’m making.

Drainer overflowing!
Drainer overflowing!

Keep your kitchen clean and picked-up.

This is a tough one for many people and something that I struggled with a lot when I was a new mother. Before I had my first child, I had worked full time. When I made the change to stay home, I just could not get used to the idea of having to clean and pick-up the kitchen throughout the day. I wanted to do it once and be done! Well, I’ve since learned that cleaning throughout the day is a lot easier than cleaning a huge mess at the end of the day. This is so important for meal preparation because if you can’t find room to cook, you won’t do it. Cleaning up after each meal means that you can enter your kitchen at any moment and start cooking. You won’t need to waste valuable prep time cleaning up before you can even get started with dinner.

My most essential kitchen tools.
My most essential kitchen tools.

Get rid of kitchen utensils that you never use.

And keep the rest of them organized and easily accessible. It’s a pain when you have to fish around in a drawer overloaded with utensils for a pair of tongs or a wooden spoon. Keep only what you use and get rid of the rest! Meal prep goes so much quicker when you can quickly put your hands on what you need. I actually keep the things I use most often on my kitchen counter. My knife block and cutting board are always out where I can use them and my cast iron skillet is always sitting on my stove. Isn’t that a beautiful skillet? It was my grandmother’s and I love it!

Simmering soup in a dutch oven.
Simmering soup in a dutch oven.

Pick a good time of day for dinner prep.

It doesn’t have to be right before dinner. Try to make it a time when you have limited distractions. I usually do most of my dinner prep in the afternoon while my youngest is napping and my oldest is at the kitchen table doing schoolwork. This is the best time for me to work in the kitchen. During this time, I bring all my ingredients together. I chop what needs to be chopped, grate cheese, get baked potatoes ready to go in the oven, make biscuits, etc. All I have to do before dinner is put a pan on the stove to cook or put a dish in the oven. This time of year (winter) I usually have my wood stove going, so I will often prepare something that can simmer on top all afternoon and be ready by dinner time. It’s my off grid crock-pot!

My homemade biscuits.
My homemade biscuits.

Choose something you already know how to make.

This is important when you are strapped for time. You don’t want to worry about carefully referring to a recipe when you just need to get dinner done. If you are trying to broaden your cooking skills, do that a little at a time. Every couple of weeks, pick a new recipe to try when you don’t have too many other things going on. Make that effort worthwhile and choose something that will be delicious time and after time! Learn how to roast a chicken, make biscuits from scratch, or cook up your own spaghetti sauce. In future articles, I plan to cover some basic foods that I believe are essential when building your cooking skills.

Our garden produce canned for the winter.
Our garden produce canned for the winter.

Keep a well stocked pantry.

I don’t make many trips to the grocery store. I make most of our meals from the food I have stored in our pantry or the produce from our garden in the summer. I spent a lot of the summer and fall canning our own garden produce and livestock, but I also have a good amount of bulk food stored. Things like wheat berries, corn, beans, rice, olive and coconut oil, sugar, salt, coffee, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, different kinds of vinegar, canned milk, spices, and peanut butter.

Don’t cater to picky eaters.

This is a hard one for me, but I keep at it. My toddler is in the picky stage. I remember when my 8 year old was his age and doing the same thing. He grew out of it and will now eat most anything. I know my youngest will too. I want him to learn to eat what I put in front of him. I know what my family likes and I really try to make meals that they will enjoy. But if the kids don’t like something, our rule is that they aren’t getting anything else. They have to eat what they have been given. I won’t be a short order cook.

Don’t stress when your dinner plan doesn’t happen.

At the end of the day, no one will go hungry because you didn’t get a perfectly home-cooked dinner on the table. With that said, try not to get takeout either. Just because the circumstances of life haven’t enabled you to cook dinner, you don’t have an excuse for takeout. Anything you eat from home (even if it is cheese and crackers) will probably be more healthy than any restaurant fair.

So that’s it. These are things that I do everyday. I know they help me get dinner on the table. I hope they have given you some encouragement in fulfilling what can often be a thankless job. Do you use any of these tips? Do you have any to add to the list?

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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. Yes, I do all of those tips, I jusy finished emptied the dishwasher, and refilling it washing a few pans that have to be hand washed. Mopping the floor, and getting my dehydrator with a load of onions going. I know tomorrow when Iget up I will feel so much better about my house.

  2. I use these tips all the time. I am usually up by 4;00am to start breakfast. Get lunch going. ( Because of my job I have to have everything done ahead of time).I do meal plan only because I have had to many days standing in the kitchen in the morning with no idea what to cook. If I use the plan I can take food out of the freezer, get some prepared the night before. Keeping up with the dishes is huge especially if it is a small kitchen like mine. I also do not cater and like you said my girls eat everything. We are not choosy or picky. If you are hungry you will eat what is served.We have a well stocked pantry, and I have been doing more dehydrating. Started in the wrong season, should have been doing it in the summer when food items were cheaper, but I will do this next year also.Since we do not use packaged foods and my girls are older it is also a nice way to teach them to cook. If I am busy with work they know they can make something for themselves, even if it a fried egg sandwich in between meals.Love your posts–very encouraging –

  3. My kids love meatballs so we eat them on a weekly basis. Once a month we make batches of meatballs. Everybody gets a bowl of ingredients to mix, I scoop , they roll and the trays get baked in the oven. After they are cooled we bag them up and put them in the freezer. Dinner night the meatballs get put in the sauce to simmer while the water boils for the pasta.

  4. Hi, I just wanted to say I love your Homesteading website. You have done a very good job and I really like watching your family live off grid and teaching others how to survive and live like our ancestors. Also showing us how to get along without electricity almost in a camping environment, preparing for the Great Tribulation and the Great Exodus. Thanks American Homestead…

  5. What great advice! I especially like the “don’t cater to picky eaters”. During the school year when we have quite a few outside of the house activities (even though we homeschool) I keep it really simple and just rotate the same 14 or so meals. My family does’t care they just want food.

  6. Hello Jaimie – I appreciate all the advice you gave here! May I re-post your article on to my blog? (I’ll include a link to your blog of course).

    Thanks again for the great article … I think I use everything on your list 🙂 and I’m not sure what I would add. You mentioned a well-stocked pantry; my pantry includes home canned items that are ‘grab and go’ for when I do not feel well or just do not have time. A day or two of canning homemade soup sure comes in handy many times through the months following! Other ‘grab and go’ items are separately canned meat and vegetables. A quick soup for the wood stove is a jar of beef, a jar of potatoes and a jar of green beans. Add a few seasonings and maybe an onion and some garlic and there’s a hearty meal in seconds. Yum!!

    I especially appreciate your first point: food is just food. It is meant to nourish our bodies. Wednesday I made a large batch of shepherd’s pie for company and extra for leftovers. Each day following for the next 4 days that is what we had for lunch along with a salad. What a blessing to not have to think about ‘what’s for lunch?’ … it was already made … all I had to do was remember to heat it up before it was time to eat (which was easy with the wood cookstove).

    When I cooked for a lot of people (10 or so adults) I HAD to plan my meals! But now my load is a lot lighter and I do well to simply think of supper in the morning. BOTH fall in to the description of ‘meal planning’ – we just each need to do what works for our individual situations.

    Joanne in SW MO

  7. My mother shared with me some wonderful old books called the Make-a-Mix Cookbooks. The general idea is that if you know you will make a lot of something (like pancakes), make large amounts of the dry mix ahead of time. My mom likes to store mixes in large buckets, and use a permanent marker to write the recipe right on the bucket so that when it’s time to refill it, the list is handy. She also writes additional ingredients needed–such as eggs & oil. It takes the thinking out of making pancakes and really cuts down on the prep time.

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