25 proven ways to make dinnertime easier and calmer

You head home from work tired from your day. You are hungry. So are the people in your family. You’ve got to throw something together for dinner. But, what?

Looks like takeout or delivery again.

If you’ve been with your kiddos all day, dinnertime looms ahead like a 15-car pileup that’s just happened on the interstate in front of you. There’s no way around it. You are stuck.

Maybe you should just order a pizza. Again.

You want to serve healthy meals to your family. You really do. You just had no idea how hard it would be.

I call this time period every evening the valley of the shadow of death. Because that’s what it felt like to me as a young mom.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” Psalm 23:4

I know that when God inspired David to write these words and the rest of the beloved 23rd Psalm, David wasn’t speaking about putting dinner on the table. The valley of the shadow of death just described how I felt every night starting around 5:00.

I had to learn to make tasty, healthy dinners night after night, while juggling kids, schedules, and life happening. So did my friends. And our husbands. Here are our 25 tips that actually work–

1. Come up with a plan for the upcoming week

Have you ever heard the saying: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail? Definitely holds true when it is time to cook dinner.

If you have no plan, you will wander around the kitchen, stare into the refrigerator, then open the pantry door just in time to hear a crash from the next room. The dog will bark. Your phone will ring. Once you finish taking care of everything and go back to the kitchen to make something–anything–for dinner, you will realize 30 minutes has gone by and now everyone in your home is hangry. Not good.

Or, you can take a few minutes every weekend to plan the meals for the next week.

You can use one of the numerous apps like:

Many of the meal planning apps also allow you to search recipes and create your shopping list in the app. Some apps partner with grocery stores and/or Instacart so you can even place your order for pickup or delivery.

Consider going old school and writing your menus on a piece of paper or typing them in a pretty font. Have the kiddos draw pictures to go along with the foods. You can post the week’s menus on your fridge or on a bulletin board for everyone to see.

Whether you go high tech or low tech, the point is to plan ahead. For your own sanity.

When my longtime friend, Kelly Driggers, was raising her four girls, she says that God showed her early on that “it really does make a difference when you have a plan.”

“Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate,” Kelly advises.

No plan? She and her family experienced dinnertime stress and chaos.

A plan? Evening meals were calmer, more peaceful.

“Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate,” Kelly advises. “I learned to think through three different proteins for the week because I would try to cook three times a week, then eat leftovers for the rest of the dinners.”

When you plan your meals for the upcoming week, take into account the weather.

In the sweltering summer weather, make lighter fare, such as salads. A salad filled with fruit, diced veggies, and chicken tastes good when the temperature soars. So does taco salad. And vegetarian Italian chopped salad.

Kelly says that in the heat of summer she would make pasta salad ahead and throw in some tuna when it was time to serve dinner. Or she’d prepare chicken salad earlier in the day and serve it with some grapes.

“Something light and cold sounds nice in July,” Kelly says. “Something you can make ahead and serve out of the fridge.”

In the chilly winter months, plan to make and serve simmering pots of soups, stews, and other dishes that satisfy. For example, pot roast tastes really good on gray days in January. So does lasagna (whether you use pasta or zoodles).

With the changeable weather in the spring and fall, you can adjust your menus based on the outside temperatures. Of course, pumpkin anything just tastes better in the fall.

“I’ve learned since that if you can get a fiber, a protein, some leafy greens, and a healthy fat in each meal, it’s actually going to satisfy and stay with your belly longer,” Kelly adds. “If you can think along those lines in each meal you prepare and if you can plan your meals a week at a time, that’s great.”

Once you have your meals planned for the week, buy groceries for those meals. You can think through everything, including spices, so you buy exactly what you need. No more having to run to the grocery store at the last minute to buy fresh parsley.

“I’ve learned since that if you can get a fiber, a protein, some leafy greens, and a healthy fat in each meal, it’s actually going to satisfy and stay with your belly longer,” Kelly adds.

Then, every day, everyone in your family knows what’s for dinner–and the groceries are already in your home.

2. Prepare simple meals

Take some pressure off yourself. You don’t have to cook gourmet dinners with a reduction or a drizzle of this or that.

Your goal? Sit down together as a family to eat healthy dinners and enjoy each other’s company. Simplifying can help.

“You are creating space for joy,” Kelly explains. “If you love getting in the kitchen and creating these fancy meals, then go for it. But if that’s not your cup of tea, then it’s okay to put tuna melts and some grapes on the table with joy.”

Focus on a protein, veggies, grain (if you eat grains), and fruit.

Look for wholesome foods that aren’t complicated or time-consuming to prepare.

  • Sprinkle some herbs onto chicken breasts before cooking. No fancy sauce needed.
  • Cook a pot of beans in broth, salt, pepper, and a little oil.
  • Roast veggies (like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, etc.) with some olive oil and salt.
  • Make a kale salad.
  • Instead of a sweet potato dish that calls for you to peel, cube, toss with a mix of ingredients, then cook, bake whole sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

“Give yourself grace,” Kelly says.

After all, you are not auditioning for your own cooking show. Or trying to impress anyone else. You are feeding your family. You know, the people you love.

“You are creating space for joy,” Kelly explains. “If you love getting in the kitchen and creating these fancy meals, then go for it. But if that’s not your cup of tea, then it’s okay to put tuna melts and some grapes on the table with joy.”

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” Galatians 5:22

She also advises parents put a basket in the kitchen for everyone’s cell phones to rest in during meals. That way, you and your loved ones can talk with each other.

“Celebrate each other at dinnertime,” Kelly encourages. “Ask the question: What was good for you today? What was hard for you today? Eating dinner together is more about the atmosphere. It’s not about fancy foods.”

3. Share the cooking with another family–or two

Ask some people you know to meal plan with you and then divide the cooking.

For example, if you get three families to share the cooking, you could cook three chickens (whole or cut up) in the oven.

Another family could make enough baked beans to serve three families. Or, five-bean salad.

The third family could make broccoli salad or apple cranberry almond coleslaw or strawberry spinach salad for the other side dish.

Then, you swap. Maybe add some rolls. Everyone has a complete meal–but only cooked one thing.

Sound easy? It is.

Just make sure you pick dependable people with whom to share the cooking.

4. Fire up the grill

Gas or charcoal? Smoker? Ceramic grill? Buy what you can afford.

Cooking on the grill adds flavor to foods, makes for easy cleanup, and is fun.

If you don’t have a grill, you might want to buy one. (On the left, an inexpensive charcoal grill is a good way to start grilling.)

If you already own a grill, use it more often. For more kinds of foods.

My family has cooked everything from hamburgers to chickens to pork shoulders for barbecue to corn on on the cob to squash to pizzas on the grill. Seriously.

To get dinner on the table easier when you are grilling, consider making cold side dishes earlier in the day or even the night before. Cowboy caviar and pasta salad come to mind.

Another suggestion is to invest in a grill basket so you can cook your veggies and protein on the grill at the same time. Check out Pinterest for various grilled veggie recipes.

I even spotted a recipe on Pinterest for making fajitas–meat and onions and peppers–in a grill basket. Add some flour tortillas, salsa, and avocado slices and dinner is ready. Talk about easy.

5. Become friends with a slow cooker

If you have a busy schedule, a slow cooker can be your best friend.


Because you can dump everything into a slow cooker in the morning, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and go about your day while your dinner cooks on a low heat. Then, when you are ready to eat dinner, dinner is ready to eat.

I use this 6.5 quart Crockpot brand slow cooker. It is programmable, cooks enough to feed my family a meal plus leftovers, and cleans up easily by removing the crock and washing with soap and water once it’s cooled. Here’s the Amazon (paid) link: https://amzn.to/2ZrlkDs

If you are familiar with a slow cooker but have only eaten slow cooker foods swimming in Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, you will be glad to know you can find a bazillion (technical term for a lot) of current recipes that use only whole, natural ingredients. You know, good stuff.

By the way, slow cooker is the name of the kitchen appliance we’re talking about, while Crockpot is an actual brand name. Several companies now also make slow cookers: KitchenAid, Cuisinart, Calphalon, and more.

I’ve just always used a Crockpot and had good success. Crockpots are generally less expensive, too.

If you have never used a slow cooker before, start with making soup. Soups are easy. Look on Pinterest or whatever app you use for recipes or just do a Google search for a chili recipe. For chicken and rice soup. Black bean soup. Chicken tortilla soup. Minestrone. Beef stew. Or, one of my favorites: white chicken chili.

Hungry yet? Let’s take a look at some other delicious but easy dinners to make in a slow cooker.

  • Pot roast with potatoes, onions, and carrots
  • Chicken teriyaki
  • Eggplant parmesan
  • Vegan tikka masala
  • Butternut squash dal
  • Spaghetti
  • Chicken curry

Kelly says: “When we lived in New Orleans, my friends did their laundry on Monday, so putting red beans and rice in your crockpot was what we all did on Monday.”

Now, that’s a good memory for all four of Kelly’s now grown girls.

6. Place a tray of veggies and dip on the kitchen table

So, that whole valley of the shadow of death thing is real. Something healthy for your kids to snack on while you get dinner on the table can make a HUGE difference.

Kelly suggests putting veggies and dip on a platter on your kitchen table in the late afternoon. Baby carrots and ranch dressing (bottled or homemade) is a favorite of many kiddos.

Also kid-approved: celery sticks with nut butter (almond butter, peanut butter or sun butter). A bowl of fruit, such as grapes, is usually well-received, too.

But what if your children fill up on veggies and fruit and don’t eat much of the dinner you are preparing?

Um, let’s see. Then your kiddos just ate veggies and fruit. Isn’t that a good thing?

“I have always liked lighting a candle and putting on music while I get dinner on the table,” Kelly says. “Makes it feel more festive. Calmer.”

Bonus: as your family members drift into the kitchen to eat a healthy snack while you get dinner on the table, you can change the mood of the valley of the shadow of death time.

“I have always liked lighting a candle and putting on music while I get dinner on the table,” Kelly says. “Makes it feel more festive. Calmer. If you can bring joy into it, the calm is actually there. You have to have a spirit of calm and peace and rest and really believe that the Lord is going to help you–even with supper.”

7. Try an Instant Pot

This is the one I use (paid link): https://amzn.to/38hRBke

So, an Instant Pot can be your other best friend.


Because food cooks faster in one of these pressure cookers.

I cook in my Instant Pot several times a week. I have to say I do agree with http://instantpot.com that “cooking with an Instant Pot is everyday magic.”

The website explains that “the Instant Pot simplifies the joys of home cooking, promotes healthy lifestyles, and gives you more time to relish great meals with the people you love.”

Here are some examples of cooking times:

  • Brown rice–22 minutes
  • Black beans–20 minutes
  • Whole chicken–8 minutes
  • Whole carrots–3 minutes
  • Whole cabbage–5 minutes
  • A balsamic chicken meal–20 minutes
  • Pad Thai–7 minutes

8. Pay for a meal prep service

Whether you try out Hello Fresh, Every Plate, Blue Apron or one of the other services, the idea is the same: sign up for a meal prep service, pick your meals from a list, and then everything you need will show up at your door, already pre-measured and ready to cook.

Typical costs range from $5-$7 per person, per meal.

While I haven’t tried one of these services, the people I know who have really like them.

9. Do prep work ahead of time

You can definitely prevent stress by chopping your vegetables, making your seasonings and sauces, and cutting up meats earlier in the day or even the night before you cook.

  • Grilling chicken and a basket full of veggies is super fast if you have everything ready in advance to throw on the grill.
  • A stir-fry comes together quickly at dinnertime if the meats and veggies are cut up and ready to drop in the pan or wok when it’s time to cook.
  • Tacos take no time to make if you already diced some onions and peppers and grated some cheese before time to cook the meat.

Kelly says to remember that “your day starts the night before.” Just like the ancient Israelites in the Bible. The next day begins at sunset the night before.

Working ahead really does work.

10. Master one pan meals

Did you know you can find numerous recipes for meals that you can cook on the stove in one pan? Or in the oven in one casserole dish? Or over a campfire?

Yep. It’s a thing.

I found several one-pan recipes on Pinterest that everyone in my family likes. I can cut up the meat and veggies ahead of time, refrigerate in large, plastic food storage bags, then drop the ingredients into my large, cast iron skillet. In a few minutes, dinner is ready and my family only has one pan to wash.

My go-to pan for cooking a one-dish meal is my 12-inch, cast iron Lodge skillet. Because I’ve used this pan so often, it is well-seasoned. That means that rarely will food stick to this pan. (As with all cast iron pans, remember to get the pan hot before putting food into it.)

Cast iron pans can be used on the stove, the oven or the grill. If you camp, you can even put a cast iron pot over a campfire.

If a one-dish recipe has a lot of sauce, I cook that meal in a Dutch oven. Recipes like:

  • Cilantro lime chicken
  • Meatballs and pasta
  • Chicken enchilada meal
  • Jambalaya
  • Moroccan chicken

I am also a big fan of sheet pan meals. Just dump meats and veggies on a sheet pan, bake in the oven, and serve. Sounds simple, right? That’s because it is. Examples of what my family cooks on a sheet pan:

  • Balsamic honey sheet pan chicken & veggies
  • Sheet pan garlic butter salmon
  • One pan chicken and veggies

11. Cook enough for 2 different recipes

So, here’s how this works.

Say you are going to roast veggies in the oven tonight to accompany grilled chicken, for example. What if you roast a larger amount of veggies so you can make frittatas a couple of days later? That way, your meal prep is done for another night.

Or, you can roast enough extra veggies tonight to throw roasted veggies on pizzas two nights from now. You can jazz up frozen pizzas with leftover veggies. Or, you can make pizza crust from scratch and top with leftover roasted broccoli, onions, peppers, etc.

12. Put everything in the oven

Another way to make dinnertime easier is to prepare foods that can cook in the oven at the same time.

For instance, cut up new potatoes, broccoli, and carrots into bite-sized pieces. Place the veggies in a pan that can go in the oven. Toss with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Put them in a preheated oven. Then, put chicken breasts in an oven-safe pan with some kind of seasoning. Set a timer and go do something else while dinner cooks.

13. Consider buying packages of precut foods

Grocery stores now regularly stock bags of precut broccoli and cauliflower, packages of frozen, cubed butternut squash, trays of sliced round steak, and much more. You may pay a little more for the convenience of buying food that is already cut up, but you can also save some time.

14. Make sure to have leftovers

Did you know you do not have to cook dinner seven nights a week?

You can plan ahead and cook enough three times a week to have leftovers the other nights. And it won’t necessarily take a lot of extra time on the nights you do cook. If you are grilling chicken breasts, for example, the grill time is the same for eight breasts as it is for four.

“My challenge was not to waste food,” Kelly explains.

If you wind up with too much of a leftover food, turn that food into something else. For example, a bit of extra rice can become rice pudding. Or, you might choose to transform extra grilled chicken into a topping for salads.

“My challenge was not to waste food,” Kelly explains.

Cooking enough to always have leftovers, then being creative kept her from being wasteful in the years she was feeding a family of six.

15. Eat breakfast for dinner

Have you had pancakes for dinner? Why not?

Kids usually really enjoy breakfast for dinner. So do a lot of grownups. As an added bonus, most breakfast foods can be prepared quickly–waffles, bacon (pork, turkey or tofurky), eggs, fresh fruit, biscuits, baked oatmeal, etc.

Give it a try. You might start a new, once-a-month family tradition.

Check out my favorite pancake recipe: https://strongforhertasks.com/2019/07/29/best-pancake-recipe-ever/)

16. Try using frozen veggies

You don’t have to use only fresh veggies. Today’s frozen veggies are supposedly very nutritious because they are picked when ripe and immediately frozen for consumers.

Cooking frozen, already strung string beans saves time. So does dropping frozen broccoli or asparagus or riced cauliflower into your recipe.

17. Experiment with once a month cooking

The idea is to take one day a month (like the first Saturday of the month) and have all of your meals planned and groceries bought. Then, you take several hours and cook numerous meals that you freeze for the next month’s dinners. Putting dinner on the table each night becomes quick and easy.

Kelly has used the once-a-month cooking method numerous times over the years and swears by it.

“I’ve used the book,” Kelly says. “But I’ve done it so many times over the years that I’ve also learned how to do it now with quite a few of my family’s recipes. Ladies from my small group (from church) come over to my house and we bring the ingredients times three and we all go home with nine meals.”

18. Serve some kind of seafood

Fish, shrimp, scallops, etc., take less than ten minutes to sautee or bake or broil. Serve with some pasta or zoodles and a salad and dinner will be on the table before your kiddos finish eating their carrots and ranch dressing dip.

19. Cook on weekends

So, if Mondays-Fridays are crazy busy, then why not cook your meals on Saturdays and Sundays? Then, during the week, dinner is ready to go.

I have done this and can honestly say that it works.

20. Divvy up the dishes

Not just the washing of the dishes– but the actual prep and cooking, too.

As the wife/mom, you can take the lead and assign jobs to your people. Age appropriate, of course.

  • Elementary school age kiddos can slice cucumbers and tomatoes for salad.
  • Preschoolers can tear lettuce or kale and help set the table.
  • Older kids can take responsibility for cooking a dish or even a meal. They can–and should–learn how to use the stove and oven and other appliances safely.
  • Your husband can prepare an entree, while you make a side dish. Or, you guys can alternate nights. He cooks one night. You cook the next. Depending on your schedules, of course.

The point is to get your whole family involved in cooking, setting the table, and cleaning up so everyone knows how to do these things. And, so the load doesn’t all fall on your shoulders every day.

21. Go on a picnic occasionally

Who doesn’t like a picnic?

Pack some fresh fruit and sandwiches and you are set.

Or, make a big bowl of salad to go.

Drive to a nearby park (or lake or river) and eat your dinner. Enjoy being outside. And together.

22. Prepare extra and freeze

While not all foods freeze well (salad and watermelon, for example), many do. Why not double a recipe and put some in the freezer for another dinner?

Cooked foods that freeze well: soups, stews, meats, potatoes, casseroles, stir fries, curries, muffins, pancakes, waffles, beans, etc.

Whether you freeze in food storage bags, glass bowls with lids or plastic bowls with lids, pulling an already cooked meal out of the freezer feels good because your dinner is done.

Word of advice: be sure to label whatever you put in the freezer so there’s no confusion later. (Not that I’ve ever accidentally thawed the wrong food.)

23. Keep your pantry and freezer well-stocked

IMG_6721[854]Ever start to make a recipe for dinner only to discover you have 1/2 cup of rice left in your pantry but you need 1 1/2 cups? Yeah, me, too.

You can keep that from happening by buying larger quantities of foods your family eats: rice, dried beans, pasta, meats, frozen veggies, and dried fruits. No more piling everyone in the car to rush to the grocery store to buy that one ingredient.

Bonus: buying big packages of food (like the 10-pound bag of rice I buy at Costco) also saves money.

24. Eat out wisely

So, if you plan ahead and put into practice ways to make your family’s dinnertime calmer and less stressful, you will be tempted to eat out less often. That means, when you do eat out, it can feel special. Like a treat. And fun.

When you do eat out, it can feel special. Like a treat. And fun.

You can set a goal of trying one new restaurant a month.

Or, you can let your family members take turns picking where to go out to eat so everyone feels included.

However you work it, going out for dinner will be more enjoyable. And you’ll save money and calories by not eating out all the time.

25. Take Sundays off

God considers our need for a day of rest so important that He placed this need as number four in the ten commandments.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God.” Exodus 20:8-9

“Sundays we have really tried not to cook,” Kelly says. “We typically clean out the fridge.”

I do the same. I put all my family’s leftover entrees and side dishes from the week on our kitchen counter on Sundays after church. Kind of our own family food bar. I add in a container of spring mix and some dressings if we don’t have a lot left from the week. I like getting ready for church knowing I don’t have to cook. Feels more like a day of rest.


Feeding your family healthy, tasty food does require work. But, you can definitely make putting dinner on the table easier and calmer by using these 25 tips.

“Time at your table can become nourishing for your souls,” Kelly says.

If you feel calm–and even joyful–as you sit down to eat, you can influence your loved ones to enjoy family meals together. To look forward to eating together. To talk and to share. To bond. You can do an age-appropriate devotional as a family while you are at the table.

“Time at your table can become nourishing for your souls,” Kelly says.

Want more ideas for helping your children learn to walk with God? Check out my post: 19 simple ways you can teach your kids about God.

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