When I was a kid, every Sunday night my mom invited my sisters and me to make dinner requests for the weeknights ahead. Getting to have some say in the matter was a real treat—and Mom never disappointed us. Every darn day, after we got off the bus from school, she would start preparing something amazing. Supper was never very fancy, but knowing that each night we could look forward to breaking bread together as a family was something very special.
“Now that I am a mom, I understand just how really very special and how challenging it was for Mom to pull family dinner off without fail.”
Now that I am a mom, I understand just how really very
special and how challenging it was for Mom to pull family dinner off without fail. Sports practices, drum lessons, homework, a baby in a high chair and early bedtimes make family dinners difficult to schedule, but it is so important. And I am totally committed to making it happen.
I can never promise a certain meal on a certain night, but I am always prepared to serve something
. I keep my pantry and fridge well-stocked with meal-building basics so I can work backward in my planning; that is, I start with a clear assessment of how much time I have for dinner prep, and map out meals from there.
Typically, 10, 20, or 30 minutes (max!) are all I can shake from my day. With that in mind, here is how dinner looks in my household:
10-Minute Dinner Plan
With such a small window of time, meal prep begins with getting everyone out of the kitchen first. I just need a couple moments to unload the fridge and create stations for—drumroll, please—make-your-own-sandwich night!
I spread meats, cheeses, spreads, sauces, breads and veggies all over the countertop. My husband walks the crew through their options, then helps them stack their perfect sandwiches. At the end of the line, then, is where they’ll find me waiting to melt, toast or dip what they’ve created. They can cover their bread in butter for crunchy crisping or, I will soak their creations in whisked eggs to transform them into French toast sandwiches.
Monte Cristo sandwiches are fan favorites in my house. Smear thick-sliced Italian bread with Dijon mustard and grape jelly, then layer on the Swiss cheese and Land O' Frost DeliShaved Turkey. Dunk them in eggs and sauté in butter for equal parts flaky and melty. I always finish with a dusting of powdered sugar for sweet-and-savory brilliance that took minutes to make.
20-Minute Dinner Plan
This hunk of time is enough to boil water and cook a pound of pasta, but I am strategic about how to embellish it. No-cook sauces that warm as they are tossed with the hot pasta are necessary. My favorite is pesto, but my sons’ pick is always carbonara. They call it “bacon pasta,” and they ask for it regularly.
As the pasta boils, whisk together eggs, heavy whipping cream, dried oregano, fresh chopped parsley, minced garlic and a heaping handful of shredded Parmesan, then set the mixture aside. In a sauté pan, cook cubed Land O’Frost Thick Sliced Canadian Bacon until it’s golden brown and caramelized. Drain the pasta, toss it in the cream sauce, and top it with the salty nuggets of Canadian bacon. Boom! Dinner is served.
30-Minute Dinner Plan
This gives me just enough time to turn on the oven, but still requires a thoughtful game plan. One-pan recipes that layer vegetables, starches and proteins will ensure suppertime success all week long. They make for easy clean-up too! Chicken cordon bleu with roasted broccoli is my go-to recipe in the one-pan meal department.
Butterfly some chicken breasts, top with Swiss cheese and Land O’Frost DeliShaved Smoked Ham, then roll ‘em up, secure with toothpicks, dredge in panko breadcrumbs and place them in a roasting pan. Then, roughly chop a couple crowns of broccoli and nestle them all around the chicken in the same pan. In the time it takes for the chicken to cook completely, the cheese leaks just enough to get tangled in the broccoli. Heaven in a half hour.
Buy yourself even more time by assembling the chicken in advance. Keep refrigerated and then coat breadcrumbs and bake just before serving.
Even though I don’t solicit requests on Sunday night, I still try to honor the dinnertime traditions my mom established for me as a kid. Now I spend the start of my weeks prepping for the possibilities that come with last-minute windows of time so that my little team of five can have their own memories of our family dinners. Time absolutely is my most valuable resource these days, but it doesn’t take a lot of it to bring everyone together each night.