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18 Ways to Enjoy Making Dinner More

18 Ways to Enjoy Making Dinner More

18 WAYS TO ENJOY MAKING DINNER MORE

I used to love making dinner but with a busy life and busy family, I don’t have the time or energy to enjoy it like I used to. However, I have some simple ideas to help me in the kitchen so today I’m sharing 18 ways to enjoy making dinner more, in case they could you too!

THE BENEFITS OF A RELAXED, STRESS-FREE DINNER TIME

I used to love cooking and eating dinner as a way of winding down from the day, enjoying and learning about different flavours and chatting with whoever might be sharing the table and food with me. Mealtimes are an important way to connect with loved ones.

Even if you live and eat alone, there are some wonderful benefits of taking time to eat to honour dinner time. We can enjoy the present moment after a busy day and explore more mindful eating.

A stress-free, unrushed meal, particularly as a family, also helps us to build good eating habits, eat more healthily and supports better digestion with better posture at the table, slower mouthfuls and chewing our food for longer before swallowing!

Unfortunately, now though, making and eating dinner with kids, work and busy life, so easily becomes a struggle at the end of the working day.

Sound familiar?! Then I hope this article helps…

WHY MAKING DINNER CAN BE TOUGH!

When I was single and without kids, there was nothing more that I loved to do on a quiet evening at home but cook up something special.

I loved dreaming up my dishes, leisurely shopping to select the best ingredients I could find, cooking it in my little kitchen with some background music to keep me company and then savouring every tasty mouthful.

Nowadays I have to choose my meals more carefully to cater for the whole family. We all have different preferences, some are more picky eaters than others and often times, I’m weary by dinner time and find it difficult to get my head around what to cook, let alone summoning up the energy and enthusiasm to cook it.

And then, when it’s served to the table, I might get some less than favourable comments about what it looks like, what ingredients I’ve used and please could we not have it again? It can be frustrating and stressful!

However, I haven’t been ready to sacrifice my love of cooking or enjoying conversation and company with my nearest and dearest over the dinner table.

I’ve put in place some little strategies to help put the joy back into evening mealtimes and I’d like to share them with you here in case they might help you too!

18 ways to enjoy making dinner more

18 Ways to Enjoy Making Dinner More

Here are 18 ways to enjoy making dinner more. I must admit that I intended this article to be 9 ways to enjoy making dinner more, but as I was making dinner this evening and pondering on this article, I came up with a few more!

1. Get your family to help prepare and cook dinner

As the saying goes, “teamwork makes the dream work” so I like to encourage my family to help.

Since they were little, I’ve taught my kids to help me prep vegetables, wash potatoes, mix ingredients, stir sauces and add spices and seasoning. They’ve learnt to handle utensils and prepare food safely and hygienically and have become quite good little cooks with their own repertoires of basic recipes.

Obviously it takes time and practice for kids to learn and become helpful and there were plenty of messes and frustrations whilst they were learning, but it was well worth it!

They can help me out in the kitchen which saves time, makes the process much more fun and easier for me and cooking is an activity we can all enjoy doing together.

2. Consider prep and cooking time

If dinner takes longer than 30 minutes to make then I tend to avoid it (at least for weekday evenings). Some evenings we’re more rushed than others, but half an hour spent in the kitchen to cook dinner feels manageable to me after a long day.

Some recipes are much quicker, such as stir fry and others need a bit of prep and cooking but then longer in the oven or slow cooker, such as stews and casseroles.

Dinners that take up too much time or are overly complicated for my tired brain (making lasagne from scratch) I prefer to leave for the weekend, otherwise I just get frustrated and tired and don’t feel like eating what I’ve spent all that time cooking. I think a meal that you’ve spent a while tenderly preparing deserves to be savoured at your leisure!

3. Prep ahead

And, on the topic of prepping, I like to think about ways I can prep dinner during the day instead of leaving it all to the evening.

Could you wash and cut any of the vegetables? Could you part-cook any of the ingredients? What about batching? Double a recipe for mash and freeze half of it, for example. Use half for tonight’s dinner and keep the other half when you need some quick mashed potato for a speedy cottage pie?

Prepping ahead when you have a few spare minutes during the day saves time and energy when these resources are in limited supply or you’re in a rush later on in the day.

4. Keep to regular mealtimes

I know this is easier said than done for many of us juggling different commitments in the evening or if you have little kids who need to eat earlier than grown-ups. But, wherever possible and if you can, choose a time for dinner that suits you most of the time.

We tend to eat between 6-6.30pm every evening. My husband is back from work by then and it’s early enough for us to be able to enjoy the evening afterwards. This time also works for my kids who aren’t so hungry that they’re past it (or have filled up on snacks!).

Sometimes this routine doesn’t work but I try to keep to this schedule as much as possible so that everyone knows what to expect. This way I don’t get asked a million times what time dinner is and I know in my head to allocate the hour from 5/5.30pm-ish to dinner time and then it’s switching off to relax into the evening and winding down for the night.

5. Know what you’re going to cook

This is where I have a little confession to make. I write about the benefits of meal-planning and how to do it but I still struggle with my own meal-planning. More specifically, I struggle with knowing on Sunday what I’d like to eat the following Thursday!

Although meal-planning most certainly reduces wasted food, money and the stress of deciding what to cook and making sure you have the ingredients, I do also find it a bit restrictive and rigid and it takes the enjoyment and fun out of making dinner.

Where possible, I like cooking dinner to be spontaneous and creative and something I really look forward to.

So, how I get around this problem is two-fold and I’ll share about these tips in the next two points.

6. Don’t be afraid to use meal rotation

I do try different recipes and cuisines but I’ve learnt that this is best done at the weekends when I have more time to concentrate and enjoy the process.

Dinners during the week generally need to be quick and easy to prepare, recipes that I know from heart and don’t have to follow the instructions on preparation, measurements and cooking times and that I’m confident my family will eat with minimum fuss. Weekday dinners need to be stress-free and nutritious!

So, enter meal rotation. I have a staple collection of about 15 or so meals that I rotate over the course of a fortnight, give or take. This seems to strike a balance between giving us enough variety but having recipes that I can rely on to make easily which we’ll all eat and enjoy.

I used to think rotating the same old foods regularly would be boring and limited but actually, it’s a really useful hack to simplify your life in the kitchen.

  • Sometimes I add a bit of variety, for example, swapping pasta or rice for pulses, a crusty loaf of bread, or orzo.
  • Sometimes I try different flavourings, for example salmon could be Asian one week and then Mediterranean with roasted tomatoes the next.

7. Themed nights

In addition to rotating our favourite meals as a way of making dinner more enjoyable, another tip could be to use themed nights to help structure your planning.

You could try leftover Mondays, taco Tuesdays, pasta Wednesdays, vegetarian Thursdays, fish Fridays, curries on Saturday and roasts on Sundays.

You don’t have to stick with this rigidly but if you’re struggling for ideas one night this could give you a starting point.

8. Having ingredients that are flexible

I gave the example of salmon above, where you could vary the flavours depending on the spices and seasonings you use. I use this trick a lot in my own cooking.

Instead of meal-planning for the week in small detail, what I do instead is usually buy a whole chicken, some minced/ground beef, some fish, maybe some sausages, ham or chorizo and some prawns. We don’t eat a lot of red meat but I might buy a little cut of beef every now and then.

The chicken and the beef could be used for Sunday roasts and then I use the leftovers during the week. These and the other meat and fish can all be used in many different dishes from fajitas to stews, salads, sandwiches, stir fries, baked in the oven, grilled, pan-fried and served with pasta, jacket potatoes, rice and other carbohydrates.

Although I don’t set out exactly how I’m going to use these ingredients in my weekly planning and grocery shopping, I know that there’s a variety of ways I can use them, as long as I have these main ingredients in the house.

It then just depends on having a variety of spices, herbs and seasonings.

9. Keeping the store cupboard stocked

Now this is an area where I think it definitely pays to be a bit organised and plan ahead. If I don’t have time and energy to enjoy making dinner then I certainly won’t have time and energy to buy ingredients that I need. I just want to be able to open my kitchen cupboards and pull out what I need!

So, each week before my grocery shop, I do check those cupboards and make sure I have a range of ingredients that I use regularly. Aside from dairy, fruit and vegetables, the majority of these have quite a long shelf-life so there’s no harm in stocking up a little.

I’m all for clutter-free minimalist spaces but if I go too minimalist when it comes to food then I run into other problems – like not having food for making dinner easily! (A gentle reminder that minimalism is not about getting rid of things for the sake of it and leaving you to live in scarcity!)

In my store cupboard and freezer I have tins of pulses, beans, lentils and chickpeas (good for salads and stews), a full range of herbs, condiments, seasoning and spices including Mediterranean, Indian and Asian, rice, pastas, tins of tomatoes, ingredients for baking, a variety of frozen vegetables and more.

18 ways to enjoy making dinner more

10. ‘Thing’ dishes

In my home I create ‘thing’ dishes. These are dinners that aren’t really following any recipe or cuisine but that I put together often using leftovers or from what needs using up in the fridge before it goes off.

By their very nature they are, admittedly, pretty random and sometimes work better than others but they’re helpful in minimising waste and can be quick and simple to put together.

It’s pretty easy to tell when some foods in the fridge need eating up, other times it’s helpful to write on the label when you opened the item as well as checking best before and expiry dates.

As I root around in the fridge or freezer for the ingredients for tonight’s dinner, I’m always mindful of what I could be using for tomorrow’s meal too as it gives me a head-start on tomorrow.

Typical ‘thing’ dishes in our  home could be:

  • A collection of vegetables that are nearly on the turn, stir fried in sesame oil with noodles or rice and maybe an egg and garlic and soy sauce.
  • Roasted vegetables with left over sausages served over pasta and with shaved parmesan.
  • Peppers stuffed with rice, left over vegetables and meat, with herby tomato sauce poured over followed by grated cheese, grilled until bubbling and the cheese has melted.

* Please note: I’m not a chef so my ideas are not elaborate and won’t win any awards but they simplify my life and making dinner is much more enjoyable!

11. Know your cooking styles and preferences

Once we get into the rhythm of cooking dinner, day in and day out, I think we fall into a pattern. To enjoy making dinner during the week more, I know this is not the time for experimentation. So I stick with my tried and tested.

Some examples could be:

  • Not faffing around trying to work out how to use a kitchen appliance I’m not familiar with
  • Using shop-bought pasta instead of trying to make my own
  • Avoiding complicated or time-consuming recipes (lasagne) that I’ll stress out about half-way through
  • Struggling to make the perfect Hollandaise or white sauce when shop-bought would do for the moment

Instead, I know I’m a simple cook at heart. I like:

  • A knife and chopping board
  • Recipes that require only a couple of pans maximum (cuts down on washing up)
  • One-pot dishes, sheet pan or baking tray dishes where everything goes in one pot/tray

I also know that I prefer to both prepare and eat more simple but tasty foods. Too many ingredients feels too complicated. That’s why I love the Minimalist Baker. All their recipes are really simple and require 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl, or just 30 minutes or less to prepare.

12. Emergency meals

Some days I have an extra mouth or two to feed unexpectedly if my daughters have a friend or two over. Some days overrun so I’m left with even less time to make dinner.

On these occasions it’s helpful to have some meals in the house just for emergencies. It could be frozen pizza, chips and chicken nuggets, or fresh pasta which takes 3 minutes to cook and some ready-made sauce.

When I’m looking through my cupboards as I write my shopping list, I try to make sure I’ve always got one or two emergency meals on standby should I need them.

13. Find ways to stress less

Another way to enjoy cooking dinner more is to stress less about the dinner you’re making. By this I mean:

  • It doesn’t have to taste or look perfect, good enough is good enough
  • I like to include vegetables or salad with every meal, but if the odd meal slips through with neither, then that’s ok
  • Take-away or shop-bought is ok too if it speeds things up or reduces your overwhelm

14. Delegate tasks

As well as helping me make dinner sometimes, another way to enjoy cooking is to reduce the stress of the clean up afterwards, even better to delegate this to other members of your household!

You could give your kids the job of loading the dishwasher or washing the dishes by hand and drying them afterwards, or maybe wiping down the table and sweeping the floor. Do these straight after eating, as a regular habit and routine, and you’ll make life much easier for yourself. No more being greeted by yesterday’s dishes as you come downstairs in the morning!

Even little kids can help lay the table. And, if you’re the one doing the cooking and everyone else is enjoying the fruits of your labours, why not encourage them to help you by doing their fair share of the clean up and household chores!

15. Add extra touches

Just like we accessorise our outfits to make them personal, unique and different, you could experiment with different ways to accessorise your dinners. Have some nan, garlic or crusty bread in chunks and served in a basket, served with butter or dipping oil if you’d like it in a pretty side dish.

Add a simple salad to the middle of the table with dressing in a cute little jug for people to pour over or some rainbow-coloured sticks of celery, carrot and red pepper so everyone can help themselves. Dishes where everyone can help themselves are always fun and popular in my home. Bonus points if this idea gets your kids eating more veggies too!

I sometimes add some grated carrot, cheese, guacamole, coleslaw or nachos in bowls depending on what compliments the meal we’re having. Little bowls of tasty extras feel a bit special when laid out for people to serve themselves as side dishes or when it comes to the family-favourite build your own meals like tacos and fajitas.

If you’ve got some homemade sauces on hand (mint sauce, mayonnaise, salsa, fruit compote etc) these can be another fun way to make dinner a little bit special and they don’t all need to be home-made or made by you for that evening. Shop-bought could work, or you might find some are just as good made in bulk and kept in the freezer, like pesto. Pour them into bowls so people can dip in.

16. Have clear surfaces

I love having clear kitchen counters and surfaces because it makes meal preparation, cooking and cleaning so much easier.

I have space to work and nothing getting in my way which I have to move, or is difficult to clean around. And, when I’m deciding what to cook, I can lay all my ingredients out in front of me which makes it easier too.

17. Decorate your table

Another way to enjoy making dinner and eating it too is to use proper cutlery, nice plates and serving dishes and a pretty jug to pour your water from, to bring a little bit of special into your every day.

You could use a candle or two to bring atmosphere and cosy vibes.

My kids used to love following YouTube videos learning how to fold napkins into fancy shapes, and we still try to carve decorative designs out of carrots and have these as garnish to our plates.

18. Enjoy yourself in the kitchen

Lastly, making dinner isn’t just about the food. It can also give you time to listen to music or a podcast. You could even pour yourself a drink (alcoholic or otherwise) and enjoy that too. We like these non-alcoholic mocktails. Maybe you could even chat to your kids or your partner if they’ve come into the kitchen to see what’s for dinner!

Set the tone for a calm, relaxed and inviting atmosphere before you’ve even sat down to eat.

18 ways to enjoy making dinner more

MORE RESOURCES ON MEAL-PLANNING

Here are some more articles on simple eating and meal-planning which you might find helpful.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

I hope you enjoyed this article on 18 ways to enjoy making dinner more. Do you struggle when it comes to knowing what to cook each day or do you meal-plan in advance? I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts or tips to add that make cooking every day a little bit easier and more enjoyable.

DON’T MISS OUT!

I’m Antonia and on this blog I share practical inspiration to simplify your home, time and life. Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest! You can also subscribe to Balance Through Simplicity and receive regular simplicity tips straight to your inbox for free. Make sure you never miss an article plus you’ll get a copy of my free Declutter Starter Kit as a welcome gift!