Eat Well, Spend Less: 5 Ways to Save Time Making Family Dinners

This month for Eat Well, Spend Less we’re looking at saving time in the kitchen. See how I tackle the family dinner debacle and win a copy of Jessica’s new book: Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook.

The time is four o’clock. Children have arrived from school. Lunches need to be unpacked, backpacks checked for homework. There are things on the calendar for the evening, and sometime tonight you’d actually like to place your head on the pillow that resides in your bed, waiting for you.

All parents know that feeling that there is too much going on, and with too much going on, it can be easy to drive us towards a state of exhaustion that has us reaching towards the phone to call for take-out. Still, there are ways we can make our job of feeding those small people and ourselves easier.

5 Ways to Save Time on Family Dinners

  1. A Menu: Yes. Again with the menu. Having food in the house goes a long way to getting dinner on the table, and it’s easiest to have the ingredients for meals if you plan them out. It can be difficult and no fun, but there it is. Make a plan, go shopping, and then enjoy the fruits of all your hard work.
  2. A Day of Work: Sundays tend to be our day of work around here. This doesn’t happen every week, but there are weekends when we’ll go shopping all morning Sunday – to the farmers market, Costco, the grocery store – and when we come home and unload, I’ll go through the trouble of doing some of the prep ahead of time. I’ll mix up batches of dough for pizzas and tuck them into the back of the refrigerator. I grate cheese for other days and place it in sealed containers waiting to be used. I mix up chicken salads for lunches or make pots of rice that will be stir fried later in the week. Doing these things ahead gives me a few minutes advantage every day during the busy week.
  3. Meals that Bleed Into Each Other: When I’m planning the menu and shopping I try to have meals where the process of making one automatically preps for another. For example, we’ll roast a whole chicken, and immediately following the meal, I’ll pull off leftover meat, toss the carcass into a pot with vegetable scraps and simmer a stock for use in soups or meals later in the week. Other ways to do this is making an overabundance of rice for fried rice later, planning meals that use similar produce and chopping extra as you’re going along, and bowls of leftover risotto become baked arancini balls filled with melted cheese.
  4. Keep it Simple: More often than not, our meals are not extravagant. We eat a chicken with simply prepared rice and vegetables more than once a month. Tacos or a simple piece of fish are served. What we focus on instead of lengthy-to-prepare elegance is quality ingredients and lots of produce. Fresh steamed broccoli with a simple vinaigrette or even just butter, salt, and pepper can be an inviting side when it’s done right. Pasta and sauce with a large salad to accompany it is simple to prepare, but satisfies the troops without complaint. Of course, eggs and toast is also a family favorite around here. Keep new recipes and lengthy processes tucked away for the days when you really have the time to enjoy them. You’ll find you enjoy the food and the act of family dinners more when you make those the focal point of the meal.
  5. Freezing Ahead: I don’t spend a lot of time making freezer meals, but there are a few that I am prone to. I love stuffed shells, manicotti, and lasagna, so I often make up a few batches at a time and freeze extras for easy backups. I tend to make giant pots of soup and freeze a full meal’s worth for later. I freeze bread dough to have available at my beck and call. I make a 6-month supply of pesto at a time, tucking away the tastes of summer into the freezer. I do it little by little so there is always something available for the days when I’m called away by work or when I just can’t get to the store on shopping day and need to stretch things out just a bit farther than anticipated.

Jessica has written an entire book dedicated to helping you get through family dinners in an easy fashion: Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. If you shy away from freezer cooking, however, don’t distress. Jessica takes a contemporary approach with new recipes and food your family will actually eat. She should know with six of them to her name. Recipes like raspberry jam cream scones, energy bars, and sesame chicken with snow peas will take you from breakfast and snacks all the way through dinner. Just leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of your very own.

Plus, head over to the other Eat Well, Spend Less series participants for more chances to win!

Save Time and Money on Grocery Shopping – Jessica Enter her book giveaway here.
My Morning Routine and a Cookbook Giveaway – Tammy Enter her book giveaway here.
Save Time in the Kitchen with a Little Prep Work – Mandi
5 Crazy Ways I Save Time on Prep Work – Katie Enter her book giveaway here.
How to Bake Bacon and Other Time-Saving Tips for the Kitchen – Katie Enter her book giveaway here.
9 Tips for Spending Less Time at the Kitchen Sink – Carrie Enter her book giveaway here.
Eat Well and Spend Less with Kitchen Time-Savers: The Slow Cooker: Amy Enter her book giveaway here.
On Batch Cooking – Aimee

This giveaway is provided by Harvard Common Press. It will run through Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. CDT and is open to all U.S. residents.


  1. I would love to have meals waiting in the freezer!!

  2. Crysta Hankey says:

    Love freezer components for meals. Can’t wait to get the freezer cookbook and stash for the upcoming months.

  3. Oh! This is just what I need!!

  4. I love having things in the freezer that help making cooking dinner. When I cook beans I cook 2 lbs at a time, and freeze in 2c portions for use in other recipes. I try to keep both chicken and ground meat cooked and frozen to help meals go together faster. Since most times I’m only cooking for 2, I can mix up casseroles just like my recipe says and then put into 2 casseroles. I bake one off for dinner and freeze the other for later. I never just chop what onion I need I go ahead and chop the whole onion and keep in a bowl for the next time. Same with sweet peppers. I saved a small jar that pimento comes in, I chop a whole head of garlic at once and then put what I don’t use in the jar with olive oil. It’s the little things like this that help me get food on the table and pass by the drive through

  5. Would LOVE to win this cookbook, tried the freezer cooking method years ago, when it was first popular, but none of us really cared for the dishes, so we ate them, but they weren’t that good. I love Jessica’s blog, and her recipes, so I am sure this would be wonderful! Thanks for the giveaway.

  6. I’d love to have a bigger repertoire of freezer friendly recipes.

  7. I’m pretty sure I need this book! I love having a well-stocked freezer, but with 4 kids it doesn’t stay that way for long. I’d love to have some new recipes to mix things up a bit!

  8. Lovely giveaway, thanks!

  9. I would love to add some new recipes to my collection…that cover dish looks yummy!

  10. Im excited to use the freezer to have a better plan for dinner. 🙂

  11. This book would really come in handy in our household!

  12. Willie Mitchell says:

    I already have this book but I would love to have one for my daughter in law who has 4 children 6 years old and under.

  13. I would love to have a copy of this book!

  14. Melanie calloway says:

    I would love to win this cookbook! I need help with freezer meals.

  15. I’ve been slowly learning to prepare things for the freezer rather than simply freezing leftovers. I’d love Jessica’s book to have more ideas.

  16. Thanks for reminding me that meals don’t need to be fancy. I tend to get caught up in that. I would love to win the book! Thanks

  17. I am always on the look out for recipes that are delicious, simple and that my family will enjoy. I love reading your site and getting ideas and inspirations. I would love to win a copy of this cookbook. If you like it, then I am sure I will love it!

  18. would love to try some of her recipes!

  19. Usually I reserve Saturday morning for getting a lot of prep work and baking for the week done. It is nice to have something in the freezer when you are too tired to cook.

  20. sounds great! would love a chance to increase my freezer repertoire.

  21. Kristi P. says:

    Oooo! Sounds like a super option to try for our family! 😀

  22. I’ve been looking forward to this cookbook… Would be awesome!

  23. Kristin Campbell says:

    I’m at the end of my rope with preparing dinner. Major changes ahead and I think this will help A LOT!

  24. I’d love a copy of the cookbook. I need some new ideas for freezer meals!

  25. I completely agree about having a menu. Saves time, money, and TROUBLE! This book looks great too! Pick me!

  26. I would love to win this cookbook! Thanks for the chance.

  27. Oh, how I would love to win this cookbook! Fingers crossed. 🙂

  28. Angie LaMunyon says:

    I would love this book! I would share it with my freezer cooking group, spice things up a bit!

  29. I already work with preplanned menus but freezing ahead…hmmm…such a clever idea.

  30. Lynnette Foster says:

    I need help and inspiration for fall cooking. Must get in the mood again somehow!

  31. I’m having to return full-time to my job outside of the home (sniffle) for financial reasons so I’m starting to feel a little stressed about how it’s all going to work at mealtime. A freezer cooking cookbook would be a lifesaver! I’ve been coveting it on Amazon ever since I heard about it on her blog.

  32. Sounds terrific! If I don’t win, I may buy a copy.

  33. Would love this for our family thank you

  34. This book sounds awesome! If I don’t win, think I’ll have to buy a copy.

  35. Such a grand idea! Would love a copy for my family!

  36. I’ve got eight children, so i’m cooking for ten, three times a day – i need all the help i can get :)…

  37. Looks like a great resource for my kitchen!

  38. I actually already bought this book. I love it and would love to be able to gift it to someone this Christmas! Thanks!!

  39. Would love to win this great cookbook – thanks for the chance! 🙂

  40. Angie McGeown says:

    I would love to win this cookbook and stock my freezer!

  41. Been really trying to get the menu planning concept into this family.

    • suis persuadée que Saturne est un AMI. Je ne voulais pas témoigner de quelque chose de négatif. Disons que ce qui a de la valeur pour moi n’est pas forcément de tout repos… J’ai aussi vécu l’aventure dont je parle avec beaucoup de satisfaction et l’exaltation d’aller au-delà de mes limites et ce fut une très belle avancée pleine de découverte grâce à Saturne et Pluton.LOL

  42. I would love to have more quick, delicious meals for my family. As the kids get older, more evening activities seem to come up leaving less time for dinner prep.

  43. Oooh! i’ve to try this book. We try to have 2-3 freezer meals a month and I’d love to expand my repertoire. I l mainly prep food for the freezer to make the weeknight cooking faster (ie: making beans ahead of time, freezeing shredded cheese, marinating & freezing raw chicken before it goes in the freezer, etc).

  44. I would love a copy of this book, it just sounds perfect. I have 4 young children, 1 of whom has special needs, and I would love to have healthy meals in the freezer for my husband and kids should I need to go to the hospital with my son on short notice

  45. MichelleH says:

    I would love a new resource for maximizing my freezer use.

  46. I love freezer cooking but am in serious need of inspiration! I would love to win the book!

  47. This would be such a time saver! Prepare, freeze cook when needed!

  48. Sounds like a book that would get a lot of use at our house!

  49. Colleen M. says:

    I really need to do more freezer cooking to help with our busy work schedules – this would be perfect. Would love to be a winner!

  50. With my husband’s new job and its crazy hours, this book would come in handy!

  51. Georgia Monroe says:

    With both my husband and myself currently in school, this would be so handy to have as a tool in my kitchen!

  52. I would love to win!

  53. Love her series of books — this one looks great too!

  54. Lawana Gray says:

    Would love the book!

  55. Kelly Lewis says:

    Great tips! I would love this book!

  56. I cook EVERY single night. This book would save me so much time!

  57. Tracy Dowds says:

    I’d love to win this. Freezer meals save me so much time on busy weeknights!

  58. I would love to win this and share it with my brother, who is divorced with two children. I think he would appreciate some help in the kitchen.

  59. I would love to win this giveaway–this looks like a fantastic book!

  60. Heather M. says:

    sounds like such a great book!

  61. Darcy Allen says:

    I would love a copy of this cookbook

  62. Valerie C. says:

    Thaks for making this copy of the cookbook available! I’d love to win it!

  63. Samantha Hogenson says:

    I would love to win!

  64. I have been trying to do more freezer meals for my busy family. This book would be a real benefit.

  65. thanks for this great opportunity!

  66. Thanks for the giveaway!

  67. I just found your blog. Love it! Thanks for a chance to win such a great cookbook!!

  68. I am always looking for new ways to get dinner on the table easier without eating out. I would love to have this book to try out.

  69. kit gearhartschinske says:

    Looks great. Thanks for the opportunity.

  70. This looks great!!

  71. Rebecca Loach says:

    Sounds like a wonderfully useful book!

  72. I love to freezer cook, so this would be something I’d love to dig into!

  73. Sounds like a really helpful book! Hopefully I’ll win!

  74. I’m fairly good about tips 1-4, but freezing ahead is definitely an area that could use some improvement around here. I’d love to win a copy of this book!

  75. I don’t know why, but I have such an aversion to menu planning! I’m actually very much a planner in most areas of my life, so I’m not sure what the deal with this is! I honestly don’t even cook every night, a lot of times we just eat whatever’s around (make a sandwich, leftovers). But, I think we’d all be a lot happier if I planned our meals out. I’d love to win the book!

  76. I’d love all the help I can get! Thanks for the offer!

  77. Thanks for the info. Meal planning has always been a task I avoid like the plague but I know if I can just get it down for the first week, hopefully the next week will come a little easier!

  78. This book looks great! I would be thrilled to win! 🙂

  79. I would love a chance to win this book! I really need to start adding freezer cooking into our busy schedule to save my sanity! Thanks for the chance!

  80. Oh boy! Do I need this book!!! With homeschooling 6 children and running a small farm I need all the time-savers I can get.

  81. This is just what I am looking for!! It will help me get away from the preprocessed epademic that it taking over my house hold!

  82. I try to plan ahead but it just doesn’t always work out. I do love the idea of Sunday prep or freeze ahead meals. I’ve got to try that out sometime!

  83. We just bought a freezer for our garage and I’m psyched to fill it up! This book would help! :o)

  84. Tamar Erlch says:

    I’d love to learn how to cook ahead and freeze. Thank you.

  85. I’d love to see the book!

  86. I am in the process of preparing freezer meals and batch cooking to get ready for our new baby (due in 28 days, eeep!!!) I would love to win a copy of this book to give me ideas for new recipes so that hubby doesn’t get bored with what I am fixing.

  87. Sounds like my kind of book. Although I am slowly trying to get into freezer cooking. I didn’t plan it so well last month, but I think this month will be better.

  88. I’ve been wanting to do the make ahead meals to freeze, but I can never think of what to make. So I think I need this book! Thanks for the giveaway!!

  89. Such good tips and reminders. I really need to get more focused and organized so that I am not doing the 5:30 dinner scramble so often.

  90. This book sounds great! Thanks for the giveaway.

  91. These are gorgeous shots, Shaina! Great tips, too!

  92. Perfect for my meal exchange group! Thanks!

  93. I would love to win Jessica’s book – thanks for the chance

  94. This looks like such a great book!

  95. I love freezer cooking but need inspiration. I so need this book! Jessica rocks.

  96. This looks great. Just started a new job where I’ll be working lots of evenings, so it would be great for my husband to be able to pop something right in the oven!

  97. I am terrified of freeze ahead meals. I love the ease of a freezer meal, but I can’t break away from the mental image of fat loaded and flavorless casseroles that used to come to our house from church when someone was sick or a funeral had just happened.
    So, a different approach would be welcomed!

  98. This would come in handy with having a 4month old and a 5yr old who take up much of my time.

  99. There are many days I would love to be able to “go out” instead of cooking dinner. With this book and a little planning I think those days would be much more managable

  100. nopinkhere says:

    I love what I’ve heard about this book!

  101. It would be great to expand my small repertoire of food I make up for the freezer with this book. Thanks for hosting this giveaway.

  102. After the normally very busy holidays, I start a super-busy time of my year when I’ll be volunteering 4-6 times per week. Saving time in the kitchen will be heaven sent!

  103. I am all about making life in the kitchen easier. Not just the food prep made easier but also the time. Thanks for the help, the book sounds great.

  104. I love freezer meals!! I am always looking for new, fresh ideas for freezer meals. Making ahead has saved our family so much time and money and I know what kind of ingredients are in the meals. Such a great idea!!

  105. Anne Dixon says:

    I’ve never been able to master freezer meals to date. Would love to finally learn with the help of this book!

  106. I just got a new freezer and it is sitting empty! I would love this book to tell me what I could make for my family and freeze.

  107. Would love some new ideas to try out.

  108. Janet Gaytan says:

    Have always wanted to some freezer meals, I think this cookbook would show me the way!! i have prepped and frozen items that way but never actual meals just waiting for me to pop into the oven – I’m excited Would definitely love to win!!

  109. Love freezing food ahead and we’re going to be buying a chest freezer shortly…

  110. I love freezer cooking and am always looking for new meal ideas for my family. This cookbook looks great.

  111. I have purchased this freezer book and really like it. I have 5 meals lined up to make!

  112. Definitely not my mother’s freezer casseroles since she never ever made casseroles for the freezer. I love having meals squirreled away in the freezer for days when cooking just doesn’t seem possible and I’m definitely going to check out this book.

  113. Emily P in DC says:

    I would love to win this book, especially as we are in the market for a chest freezer and I can’t wait to fill it up with make-ahead meals!

  114. Would love to win a copy! I’m trying to simplify cooking as well as other things, and this would really help!

  115. Would love to win a copy, I have been trying to make more freezer meals as life with 3 girls gets busier and busier!!

  116. There never seems to be enough time in the evenings! I love having things ready to go in the freezer for days when cooking and prepping a whole meal isn’t possible. I’m always up for a new recipe and would love to win the book!

  117. I love freezer cooking and could really use a new cookbook to freshen things up!

  118. Who couldn’t use tips on how to feed your family healthy and budget friendly meals quickly and easily? My little ones are still little but I’m beginning to get a taste of how hectic things will become as they get more involved in activities and school functions!

  119. Stephanie Gilleo says:

    This would be a great help! 🙂

  120. Erin Patrick says:

    With 3 children under the age of 4 and another on the way I am always looking for new ways to save time! I try to cook ahead but guidance is always helpful.

  121. Thanks for the opportunity to win the book!

  122. all that I’ve read sound great!! Can’t wait to try some…I have about 10 meals I make for my family (all good but kinda boring) over and over again. I want to learn and try some different meals. EASY is key for me!!

  123. Love the idea of freezing bread dough. We’ve got a bunch of pesto in our freezer too!

  124. Crystal Zima says:

    This cookbook looks awesome! Totally on my Xmas list.

  125. I would LOVE a copy of this book! It would be so nice to have additional recipes for freezer meals. I’m actually planning a trip to visit my brother next month….he & hsis wife have a baby in the NICU. My plan is to fly up there and make them lots of freezer meals to help with their transition.

  126. I would enjoy seeing the ideas in this book

  127. Maple Liang says:

    I would love to have a copy of this book since I’m a full time homemaker and homeschooling mum!!!

  128. I would love to win this!

  129. Dinnertime seems to be such a stressful time when my 5 year old wants Mommy to play, 2 year old wants to be held, and baby wants to be fed. I am determined to become better organized and prepared to give my family delicious, healthy meals and to make late afternoon/evening a joyful time!


  1. […] lists 5 Ways to Save Time Making Family Dinners. (Enter her “Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook […]

  2. […] :: 5 Ways to Save Time Making Family Dinners – Mom of four, Shaina reveals her secrets to making dinner happen in a timely manner. […]

  3. […] 5 Ways to Save Time Making Family Dinners – by Shaina. Enter her book giveaway here. […]

  4. […] 5 Ways to Save Time Making Family Dinners – from Shaina at Food for my Family […]

  5. […] 5 Ways to Save Time Making Family Dinners – from Shaina at Food for my Family […]

  6. […] 10/20/12 Food For My Family‘s Shaina Olmanson discussed freezer cooking and reviewed Jessica’s book. […]

  7. […] Unless you’re only recipe is cereal, I’m sure you know how to make a grilled cheese. Here’s a recipe, start cooking now! taken by me Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like […]

  8. […] 5 Ways to Save Time Making Family Dinners | Food for My Family […]

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