Quick Cooking Tips for Busy Parents

squash casserole with cheeseGetting a hot, healthy meal on the table at the end of each day is a challenge for all parents, but especially for parents who are out of the house all day. I polled readers at the Cooking Manager Facebook page for their best tips, and here they are:

  1. Make-Ahead Casseroles. Make casseroles and freeze them. Take one out in the morning, put it in the fridge, and when you get home, pop it into the oven and throw together a salad to go with it. (Sharla)
  2. Simple recipes with prepared ingredients: Find a couple of serious simple recipes, my favorite was chili using canned beans—super easy and healthy. (Deena)
  3. Meal plan. Any joy you lose from giving up the spontaneity of choosing what to have each night you will more than make up for in always knowing what’s for dinner, that you have the right ingredients, never having to run to the store last minute during the week to get a meal on the table, etc. Start with one day a week that’s a planned meal and increase with another night per week until all dinners are planned.
    We cook three times a week: Sunday’s dinner is leftovers on Tuesday, Monday’s dinner is leftovers on Wednesday and Thursday is breakfast for dinner.
    Benefits: We never eat the same meal twice in a row, we have a four-week rotation so it’s never the same thing week to week, and my grocery list (and bill) is nearly identical every month, and I do one major shopping run a month and supplement weekly with fresh things (dairy, fruits, veggies, etc.) Saves us a ton of time, money and frustration. (Kelli)
  4. Slow Cooker: I put in dry rice, a frozen chicken, drizzle a little olive oil & some onion soup mix & add 1/3 cup of water. It cooks the whole day & when I get home from work, dinner is ready. I use it for soups & stews, too. Sharla also points out that you can prepare the meal in the evening, put the crock in the refrigerator, and place it in the slow cooker in the morning. (Ayala)
  5. Quick-Cooking foods: Food that you can cook quickly–like boneless chicken or thigh pieces. Also, grains that cook up quickly, like bulgur. And for those with kids who are adventurous eaters (perhaps slightly older), I take Madhur Jaffrey’s advice: you can cook some things quickly if you have lots of spices for flavor. Some of her quick recipes have lots of ingredients because (primarily) of the spice list but they are quick! (Miriam)
  6. Meal in a tray:  One tray in the oven, including frozen veggies, tomato sauce, a protein and quick cooking grain. See One Pan Roasted Chicken and Veggies to learn the technique. (Yosefa)

A big thank-you to readers for these creative ideas. What other tips for busy families can you share?

You may also enjoy:

Healthy Last-Minute Dinners

Pre-Leftovers and Rotating Food

Last Minute Chili with Black-Eyed Peas

image: GoodNCrazy


  1. When I know I won’t have time in the evening to cook, I often do slow cooker chicken. Ours has potato, carrots, maybe celery, turmeric, pepper, maybe rosemary. And about 6 pieces of chicken.

  2. It’s hard to go wrong with chicken in the slow cooker.

  3. The crockpot chicken sounds simple and good. Can I skin the chicken pieces before cooking or will that make the meat too dry?

  4. I have no luck with the slow cooker.
    We don’t mind having the same thing several times a week.
    So I bake a family pack of chicken pieces (bone in skin on thighs) on Sunday. I then wrap 2 or 3 pieces in aluminum foil – I usually get 3 foil packs out of the family pack of chicken.
    My oven has a “keep warm” setting, so when I get home, I pop a foil pack in the oven, then when it is dinner time, I just have to steam some veggies.
    We eat 2 or 3 pieces on Sunday

  5. I really need to start making bigger portions when I make casseroles then I can freeze some. It would be so much better than just turning to ready meals (which I hate doing) when I feel I’ve just no time. Think I may need to invest in a slow cooker too!