Dinner on the Go—Options for Busy Families

© photo by SanyaSM from Getty Images Signature for Canva

I distinctly remember one night sitting in the waiting room of my daughter’s dance studio. I was pregnant with my second and exhausted after a long day of work. I snuck out to grab groceries and, ironically, my drive-thru dinner for the family. I looked around at the other families and everyone else was doing the same thing – eating unhealthy fast food. It’s convenient, it fends off starvation, but I kept thinking this isn’t a sustainable dinner model. I can’t do this every single week, can I?

I am NOT a health nut. But, I want to live long to see my children live out their beautiful journeys. I got a bit more serious about my food choices once they were born and I try to trickle that knowledge down to them. I do NOT have the dinner schedule for a busy family figured out, but I do have some tips. I surveyed other moms for their tips because remember, we are stronger together.

My mantra for cooking for the family (and parenting in general): Work smarter, not harder.

Use the shortcuts available to us in this era. Opt for grocery pickup instead of wandering aimlessly through the grocery aisles. Start with a meal plan, then add to your cart as an idea comes up or you run out of items. Use meal services like Hello Fresh, or pre-packaged meals like Lunchables (I even like these as an adult). Get other time-saving tips from our Mom Hacks post.

Quick and easy meals at home

We have our own running list of quick meal options that the kids will actually eat. We meal plan each Sunday and involve the kids. We have never had a perfect week where we stuck to the plan. There is always at least one night I’m too tired to cook, or we all want to dive into some pizza. Either way, the plan is a base for the whole family to follow throughout the week. Here is a list of what has worked for us and is quick to create:

  • Tacos (Taco Tuesday!)
  • Frozen pizza
  • Sloppy joes
  • Ham sandwiches
  • Pasta
  • Wraps
  • Quesadillas
  • Grill burgers and hot dogs
  • Mac and cheese

One mom I asked said she buys ground beef in bulk and divides it into bags ready to dump in the pan. Another mom is a big fan of sheet-pan meals. Toss some chicken on a pan along with broccoli, potatoes, etc. and out comes a full dinner!

Another mom said her crock pot is her best friend!

One mom swears by rotisserie chickens from Costco. Speaking of Costco, one mom said she gets easy options like shredded pork, frozen lasagna, bagged salad or quiches for her meals.

We sometimes use Hello Fresh for us parents only and have been working our oldest into this routine. I tried a few different meal subscriptions and gave a review in this past post.

Plan ahead to-go options

One mom told me she uses tackle boxes full of healthy snacks for her kids. Think charcuterie board for kids. This could be as simple as throwing a lunchable and apple in their bag to a bit more refined approach like creating a sandwich, washing grapes, and squeezing your own juice. Do whatever level fits your standards but remember: Smarter. Not harder.

Another mom uses travel coffee cups as on-the-go food containers. One said she gets Batch Balanced muffins locally. They have sweet and savory options! I can’t wait to try this one.

Dare I say it? Leftovers. Don’t let them rot in the fridge! I’m the picky leftovers eater but my kids aren’t. If they liked it once, they will like it again.

Last resort quick-service options

It happens to everyone. Eating out is so fast and convenient. It’s also mostly affordable, but can add up.

When you do need to eat out, here are some places that have great kid options that are affordable: McCalister’s Deli, Panchero’s, Chipotle, Fresh Fit. One of our favorites if we have time to sit down is Hy Vee. Everyone can order what they want and we all sit together. I get hibachi, one child gets Chinese, and the boys get pizza. Win, win!

I leave you with one final thought. While you need a balanced diet, you don’t need a long list of options. Once I find my kids like a dish I make sure it sticks in the “rotation” of our go-to meals. We did Taco Tuesday for weeks before I had enough. Give me a pizza, too!

Share your go-to dinner options in the comments below!

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Niki Smith
Niki is an Iowa native who now lives with her husband Ryan, daughter Riley, and son Merritt in Johnston. She is passionate about paid leave for working parents, thrifting, and Beyonce. Niki is the Marketing Campaign Manager at Homesteaders Life Company in West Des Moines. She is also owner of Bee Thrifty, which consigns designer clothing for clients on Poshmark. Niki is a two-time graduate of Drake University with a bachelor’s in journalism (2008) and a Master’s in Communication Leadership (2015).


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