Real Food Tips for Working Parents

Making all your food from scratch is no joke. I’ve always been up front about how it’s often more work and more clean up—BUT so incredibly worth it in the end, of course. This is the health of our families we’re talking about here! Despite all the extra work, once I saw the dramatic improvements to our health after we cut out processed food I knew this way of life was here to stay.

But how can one cook all their food from scratch if they have to spend 40/50/60+ hours away from home at work every week? If this is a concern of yours—you are not alone! I’ve complied some real food tips for working parents (or anyone who’s just super busy!) to help. And do remember, change can be hard at first, but over time it will eventually become your new normal.

Real Food Tips for Working Parents

Real Food Tips for Working Parents on 100 Days of Real Food

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  1. Always have a plan.
    The plan does not have to be complicated by any means, but simply knowing what your family will do for the next meal can go a LONG way! Don’t get caught coming home from work at 6:30pm with starving people begging you for food that doesn’t exist. Instead – have ingredients on hand for a super simple dinner, have leftovers ready to heat up (either from your fridge or freezer – more on that below), or have your slow cooker churning away with a yummy wholesome meal in it.
  2. Ask for help.
    All the real food meal planning/cooking/cleaning + a full-time job outside of the home is a lot for one person to take on! So I say, don’t do it. Whether you ask your spouse to split up grocery store errands (a change we recently made at our house), tell the kids they’re officially in charge of dish duty, or assign your teenager to make dinner one night a week – it is completely reasonable to ASK FOR HELP! And honestly it’s good for the kids in the long run to take on some of the responsibility anyway.
  3. Make your own convenience food.
    Rather than grabbing a Lean Cuisine to take to work for lunch, how about a homemade version of that frozen meal instead? Or rather than giving the kids an Eggo waffle before they head out the door for school, how about a whole-grain made-from-scratch version of that waffle instead? I love to fill our extra freezer (that we bought solely for the purpose of storing extra real food) with homemade goodies such as individual portions of soups/chilis/stews, whole-grain muffins/waffles/pancakes, cooked chicken/pork/beef, and even smoothies or homemade applesauce. If you add 1 or 2 items a week to your freezer it could go a long way on those crazy busy weekdays. So next time you make homemade waffles for breakfast on the weekend, make some extra and throw them in the freezer!
  4. Double recipes for leftovers.
    You know those leftovers I mentioned you could quickly heat up under #1? Well, those leftovers won’t be there of course if you don’t put them there! So make a point to double meals and save the leftovers whenever possible (these can also be frozen for that convenience food category we were just talking about). It’s not that much extra effort to cook twice as much while you’re already at it and dinner doesn’t get any easier than simply reheating a meal from the night before. And feel free to switch things up to keep it interesting (for example, transform leftover taco filling into quick quesadillas). When you’re cooking from scratch this much – leftovers are KING in my book!
  5. Consider a meal planning or meal delivery service.
    This is not a sponsored mention—these services REALLY do help take some of the work off your plate! Whether it’s a meal plan and grocery list you simply print and follow or all the fresh ingredients delivered to your door, I say do whatever it takes to keep the made-from-scratch meals coming together in your kitchen!

Lastly, it’s important to remember—don’t be too hard on yourself. Running a household is a lot of work for anyone. There’s no need to lay on the guilt if you have an unexpected take-out or pizza delivery night. Just get back on the wagon the following day and do your best! Please share your good advice with us in the comments.

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  1. Yes, I am so with you on making more food so you can have leftovers for the week. That’s basically how I meal plan in weekends. I make a big dinner and then pack leftovers in box Take Along containers for individual meals.
    Those become mine or my husbands lunch on the go that week.
    This is such an important topic, thank you for addressing it!!!

  2. I cheat sometimes but most of the time I or my husband cook a real meal completely or mostly from scratch using all or mostly real food ingredients. I think this is party cultural as I am not American, I am Swedish and here eating food you cooked yourself even in families where both work (which is most families here) is the norm. Of course we eat convenience food but I don’t know a single person who never cooks.

    I agree with making food ahead of time, sharing responsibilities for buying and cooking food and eating leftovers. I have never used a meal service since we have too many food allergies to make that one convenient but I think it is great if you are not that inventive and need help with inspiration and ideas.

    We have tried a number of different strategies which all have their pros and cons.

    1. Frozen vegetables. Just having frozen vegetables on hand is a great help. Make a super quick soup or stew by using frozen vegetables that only need to defrost in the pot. Use your broth you make in advance and freeze for the soup. You can use fresh meat or frozen/canned beans or peas for protein. I don’t use a recipe for soup, I just combine what I have on hand. You can make smooth soups by putting it in a blender but I usually don’t. I use both store bought frozen vegetables and make my own by freezing stuff that might go bad.

    2. Eat raw vegetables with dip and cheese and/or sandwich meat for dinner. Cut vegetables in pieces suitable for dipping, make a dipping sauce from for example creme fraiche (I like creme fraiche, lemon juice, salt, black pepper as a fast alternative or creme fraiche garlic and salt) and add cheese and/or sandwich meat. Left over meat/cheese can be used to make sandwiches, left over vegetables can be used with the next meal/snack so no waste.

    3. Have set foods for set days of the week. For a long period we had Soup Monday, Sandwich Wednesday, Taco Thursday and Meat Friday (often steak and potato type of meal). The other days we ate left overs or something we just wanted to cook either something we planned ahead or improvised.

    4. A couple of set dishes that are eaten once a week but not on a given day. Similar to above but not tied to a certain day.

    5. Learn a couple dishes well enough that you don’t have to think to cook them. Learn how you can substitute certain ingredients in these dishes in case you run out and how you can change the taste by just changing the spices for these dishes. I would say learn at least 5-10 recipes like this and cooking will be easy and you won’t just eat the same thing.

  3. Yesssss, I am so with you on making more food so you can have leftovers for the week. That’s basically how I meal plan in Sundays. I make a big dinner and then pack leftovers in Rubbermaid Take Along containers for individual meals. Those become mine or my husbands lunch on the go that week. This is such an important topic, thank you for addressing it!!!

  4. I create a basic plan for the week, and prep ahead on the weekend. I have it posted in the kitchen. Then I don’t have to remember what I thought about making and helps me think about how much time and energy I will have on a given day (each day of the week is different with my schedule) Takes the guessing out of it- and keeps my husband from having the same meal twice in a day or from taking for lunch the leftovers that were going to be used for dinner!

  5. Always keep the ingredients for a quick, easy meal on hand. For us, that means always having eggs in the fridge and usually bacon or sausage in the freezer. Depending on what else we have around, we can always make an impromptu breakfast for dinner night (breakfast sandwiches, burritos/quesadillas, simple eggs and fruit/salad). For other people, that easy meal might be grilled cheese, canned sauce and pasta, frozen stir fry veggies and rice, etc.

    I would also encourage people to remember that made from scratch food doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive so take that pressure off yourself.

    1. Yes! I totally agree. We have some very basic stand-by meals:
      Hamburgers/roasted sweet potato fries/salad
      Frozen chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese
      Amy’s refried beans and cheese quesadillas and frozen corn

  6. And, buy a pressure cooker. Seriously. They aren’t as scary as Grandma’s stove top one from your childhood, either. That memory kept me scared away for years. I got one about a year ago and LOVE that I can good delicious, nutritious meals FAST! Tonight, I made pulled pork sandwiches that normally I would have to prep in the morning before work (I HATE mornings…) to get in the slow cooker. Instead, I came home, spent about 30 minutes in the kitchen searing the meat, seasoning it and popping it into the pressure cooker. Then, I snuggled with my son on the couch while the pressure cooker worked away. 90 minutes later, I shredded the pork, layed it out on bread rolls, melted the cheese and ATE! So, seriously, get a pressure cooker. I promise, they’re not as scary as they sound. :)

  7. Keep it simple! It’s okay to eat the same meal a couple times during the week. We rotate through 3-4 meals a week. Cooking double, filling the freezer, and accepting that scrambled eggs and sautéed veggies is a great dinner have made it completely possible for us. Also, depending on where you live, grocery delivery services. I pay less than I did when I went to the store (no more impulse purchases), and get fresh, local, organic groceries delivered to my apartment- with perfect produce quality. The few hours I save a week get used to then make the real food snacks and prep ahead meals from scratch.

  8. I couldn’t agree more! Having a plan is key for me as well as setting realistic expectations is key. If it’s going to be a long work day, then I try to plan ahead and use my slow cooker. Also, planning for leftovers is so key!

    1. Yes! What she said!

      If I don’t plan – we don’t eat…..

      and I cook, cook, cook when I have the time. If I’m browning ground beef or sausage or sauteed onions & peppers I’ll double the amount & save the precooked food for future meals. It’s amazing how fast I can make dinner if the chicken is already cooked & deboned. Casseroles, fajitas, or chicken salad in mintues!