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Easy dinner ideas for busy families

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Dinner dilemmas solved

If you're tired of coming up with dinner ideas every day, scrambling to get meals on the table only to hear your family complain about the evening offering, you're not alone. Fortunately, we've got some tips and tricks that will help your kids buy into the dinner choices offered -- and even ease your workload a bit.

Family Cooking DinnerThe dinner hour strikes fear in the hearts of many a mom. And yet, what is arguably the most chaotic meal can actually become a time you look forward to each day. With a little preparation, you can almost automate the dinner preparation process, save money and lighten your workload all at once. Interested? Read on.

1. Get the family buy-in.

Want satisfied customers at the dinner table? Your job starts before a single ingredient has been purchased. When everyone is relaxed and in a good mood, that's when you ask about what they want to eat.

Get each family member to list three or four favorite meals and write them down, along with the ingredients necessary to make each meal.

For each meal, figure out a way that each family member can contribute. Even very young children can at least set the table and help with ingredient prep. Older kids can handle part or all of the cooking. Write down the member's contribution next to each meal.

2. Plan out your week.

You'll find that dinner planning is much easier if you plan for at least a week at a time. So, assign each family member a night of the week (or two, depending on how many people are in your family), and have each person tell you what you're eating on his or her night. Your lists will come in handy to prompt kids, but it's okay to get creative and add new meals at times, too.

There's one rule: You have to eat everyone else's meal without complaint in exchange for the right to choose your own meal on your night.

To ease any family squabbles (and sneak in some healthy food), check out our RealMomsGuide.com article: 15 kid-friendly ways to prepare vegetables.

Make your shopping list based on the ingredients you listed earlier. Then post the week's meals and the helper's contribution on the fridge -- a dry erase board works well for this, but a computer-printed list works, too.

3. Follow the list.

Shop for meals based on the list. You can see at a glance what's needed for tomorrow, so you can defrost meat in the fridge instead of in the microwave at the last second. Your helpers know their responsibilities, and you don't have to rack your brains night after night.

You also have the satisfaction of knowing that at least one person will like the meal each night. And over time, you may even find that your whole family adopts a better attitude toward the evening meal.

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