Get Dinner on the Table + Children’s Book Giveaway!

With the exception of our family vacations and the occasional parental date night, my mother prepared a home-cooked dinner every night of the week. And we all sat down together to eat it.

How did she do it??

To this day, I have no idea how she made it happen with three daughters needing to be picked up from two or three different schools and shuttled around to soccer practice, cheerleading practice, saxophone lessons, Brownies. I sure wish I’d been more appreciative at the time. Now that I have a family of my own, and do nearly all of the cooking, I understand the challenge of getting a healthy meal on the table every night.

Welcome to my month-long series, Get Dinner on the Table. My goal is to help us all learn and share strategies for preparing stress-free weeknight meals. I’ll have several great giveaways (including one today – read on for details! [THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED]), cookbook reviews and new recipes for easy dinners on the panini grill.

Win a copy of the limited edition book Let’s Fix Dinner by beloved children’s author, Todd Parr! ?

Let’s Fix Dinner, by Todd Parr (we have another of his books, his illustrations are so fun), is a 24-page limited edition children’s book all about the ways dinner can bring families closer together. STOUFFER’S, which teamed up with Parr to create the book, will donate 100% of the net proceeds from the sales of the book – a guaranteed minimum of $125,000 – to Habitat for Humanity. Plus, they’re giving a copy to one lucky Panini Happy reader for free!

In addition to the book, the winner of this giveaway will also receive two sets of very cute matching placemats, custom-designed by Todd Parr.

To enter the giveaway:

Leave a comment on this post sharing your best strategy for getting a home-cooked dinner on the table during the week. Having trouble getting dinner on the table in your house? Tell us about your struggle. Hopefully by the end of this series you’ll discover some good solutions.

Contest ends Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 12 PM PDT. [THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED] Winner will be announced on Wednesday, September 8, 2010. One entry per person, please. Due to shipping costs, this giveaway is open to readers with U.S. and Canadian addresses only.

* While the book is sponsored by STOUFFER’S, rest assured that the content of the book does not feature advertising messages. It talks about enjoying dinner as a family without mentioning any specific food brands or frozen food. STOUFFER’S sent me a copy of the book and placemats and has provided the prizes for this giveaway.


KathyPanini Happy, online since 2008, is more than just a sandwich blog. Here, you'll find hundreds of my original panini recipes, my guide to choosing a panini press and a whole lot of other creative uses for the panini press.
~ Kathy Strahs
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  1. Ilene Mirkine wrote:

    I’m truly looking forward to this “Get Dinner on the Table” series. I, like your wonderful mom, cook dinner every night. My best strategy is to have good, healthy ingredients in the house. [This does take the commitment of shopping and planning!] Know what items you use a lot, and keep them in stock. If I have to defrost some meat/chicken/fish , I take it out in the morning. I always have grains/pasta /couscous, fresh veggies (frozen in a pinch), and marinades and seasonings. And, of course, make extra – ‘always great to have leftovers to freeze for another night or eat/use in the next few days.
    That’s my two cents – looking forward to hearing how others make this work!

    Posted 9.1.10 Reply
  2. My husband and I usually have a running dialogue in the morning or the days before about what we are going to eat so that it is either planned ahead of time and can be thrown together or else I freeze meals so that they are easy for him to fix in case I am working late. There are always things that can come up that prevent us eating together but it is important to us to sit down as a family unit and share at least that time together.

    Posted 9.1.10 Reply
  3. celeste wrote:

    My best strategy for getting homecooked meals on the table each and every night of the week is to meal plan and grocery shop just once a week, with every night’s meal figured out and purchased for. That way at 4:30pm there’s no thinking to do. I just check my list for what to cook that night and I know I already have all the ingredients. And you’ll often find me in the kitchen with 3 eager helpers, too!

    Posted 9.1.10 Reply
  4. Mindy wrote:

    With the recent addition of our second child, I’ve found that intense meal planning works for us. Every weekend I look at our calendar for the week and plan meals accordingly (easy meals for busy nights, more complex meals for days when I have time to actually cook). Then I shop once that week for all of the ingredients. I always keep a “go-to” meal on hand for those days where things just don’t work out like I planned. My favorite right now is to keep a pizza crust on hand. I always have homemade pizza sauce in the freezer and can come up with toppings. I also keep a lot of ingredients for different meals in the freezer, often already chopped or partially cooked for certain recipes, to make a more complex meal easier to make.

    Posted 9.1.10 Reply
  5. Karen wrote:

    I aim to always have veggies, a whole grain, some sort of protein and fruit in stock so that on those crazy busy nights I can just whip up a dinner that at the very least has a little of everything (whether they go well together or not is another story!) As others have already said, if you plan up front, it saves a lot of time in the moment. I can whip up a pretty healthy dinner in about 20 minutes (faster if I already have it in my head what I am making) Bottom line, we always have in the house the staples that make for quick meals (ie. cheese and whole wheat bread or whole wheat tortillas for the quick grilled cheese or quesadilla!) or frozen stuff to pull out in the morning that will be ready to go that night.

    Posted 9.1.10 Reply
  6. Cindy D. wrote:

    Like many of the other commenters, I also do a lot of meal planning. I recently discovered a great website which is very helpful, so I don’t have to start from scratch every week figuring out what we want – it’s – on the site, you can search for recipes or input your own recipes; you can then plug them into your calendar (which allows you to repeat a meal as often as you would like, so we have homemade pizza every Friday and it’s on there every week indefinitely). If you plug in the recipes to your calendar, it will create a shopping list with the quantities, and that’s half the battle for me…once the list is made, I shop once a week. Often I over-plan for the week, but it’s really easy to move the meals around on the calendar. I’m new to this meal-planning thing, but I was motivated to get on it after visiting


    Posted 9.1.10 Reply
  7. Amy wrote:

    Hi Kathy – My mother cooked from scratch every night of the week also. I try to do the same…I think it’s so important that kids learn what real food tastes like. But meal planning tends to be a full time job, no? I pretty much echo Celeste and Mindy. What helps me the most is spending a few hours on Saturday deciding what I want to make for the week, creating a list of all the ingredients I need (and which meals needs to be made first because of fresh produce, etc.), and then grocery shopping on Sunday. It leaves a lot of the guess work out of the equation when it comes time to make dinner. I also try to prep some ingredients earlier in the day (especially for something like a stir fry), if possible, so the process goes by fast.

    I can’t wait until my kids can pour their own cereal!

    Posted 9.1.10 Reply
  8. christine yoo wrote:

    The best way to get dinner on the table in my house is to plan ahead. On Sunday, I will buy all the groceries I need for the week. I like to buy in bulk; the freezer is my friend! Freezing pre made meals (lasagna, eggplant parm, mac and cheese, chili, sauce) makes life so much easier down the line as well.

    Posted 9.2.10 Reply
  9. Jamie wrote:

    Planning ahead a whole weeks worth of meals, then I have everything on hand and just have to put it together!

    Posted 9.2.10 Reply
  10. scrapper al wrote:

    The only way I can get home cooked meals on the table every night is to have leftovers. For example, we had baked chicken, enough for two nights with different side dishes. Then tonight, we sliced up the chicken and made wraps. Good thing we like leftovers, lol.

    Posted 9.2.10 Reply
  11. Susana wrote:

    I find that planning meals helps a lot and also my freezer is very helpful. When I cook I make extra and freeze the extra portions for another night. Eggs are make a quick dinner after a really hectic day.

    Posted 9.3.10 Reply
  12. I’ve never been one of those people who can plan out a whole week’s worth of menus at one time (our schedules change or sometimes what we’re craving does), but I do get a homecooked meal on the table at least five nights out of every week!

    My method? I try to keep stocked on basic staples at all times: milk, bread, flour, eggs, pasta, chicken, ground beef or turkey, a tenderloin or roast, and an assortment of fresh fruits & veggies. From those ingredients, I can usually pull together a decent meal in about 60-90 minutes (sometimes less—I’m not Rachel Ray), but the key is having what you need already on hand (you can’t cook what you don’t have).

    But my method also means you sometimes get in a rut & end up having the same meal a couple times in a month, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s doing the same thing over & over in the kitchen. I’d like to be able to put a meal on the table at least five nights each week and have it be quicker & more exciting. Down with culinary ruts—up with faster, more inventive meals!

    Posted 9.3.10 Reply
  13. Maria wrote:

    My husband helps, so it makes cooking a lot easier and we have a good time!

    Posted 9.3.10 Reply
  14. Kristie wrote:

    I love to make casseroles. Usually there are enough leftovers for another night or 2 and I don’t have to cook each night.

    Posted 9.3.10 Reply
  15. Sagan wrote:

    I always try to make sure I have something pre-made in my freezer that I can whip out in a hurry – soup is a good one. And you just can’t go wrong with a hummus/veggie/cheese sandwich (GRILLED, of course ;)).

    Posted 9.4.10 Reply
  16. Kim wrote:

    My strategy is making things AHEAD of time – as hard as that sounds. It really helps.

    Posted 9.5.10 Reply
  17. Amy B. wrote:

    My best strategy is to plan meals ahead of time and use the crock pot.

    Thanks for the giveaway!
    Amy B.

    Posted 9.6.10 Reply
  18. Jennifer C. wrote:

    I cook several meals using similar ingredients on Sunday, so we have tons of leftovers for dinners and lunches throughout the week!

    Posted 9.6.10 Reply
  19. Robbi wrote:

    I double recipes that freeze well, so I can put the extra in the freezer for latter. It helps to know I have a couple of ready made meals to ease planning the rest of the week.

    Posted 9.6.10 Reply
  20. Claire wrote:

    Plan, Plan, Plan! If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!

    I sit down once a week with a calendar stocked with the kids’ (and parents’!) activities, so I know as I make our meal plan which nights need to be super-fast, which nights need to be “reheatable” and which nights we are going to have a bit more time to enjoy the process. Once I have that figured out, I can start pulling appropriate recipes/ideas.

    I also make double batches of every soup, chili and sometimes casseroles to stash in the freezer and pull out when things get crazy!

    Posted 9.7.10 Reply
  21. We are definitely in the “trouble” category! I struggle with finding things my 3yo daughter will eat, my hubby comes home late, and I’m just plain discouraged at the idea of cooking these days when I’m the only one eating. Frozen pizza with our own added toppings (all picked off for daughter) is as good as it gets! 🙂

    janemaritz at yahoo dot com

    Posted 9.7.10 Reply
  22. Lynne wrote:

    It’s always a struggle, but it helps to plan the week’s menu ahead of time (because trying to make a decision at 4:30 is impossible). I try to balance the week’s menu with some easy/quick to prepare (like tacos), something I can put in the crock pot, and something that might be a little more complicated. In one book I read, it suggested having a theme night, e.g. Monday is Italian Night, Tuesday is Mexican Night, Weds is Meatless/Fish night, Friday is pizza night, etc. That helps too, narrowing down the decisions each week.

    Posted 9.7.10 Reply
  23. Joanna B. wrote:

    Take out.

    Posted 9.7.10 Reply
  24. Great series, Kathy! I’m looking forward to your ideas…I’m always looking for new idea! It’s probably no surprise that my secret is to plan meals ahead. But my most favorite way to have dinner on the table with less stress is to do a batch freezer cooking session. That way I can just pull out in the morning what we’ll have for dinnner that night and heat/cook it when the homework/after school/afternoon craziness sets in. I’m actually starting a freezer exchange group this month with a group of friends…we’ll all make the same dinner eight different times then get together to swap, coming home with eight different items to go into the freezer. Much easier than doing it all alone!

    Posted 9.7.10 Reply