How to cheat dinner and win.

With work, kids, school and activities, sometimes things just have to give at the end of the day. With our family, sometimes that “thing” is dinner. I enjoy cooking, but if I don’t have a solid dinner plan by the time we all arrive home—and my crew turns hangry before I figure it out—IT’S ALL OVER. Like code red, nuclear meltdown, Gizmo to Gremlins, call a priest, OVER.

So out of pure survival, I’ve come up with the following last-minute dinner ideas that continue to save my family time and time again. If you’ve got your own, I beg you to share them. 


The Rotisserie Chicken dinner

If you’re only buying Rotisserie chicken the night you need it, you’re doing it all wrong. Buy one and keep it for later in the week to quickly and easily throw together chicken quesadillas, pulled-chicken sandwiches, chicken and pasta, chicken with rice, or just straight up cold drumsticks. Repeat after me:  We're feeding kids here, not the queen.

Pro Tip: Use your rotisserie chicken the day before your trash day so you can immediately dispose of the carcass the next morning. 


The Picnic dinner

I’m just waiting for the day when my kids call me out for phoning in dinner on this one, but in the meantime they think our “picnic dinners” are so fun. It’s simply a collection of snacks like pretzels, cheese cubes, baby carrots, grapes, salami, crackers and baby dill pickles — and it works every time.

Pro Tip: To help disguise this dinner cheat, eat out on your deck or take the meal to a park.


The Build-Your-Own-Pizza dinner

This sounds like a lot of work but I promise it isn't. The key is start with already-baked flat bread. Add spaghetti sauce (actual pizza sauce if you’re fancy), shredded mozzarella cheese and pepperonis. My kids love getting to build their own pizza and I love it b/c they are doing the meal prep for me while I’m digging through the fridge to see if we have any ingredients to throw together a salad.

Pro Tip: Naan bread works great for this, too. I always keep a package in our freezer.  


The Panini dinner

I might get some grumpy faces if I try and pass off a plain ham and cheese sandwich as dinner, but a hot ham and cheese panini is always a hit. Bless those toasted panini grooves for magically stepping up a last-minute meal instantly. Grab a variety pack of deli meats and a variety pack of cheese slices and you’ve got all the combos to please everyone.

 Pro Tip:  If you don’t have panini grill, use your waffle maker. (I know, right?)


The Breakfast-for-Dinner dinner

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. GET. ON. BOARD. There are few things easier to whip up than toast, scrambled eggs and some fruit. You’ll see bacon in the photo, I don’t even know what deep corner of our fridge that came from—we never have bacon. But we usually have slices of ham, which I’ll heat up and serve with the eggs. French toast with sliced bananas and/or strawberries is also a popular dinner menu at our house.

Pro Tip: Smoothies not only help convince your family that you had this meal planned for days but are also a great way to make use of fruit and veggies before they go bad.  

And finally ….

The Chipotle dinner

Yep, that’s right.  Chipotle. Who do you think I am? Super mom? Ha. If I am, this one is my secret weapon.