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Quick meal time solutions for working parents

Quick solutions for the kitchen  AP photo/Coldwell Banker 

If you've been working hard all day, the last thing you want to do when you arrive home is spend another hour or so planning and cooking dinner.  Here are a couple of suggestions to make dinnertime for busy families a little bit easier.

1. Crock it.  As has been suggested in this column, one of the top ten things every working mother needs is a crock pot.  Plan a meal out the night before, chop up all the ingredients and place them in the slow cooker.  Put the pot portion in the refrigerator overnight.  Put it on to work the following day, and presto - dinner will be waiting for you at night.  The internet is full of websites that have exciting slow cooker recipes.  You can also cook multiple meals over the weekend and freeze them.  That way, you will have dinner in an instant all week long.

2. Schedule it.  But what if you have specific family favorites that just don't work well in a crock pot?  Try have an organized menu planner that features a limited roster of simple, beloved family meals that can be cooked quickly during the week.  Shop for these five meals during the weekend and organize your cupboard so that all the ingredients are ready to go as soon as you get home.  You might arrange to have hamburgers every Monday, spaghetti every Tuesday, fish sticks and peas on Friday, and so on.  Then, you still can try more adventurous meals on the weekends.  Try some of these websites for some ideas on what to include on quick meal nights.

3. Supercook it.  But then, what do you do on those nights - and they do happen to all of us - when life just was just too crazy, and you did not have time to plan?   You go to the cupboard and find that you've got  a tomato, eggs, some lettuce and a little cheese.  What do you do then?  Give up and call for a pizza?  Have omelettes for dinner? Well, you could do that.  However, there's a website called Supercook that can show you how to turn that assortment of odds and ends into a yummy spread for crackers called Mock Crab Pate.  Supercook was recently named by Time Magazine as one of the fifty best websites of 2009, and it offers hundreds of ingenious ways for resourceful cooks to make the most of whatever they happen to have around the house. Just type in whatever you happen to have available, and Supercook will tell you what you can make with it.  It will also tell you what else you can make with additional ingredients.

What do you do if none of these ideas appeal to you, and you just can't face another night of ramen noodles?  If you really must go out to eat, try seeing if you can find out where kids eat free.   The International House of Pancakes location on Alta Mesa Boulevard currently lets kids eat free from 4 pm - 10 pm, and Boston Market offers two free children's meals for every six dollars spent on an adult meal.  Check here to research other restaurants offering similar deals in your neighborhood.