Call it my late-night meal prep method, but I am finally able to cook without rushing things.
Credit: Adobe Stock / LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS

I’ve given up on cooking dinner after work.

I've got three children all under the age of 6, and by the time I gather them up and finish the commute home, it's 5:30, which means I’ve got exactly 90 minutes until their 7 p.m. bedtime. That leaves me 1.5 hours from when I pick up three sweaty and ravenous kids to cook, serve, eat, clean up, bathe, change, read, rock, sing, and snuggle before I kiss them goodnight, for the for real last time.

Even an instant pot dinner, or something that takes roughly 20 minutes from start to finish, is too long.

My solution? Now we only eat leftovers. Really good ones though: Mini meatloaves, sliced pork tenderloin, tender roasted potatoes, and lasagna all filled our plates this week. How? I only cook at night. And I don’t mean at dinner time, I mean late, like when the house is completely silent except for my chopping and my slightly off-key humming.

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Instead of avoiding my family all day Sunday while I chop, prep, and cook—or trying to make dinner start-to-finish while somehow keeping an eye on kids in the bath, now I wait until everyone is tucked in. I pour a glass of wine, tell Alexa to play something classical, then begin.

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

Here’s what it looks like on a practical basis. On Sundays, I pick two recipes that serve at least six, create my list, and go shopping. This takes about an hour, and I pick up a Starbucks, so I’m calling it "Me Time." That night, after everyone is in bed, I make one of the dishes. This week, it was lasagna, which I covered in foil and popped in the fridge. I baked it off the next morning (because mornings are actually super leisurely when the baby is up at 5 a.m.), and we ate “leftover” lasagna that night and the next.

Tuesday night, after dinner, I made up a batch of mini meatloaves and baked them. We ate those Wednesday night, then it was leftovers on Thursday and Friday nights, as well as lunches. I keep a variety of bagged salads and roasted veggies in the fridge, along with cut fruit and steamed baby veggies as well.

There are a few key things you have to remember to make this method work:

You must love leftovers. My husband could eat the same meal every day or night for the rest of his life. Literally, any meal. I’m very thankful for him.

You must pick things that taste better the next day. Meat loaves, burrito meat, chilis, and casseroles are your new best friends.

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

You must learn how to repurpose leftovers quickly and without fuss. I’m not making leftover sweet potatoes into biscuits, but I do make a mean meatloaf sandwich.

A side bonus? No more late night snacking, because when you’re cooking meatloaves at 9pm, the idea of snacking on a piping hot one at 10pm is less than appealing.

Credit: Adobe Stock / Oksana Kuzmina

I struggle with the idea that my kids are eating the same thing several nights in a week. Growing up, my mom cooked a new dinner each night, though when feeding a family of six, leftovers were pretty nonexistent. In the end, I’m choosing to prioritize my time and sanity over the stress of stretching their palates. I do rotate the recipes weekly, and make sure to bring variety to the sides, so that they try new things on a regular basis.

Most of all, they have a happy mom who isn’t stressed, at least not about dinner, and that’s worth a few repeat pizza bites (lasagna) and meatballs (meatloaves) any day.