03/18/2015 08:11 EDT | Updated 05/18/2015 05:59 EDT

Balancing Cooking and Convenience for Modern Parents

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It's 5 p.m. again and time to figure out what's for dinner...

Sometimes cooking for kids can make you feel a little like a short-order cook, your entire life revolving around the infinitely-hungry-yet-finicky palates of your offspring. And the challenge of creating healthy, delicious meals for your kids three meals a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year is made a little trickier when balancing it with the modern parent's everyday schedule.

Meeting with the client, pick up the kids from school, drop off son at hip hop...

I make it a goal to create healthy, homemade meals for the family as often as I can. As always, I follow the 80/20 rule -- I don't feel guilty about the occasional take-out or quick dinner as long as we are eating balanced meals the majority of the time.

So whether homemade, halfway homemade or just plain convenient, here are some tips to finding that elusive balance between cooking and convenience.

Plan your menu. Before I started creating a weekly menu board, I was frustrated each night about what to make for dinner. So every Sunday, I pull out a cookbook and involve the kids in choosing recipes that appeal to them. My son and daughter each get to pick one night, and we also do a kids' choice bonus night (which usually ends up being pizza!).

Prep meals in advance. Keep your pantry, fridge and freezer well stocked. You can save time on weeknight meals by pre-washing and cutting veggies (or buying pre-cut ones), shredding your cheese and generally having ingredients ready to go for dinner night.

Have your go-tos. If you like to make casseroles or stews, throw one of those recipes into the mix each week. Use your slow cooker if it saves you time and effort. Stir-fries are also quick, easy and can be made healthy with the right ingredients. A BBQ chicken from the grocery store served with steamed broccoli and brown rice makes for a quick convenient go-to weeknight meal.

Automate your cooking. Some moms like to cook once a week and make a few meals from those ingredients. You can also double a recipe and freeze for later. When I bake, I like to make a big batch of muffins and have these on hand for snacking throughout the week.

Keep it simple. Don't beat yourself up about having to create gourmet meals each night. Sometimes we will just have eggs and toast or a fancy grilled cheese sandwich with soup. There's nothing wrong with having salad, leftovers, or some healthy takeout for dinner, either!

Enjoy the process. Don't make cooking a chore. If you have time, involve your kids in cooking the meal so that it becomes a family affair. Most importantly, enjoy the time together once the meal is on the table.

Have any additional life hacks on ways to balance cooking and convenience? Is there an app for that? Please share in the comments!


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