I am the absolute opposite of a procrastinator. I start planning baby showers the minute a friend tells me they are pregnant. On a few occasions, I even started planning baby showers before a friend was actually pregnant or even “trying.” ‘Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today’ is my mantra. On a typical day, I like to get all of the errands, cleaning, cooking, bill paying, emailing, etc. done first thing in the morning so I know how much time I have to play and relax, feeling more able to be fully present rather than distracted by what I have to get done later. I also know that in having small kids around, there are always unexpected things that come up in my days, so the more I can get done earlier, the better. I know that 3-6 pm is the most challenging time of day with my kids. We have homework to get done, sports practices, baths, and my kids get increasingly more tired and cranky as bedtime approaches. If I waited until the evening to get dinner done, it would be a much more stressful process because there are so many people and things competing for my attention all at once. My kids are at their best, most rested and happy selves, in the morning, so they are more inclined to entertain themselves and need less intervention from me. Two of my kids are also at school in the morning, leaving us with less people around the house all together. Plus, I am a morning person; I wake up ready to go and be productive as soon as my feet hit the floor.
With this in mind, several years ago I started cooking dinner first thing in the morning.
Not all meals lend themselves well to being prepared in advance, but many do, especially soups, casseroles, pasta salads, curries, lasagnas, stews, and chilis. Even the sauce bases for warm pasta dishes can easily be prepared in advance. Things like seafood, seared/grilled meats that are served warm, and pasta are not usually reheated with as good of quality the second go around; although, there is still a lot that can be done in advance when preparing dinners including these components. Anywhere from 4-7 dinners that I prepare each week are prepared ahead of time in the morning. Even dinners that can’t be fully prepared ahead of time I will chop, marinate, and prep in the morning, and finish off the final cooking in the evening right before we eat.
This is what works for me. You may not be a morning person. You may be rushed to get out the door and not have extra time in the morning. If that is you, everything I do in the morning could be done the evening ahead. You could make dinner for tomorrow before bedtime tonight.
The first step in #dinnerdoneby9am is to have a plan.
I meal plan one day each week and then shop one day each week. This little bit of time spent up front saves me hours of time throughout the week in last minute trips to the store or rummaging through the cabinets to put dinner together. With the recipes planned out for the week, and the food already in the house, I am able to streamline my prep time each morning.
The next step in #dinnerdoneby9am is the prep work.
The list below is a breakdown of what cooking activities I do in the morning, and what I save for the hour prior to meal time.
Things I do in advance:
- Assemble salads, but don’t dress them
- Make salad dressing
- Make all sauces (dipping sauces, sauce bases for pasta dishes…)
- Marinate, wrap, stuff, or chop meat
- Wash and chop herbs and vegetables
- Pre-cook vegetables (when applicable)
- Fully assemble any casseroles (mac and cheese, lasagna, green bean casserole, breakfast casserole…) up to the point of baking, refrigerate and then bake immediately prior to serving
- Fully cook all soups, chilis, stews, and curries, refrigerate, and then heat back up prior to serving
- Make any dough or baked goods that are necessary
- Throw everything in the slow cooker when using it
- Fully prepare any cold salads/pasta salad (like chicken salad, pasta salad, cured chicken pasta salad, sesame noodles…)
Things I do directly before eating:
- Reheat any soups, stews, curries, etc.
- Add fresh herbs into soups or stews
- Dress salad
- Cook any seared/grilled/roasted meats
- Bake any casseroles
- Roast veggies for side dishes
- Cook and add pasta to soups or sauced pasta dishes
- Cook rice when using
By prepping in the morning, every evening I am 5-30 minutes (often inactive bake time) from enjoying a delicious meal with the people around me.
Shannon lives in Central City New Orleans with her husband and 3 boys. She is passionate about food, faith, fitness, family, and friends, and blogs about these things on her blog Dinner Done by 9am. Most days you can find her at the park with her kids or in the kitchen getting #dinnerdoneby9am.