Being a single mom of three small children can be VERY exhausting. I have a million responsibilities and things that stress me out during the day. A lot of times, I just don't want to face making dinner and then dealing with a mountain of dishes and cleaning the kitchen and dining room afterwards. Getting take-out just isn't an option for me, however, so here is what I have done to prepare for those nights when I'd rather do ANYTHING but cook and do dishes!
I have stocked up on easy to prepare ingredients. Having just a few staples on hand at all times can make a HUGE difference. My pantry staples are: rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, various condiments, spices and herbs, canned chicken, canned "cream of" soups, evaporated milk and canned beans. My freezer staples are: Frozen vegetables, ground beef (portioned out into 1 pound increments) and 1 loaf of frozen french or garlic bread (whichever was on sale when I bought it!). My refrigerator staples are: Block cheese, onions and eggs. With these items on hand, I have a myriad of easy, fast meals I can prepare on short notice.
I also do a lot of prep work ahead of time. By prep work, I mean chopping up vegetables and putting them in ziplock bags, cooking extra rice, or pasta that can be heated up later, assembling and shaping a meatloaf for later, peeling and slicing up potatoes to be made into mashed potatoes or oven fries (store in cold water in the fridge so they don't turn brown!). Doing some work in advance not only makes me feel a lot better, it also ensures me a much less stressful evening, which makes my kids feel better! Even if my 8 year old has a meltdown, my 6 year old decides to give the dog a bath in the toilet and my 3 year old once again decides that toilet training isn't for her, dinner will only take a few minutes to prepare and it won't make a lot of dishes.
For nights that I'm just too tired to cook at all, I have some meals already cooked and frozen. I'm not saying these are GREAT meals, but they will get the job done! The frozen meals I have right now are: Bean soup, baked ziti, and chicken tenders with oven fries. Sometimes I cook a lasagna and freeze it, or I make extra pizza and freeze it. I always like to have two or three meals, just in case I get sick, or I really just don't have time to cook. Having a few dinners already prepared has really helped me out on several occasions. Another trick is to have partial meals already cooked. By partial meals, I mean cook and freeze the parts of a meal that are more time consuming and difficult to prepare. The "meal kits" I currently have on hand are: cooked, shredded beef to be made into enchiladas or quick beef stew, cooked beans to be made into chili or bean burritos and cooked, frozen rice to be tossed into soups and casseroles on the fly.