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Seven Steps to Keeping The Six O’Clock Scramble on Schedule


It seems like for every year older our kids get, the evening routine gets that much more complicated. Sure, on the weekends I often don’t feel like making my weekly menu plan and going to the grocery store. But when dinner time rolls around each weeknight (and I’m often just rolling in the driveway at 6:00 or later), I want to kiss myself for taking the time to get organized in advance. I breathe a deep sigh of relief, knowing I have everything I need to get a healthy, tasty meal on the table in half an hour or less. 

What I’ve learned from my years as a dinner planning expert is that the key to keeping our sanity around dinner time is to plan a few meals in advance (I usually plan 5) and try to grocery shop just once a week. However, I do have a few other suggestions for keeping family dinners on track:

1. Schedule your meals for the week based on which ingredients are most perishable (i.e. meat, fish, and spinach), and which nights you will be shortest on time. You can put your recipes in that order or jot a note in your calendar to remember what you’re making when.

2. Have a system for your kitchen. If you know where the vegetables are in your refrigerator (I keep one drawer for fruit and one for veggies), and can quickly lay your hands on the black beans and bowtie noodles, dinner prep will go a lot faster.

3. Get a head start during the day. While the kids are eating breakfast or doing homework, or while you are on a long call, wash and/or chop the vegetables you’ll need, and pull out the pots and pans and non-perishable ingredients you’ll need later.

4. Before you begin to cook, clear off the kitchen counters, empty the dishwasher, and pull out all of the ingredients. These steps make dinner preparation a lot less chaotic.

5. Before you start cooking, take a moment to think through the whole meal (and quickly read the whole recipe), including side dishes and table settings, so you know what you need to start preparing when. Enlist help from other family members if you can.

6. When you use up an ingredient that you consider a staple, write it on your grocery list right away so you’ll be fully stocked after your next grocery trip. Teach your family to do this too and you’ll all have your essentials on hand when you need them.

7. Put the ingredients away as you use them, so cleanup goes more quickly. When you are ready to do the dishes, stack all of the dirty dishes by the sink and load the dishwasher first (most dishes don’t need to be pre-rinsed), so your dishwashing goes quickly and you use less water.

Sometimes having a system can sound daunting, but I have found that a little planning ahead saves so much time and effort that it makes cooking dinner for my family a pleasure most days, rather than a chore.

Aviva Goldfarb helps families connect with each other around the dinner table with her easy, healthy recipes and stress-busting weekly dinner plans. She is a mother of two and the author and founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble®, an online weekly menu planning system and cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), and is author of the new cookbook, “SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Meals for Busy Families” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010). She is also a weekly contributor to the Kitchen Explorers blog on



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