How These Real Life Moms Balance Work and Family Life

Working mamas: figuring out the magic formula to balance work and family life isn’t easy (or possible?)

I’ve been struggling with finding a balance for almost 5 years now, and I always feel like I’m on the constant hunt for that magic ‘hack’ that will make it all work. To feel like the balance of work and family life isn’t some impossible, unreachable thing I’ll never achieve.

But here’s the thing: that magic hack doesn’t exist. And while that is insanely unfair, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other tips, ideas, and ninja moves that simply help, even if they don’t fix it all.

Which is why, when I started feeling like everyone else had it together except me, I turned to my tribe for some advice on how to keep it together. And let’s just say their words totally blew me out of the water.

I am so, so lucky to be surrounded by a group of hard loving, hard working, busy mamas- both online and in real life. 

I put out the call on Facebook asking what working moms do to keep their family life together while also trying to make time for themselves, and I was rewarded with some amazing answers!  

Listed below are the tips, tricks, secrets and, hacks that all help balancing work and family when you’re a working mom.

These routines and systems (and secret ninja moves) keep their families’ lives running as smoothly as possible. They also help to fit in a little self-care time and get everyone out the door in the morning. Which is no small feat!

Before I share the answers though, I’m sharing with you something I was inspired to create after reading all these awesome tips! 

As I read through the comments, I kept getting so excited! These tips were so good, so actionable, so helpful!

But reading comments and tips is one thing. Putting those tips into actual use is a whole different kettle of fish.

So I took some of my favorite ideas moms had shared, and made them into a 5 Day Email Challenge, perfect for any working mom who’s looking to implement simple routines into her day to make things run more smoothly- without having everything take so dang long.

Each email includes a simple “challenge” for that day, helping you get things organized from everything to a nighttime routine to a meal plan- and beyond.

The challenges only take about 20 minutes each day to complete. And at the end of the 5 days, you’ll be way more in control of your day and feeling like the rockstar badass you truly are.

I’m calling it the 5 Day Get-On-Top-of-It Working Mom Challenge, and here’s how it will work:

Every day for 5 days, I’ll email you first thing in the morning. Each email will contain a short, actionable thing you can do or arrange in under 20 minutes that will help you get on top of your ish this week as a working mom.

The challenge starts on the morning of the 25th and it’s a GREAT way to not feel so fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants in the summertime, as well.

Plus, you can follow along with the challenge in a private Facebook group, connecting with other working moms going through the same thing. Find out more and sign up for the challenge by clicking here or signing up below: 

Join the challenge!

Yes! I want to enter the 5 Day Get On Top of It Working Moms Challenge 👊

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And so, without further ado, here are some of my favorite tips from my fellow working mamas (these were comments left on Facebook and I’ve edited them for clarity and brevity!)  

 

Megan, marketing specialist and merchandisingI’ve started sacrificing an hour of sleep in the morning to get up alone, shower, answer emails and get my day organized before the chaos starts.

Marcela, teacher: I bought a cardboard file organizer and labeled it Monday- Friday. On the weekends, my 6-year-old and I choose his clothes for the week and place them in each slot. Then he gets dressed during the week with no struggle!

Jackie, teacher: I order my groceries from Amazon Fresh and have them delivered, and I got a bi-weekly cleaning person (worth every penny!)

Katie, client services manager: I will often use my steamer bc I can make two foods at once – my son’s pasta and  his veggies!!

Jennifer, public relations senior manager: I organize my purse/bag the night before, and make sure to check the weather and see if I need to pack an umbrella, what shoes etc. I pack lunches after we make dinner so everything is ready for the next day.

Tricia, PharmD: I have my nanny come early, so I can get ready in the mornings. I’ve mastered shower/makeup/hair in 30min or less.

Eva, healthcare administration: My main life hack: lowering my standards.

Karen, senior editor: I’ve finally trained both my kids to pick out their own clothes and dress themselves and it makes a world of difference in the mornings. At least on the days they are being agreeable!

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Lizz, event planner: I listen to work-related/biz lady podcasts on the way to work, parenting/other podcasts on the way home.

Christine, operations manager: Capsule wardrobe, for everyone! The fewer choices I have to make in a day, and the less clutter, the better. 

Sofia, owner of a martial arts school: I am making the Instant Pot my new best friend! It’s really helpful to get it cooking overnight so that I have something ready to take to work. Then all we have to do is heat up in the evening because for our family, we all eat at different times.

Elizabeth, executive assistant: For the mental load, my husband and I found the concept of “silos” to be really helpful. We each have a list of things we’re “in charge” of mentally and then decide on who will physically do the task at any given time. Writing it out feels more complicated than it actually is! It’s definitely the biggest part of “making it all work” that we’ve found.

Becca, teacher:  I pump breast milk at work so after he goes to bed I am portioning milk into bottles, washing all pump parts and packing it all up for the next day. I get my outfit out of the room before he goes down (we room-share for bedtime).

Samantha, salon owner: My favorite hack: you can clean your entire house with a pack of baby wipes.

Jessica, television producer: I’m loving mason jars right now for meal prep. Breakfast: fresh berries and Greek yogurt, toss some granola on top before you eat or before you toss it in your bag to eat at work. I prep 4 at a time and treat myself on Fridays. Lunch: chicken, veggies and a grain. The jars help with portion control and I use a different sauce on each to mix it up. Then, Monday to Friday, I have my boys do a 5 min tidy while I’m making dinner. I put the timer on and they pick up as much of their stuff and put it away as they can. Some days it’s amazing and some days it just removes a layer of toys but it’s always an improvement.

Abigail, biologist: When we only had one kid, his daycare was the opposite direction from work. I would drop him off and then go back home for 30 minutes, and that totally changed my days. And I decided to leave the Christmas lights up all year. They’re festive.

Domonique, partner manager: I now shower at night (which was really weird for me at first) but saves time in the morning. And I only cook 2-3 nights during work week so there’s enough for leftovers the other nights, and order takeout Friday.

Olivia, social media manager: Does ignoring the kids count? Just kidding. I made my kids their own snack bins in the pantry. Therefore, if they need a snack, they don’t need to ask. And believe me, they need a snack all day.

Lindsey, lawyer: Time blocking. It’s like the opposite of multitasking but allows me to be more efficient with my time and give my kids more of my undivided attention. When I work on a document/project, I only do that and don’t look at email, etc. Then after work, we truly focus on playing, then family dinner, then usually a family bike ride. They get that dedicated time and I’m not distracted by work, because I separate the two.

Tifani, health coach: Success is scheduled!! If you need to do it, it goes on the schedule. As a work at home mom I schedule breaks through tasks, short 3-5 minute breaks every half hour so if a kid needs me, they don’t need to interrupt because they know I’ll take a break soon

Emily, copywriter: On longer days I rely on caffeine.

Cyndl, credit operations specialist: Making sure I incorporate my girl into everything I do when I’m home. She loves to help sweep. My self care translates to: I do face masks and she has her play makeup. She has her own fairy garden she tends to while I actually garden. If she asks to join, I never say no, even if it means it’ll slow down the process.

Melissa, VP of partner operations: One night a week I have my nanny stay late and put my daughter to bed. That night I’ll get a mani/pedi, soulcycle, dinner with friends, etc.

And that’s it! 

Don’t forget: The Get It Done Working Mom 5 Day Email Challenge kick off on Monday, June 25th, and I’d love to have you join along!!

Let’s get our ish together… together. Are you with me? Sign up below or click here for more info!

Join the challenge!

Yes! I want to enter the 5 Day Get On Top of It Working Moms Challenge 👊

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How I Did a Big Solo Road Trip, With Kids (And Didn’t Go Crazy!)

I'm so nervous about driving a solo road trip with kids, but she makes me a feel a ton better! Great list and ideas of what to bring and do to make the trip go faster and keep the kids occupied. I'm so nervous about driving a solo road trip with kids, but she makes me a feel a ton better! Great list and ideas of what to bring and do to make the trip go faster and keep the kids occupied. I'm so nervous about driving a solo road trip with kids, but she makes me a feel a ton better! Great list and ideas of what to bring and do to make the trip go faster and keep the kids occupied. I'm so nervous about driving a solo road trip with kids, but she makes me a feel a ton better! Great list and ideas of what to bring and do to make the trip go faster and keep the kids occupied.

Last week, I did a 14-hour solo road trip with my 2-year-old and my 4-year-old. And I didn’t go insane.

I didn’t start off insane, either, thanks. I was nervous before the trip started, for sure. And there are definitely some things I’ll tweak before we hit the road to go home again. But all in all? It was unbelievably painless for a long road trip with kids, and one I think I’ll make more often.

Here’s how it began: A few times a year, I pack my kids up and we fly from NYC, where we live, to Northern Michigan, where my parents live.

Since I work from home and my eldest isn’t in school yet, I typically stay 3-4 weeks at a time. My husband will stay back in NYC to work, coming up for a long weekend in the middle of our trip. It’s great- we have tons of time to hang out, let the kids run around in the fresh air, and spend time with my family in my hometown on Lake Michigan.

Back when I had just one kid, the flight from NYC to Traverse City wasn’t fun, but it was pretty straightforward.

And after my second was born, the flight got a little more hectic, for sure, but by breastfeeding him on the plane I was usually able to stop any drama before it began.

However, that nursing baby is now 2. Our breastfeeding days are behind us. He’s old enough now that I have to buy him a third plane ticket. And I am over. it.

Between the TSA, the packing (and worrying about the weight limit), the running to catch connecting flights with a slow-moving toddler while babywearing and dragging 3 pieces of carry-ons, stopping the kids from kicking the seat in front of us, the time my son knocked a huge cup of hot coffee all down the lap of the lady next to us and then cried for the next hour because his ears hurt, the time we got delayed in Detroit for 4 hours and it was midnight and there were no restaurants open, the time we had a two blowouts and I didn’t pack enough diapers; yeah, I’ve come to dread the flight part of our trips up north.

It had gotten to the point where I would get an anxiety stomach ache 24 hours before we flew.

The stomach ache wouldn’t go away until we left baggage claim.

Eventually, I didn’t want to pony up upwards of $400 per plane ticket just so we could be miserable for 24 hours, and then pay to rent a car once we arrived to Michigan. (We don’t own a car here in NYC, so we rent a car or use Zipcar when we need one.) 

My mind was made up: I was done with flying.

So when my husband and I decided on another trip up north before my daughter started school this fall, I told him I planned on road tripping instead. I also started praying it wasn’t the dumbest idea I’d had yet.

Know what? The drive, even 14 hours long, was so much easier than flying.

I hereby consider this my declaration: we are never flying again (unless, obviously, we’re on a time crunch. And even then I’ll probably consider driving!)

I’ve learned a few things after making this last road trip, and I’m sure I’ll learn more as time goes on.

If you’re renting, get the car the day before you leave.

We picked up the car the day of, and while I was pretty organized with packing, I wish I had  more time to get used to how the car handles and the little ins and outs like, does it play music via bluetooth or an auxiliary cable? What are the wipers like when it rains? How hard is that brake pedal? I had to figure too much out while I was also managing traffic jams leaving the Bronx and passing snacks to the backseat. Next time, I’ll pick up the car the day before we go and take it for a test spin before hitting the open highway.

Keep a bag of snacks where you can reach it.

I used a filing box from Thirty-One, and it was perfect- I packed it full of more snacks than we knew what to do with. My favorite road trip snack is fruit leather, which takes a while for my kids to eat so it keeps them quiet and occupied.

Keep a toilet bag handy, including a portable potty.

I kept a bag of diapers, wipes, toilet paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and a portable potty seat like this one. This saved my life when my son was napping and my daughter needed to pee. She could squat on the side of the road and I didn’t have to wake him up to take us all to a rest stop.

Tablets are amazing

Don’t feel shy about utilizing the wonders of a tablet for keeping your car quiet and distracting the kids. I recommend you load up way more movies than you think you need. There isn’t a ton of space on a Kindle Fire, which is our tablet of choice, so use SD cards to add extra room. Before you go, turn the wifi off and double check to make sure everything will be accessible when there’s no signal. And bring baby headphones so you don’t have to listen to 14 hours of Little Baby Bum like I did.

Get awesome back-of-the-seat toy and drink holders.

These were inexpensive and perfect for our trip. The kids had a place to put their stuff, and I could slip their tablets into the top so they could watch handsfree.

Take the exits that don’t go to truck stops.

We pulled off the highway to tiny Midwest towns and villages to use the bathroom or grab lunch, instead of always hitting the truck stops. It was nice to see places other than Burger King and Waffle House.

Then, take the truck stop exits and embrace the BK playspace.

The best part about a Burger King or McDonalds Playspace is it’s enclosed, so you can relax and let the kids run around and blow off some steam while you gather yourself for a bit.

Load up your own podcasts and playlists.

Living in the city, I get so used to having strong data wherever we go. But when you’re in the middle of nowhere on I-80, that data streaming station turns silent. I only loaded a handful of podcasts and playlists on my phone, and I wish I’d given myself more of a selection.

No data leads me to: Real life maps.

Google Maps is great but get a road map, just in case.

But speaking of data use, if you’re not on the streaming train just yet, hop on.

Using the hands-free voice-to-talk Alexa option on my Amazon Unlimited Music was great for making my phone play DJ while we drove. Then I could spontaneously request “Little Past Little Rock” and sing at the top of my lungs while the kids looked at me like I was crazy. Amazon Music/Spotify/Google Streaming is your BFF while driving if you get enough signal. And can I suggest country music? It’s made for these kinds of trips.

“Hand on the car!”

Again, we’re city folk. My kids aren’t used to cars; they’re used to standing behind the yellow line at a subway stop. I made it a rule that whenever we’re in a parking lot, they must keep their hands on the car at all times while I gathered my purse and diaper bags and made sure the car was locked. It stopped them from running around in front of traffic.

Juice boxes for the kids and a ‘juice box’ for your phone.

My kids don’t get juice very often, but I bought a few boxes as a road trip treat. But mama’s juice box is what I really came to depend on; not the drinkable kind, the battery kind! We have this hardcore chargeable “juice box” for charging phones, laptops, and tablets, and it is amazing. I charged it fully before we left and it gave enough power that I didn’t have to charge it again till we arrived in Michigan- despite having to charge all 3 devices on it at some stage. If you want a more affordable option, this one is great, too.

Make-your-own surprise bags.

My kids love those packaged ‘blind bags’ with small toys in them, so I took that idea one step further for the road. The day before we left, I made each of them 2 or 3 “surprise bags” in gallon ziplocks using toys we already had. Each ziplock held things that went together; a handful of Hatchimal toys for my daughter, a few matchbox cars for my son, playdough, etc. When they piped up from the backseat, I handed back a ziplock bag and they stayed quiet for another hour or so.


That’s it!

Our 14 hour road trip in actuality took about 28 hours to make, including a stop at a hotel and 4,000 bathroom and food breaks. But all in all, it was super painless and I felt in control of our day- unlike when we’re flying. I’ll definitely be making this trip again in the future!

Have you traveled long car trips with kids? What are your best tips for my trip home? I’d love to hear them!

Want to join a community of other working moms trading recipes, picky eater tips, kitchen gadgets, and weeknight cooking woes?

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7 Ways a Mom Working From Home Can Keep Her Sanity

How Moms Can Work From Home Without Going Crazy: YES! Haha, I so needed to read this. I never thought how hard it would be to work from home with kids, but it so is- and she has some great strategies for getting work done while kids are home.

Yes, it IS possible to be a mom working from home without losing your mind.

Because it sounds like such a great idea, right!? “I can totally balance being a mom working from home! The kids will play while I get work done, and then we’ll eat lunch and spend some time at the park. Remote jobs are the future!”

Then reality sets in.

At least, my reality, and I’m assuming yours, as well: the moment my laptop opens, the kids clamber onto my lap to Skype with Grandma. They want to click the mouse. To see what happens when they push the power button. They need my phone. They need a snack. I have to wipe a butt. They start fighting. Crying. Whining. Spilling things.

My attention is divided into 52 places at once, and simple projects that should take 10 minutes wind up taking an hour.

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I’ve been a mom working from home since I got pregnant with my daughter in 2013.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of tactics, all to varying degrees of success, to figure out how to continue to make a living without getting a 9-5 outside of the house.

My mom friends with out-of-the-house jobs occasionally try the mom working from home thing, and often I’ll get a text message from them halfway through the day: “How do you DO THIS!? I’m going crazy over here!”

The short answer is: babysitters. If you’re making a living from home, it’s impossible to get everything done without them, which is the painful truth. My kids go to a babysitter a few days a week for a few hours a day and it is a lifesaver.

But if I’m being honest, I don’t only work when my kids are out of the house. The fact of the matter is, I work when my kids are home, too- I’m just strategic about it.

So with that in mind, here are 7 of my tried-and-true tips for being a mom working at home without losing your freaking mind.


Related: 


1. Hit the ground running both in the morning and at naptime

Set everything up the night before, the hour before, whatever: just make sure that your laptop is on, the tablet is charged, snacks are accessible, you’re fed and ready to go the second a kid goes to sleep or you’re back at your desk once they’re gone. If I sit down ready to work with a plan, I’m much more productive in that hour than if I sit down to work, THEN figure out a game plan.

2. Batch work so you don’t have to think

This is my favorite tip, and to be honest it took me some time to get my head in the right space. But I do as much of something that I can in one push, at once that i can so i don’t have to concentrate on it again and waste brain space. For example: I have “days” when things get done. Laundry is done on Mondays. Folding laundry is done on Tuesdays. Meal prep is done on Sundays. And so on. That way, I rarely get the panic of, “did I get that thing done!?” If it’s Meal Prep day, it’s getting done.

3. Meal prep with purpose

Make everything grab & go. Lay out your clothes the night before. Make your breakfast and lunch so they’re literally grab and go (overnight oatmeal and smoothie bags are great for this). Keep a bottle of water and sneaky snacks stashed next to your desk.

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4. Join the 4am Club (or the 1am Club if you’re a night owl!)

I live and die by this rule and it has changed everything for me. I wake up every day around 4 or 5 am and get to work before my kids wake up. It works because I’m at my best in the morning, sure, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that if I can wake up and have my own time before the kids wake up – as in, if I can get time for me, first thing, before I’m needed by somebody, then I am so better prepared for the day. I’m a better mom. I’m more on top of my crap. I’m also completely useless after 9pm but that’s for another story.

5. Order everything you possibly can.

We are lucky enough to live in NYC, where we can have everything from laundry to prescriptions to wine to pizza delivered right to our door, but you’d be surprised what you can have done even if you’re not in an urban area. Dry cleaners will iron your clothes, so you just have to pick them up. Many grocery stores offer pickup if you call ahead and place an order, if they don’t already offer website ordering. Turn to Task Rabbit, Craigslist, to find someone who can help you lessen the load. It takes a village to raise a family while working from home, girl. Even if you have to pay that village.  


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6. Use the Pomodoro technique but do it to a Paw Patrol episode.

  1. This is a thing. The Pomodoro Technique is a method of working where you “sprint” for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Coincidentally, 25 minutes is exactly the amount of time of one Paw Patrol episode. Pop the kids in front of the TV, and see how much you can bang out for one episode before refilling your coffee.

7. Give yourself grace

It’s true, mama. You can’t fill someone else’s cup without making sure your own is full first. We can’t be all things to all people and all needs- so you have to make sure you’re fitting in some self-care time. Remember that life moves on, even if we fail at some things. The important part is that we keep going.

 

  1. Do you work at home with kids? Tell me in the comments, on a scale of 1-5 how insane you feel trying to get stuff done with your kids in the house!

Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Meal with Olives, Eggplant and Feta

This Greek chicken takes only 20 minutes from start to finish, and it's packed full of green buttery olives, sweet roasted eggplant, and spice rubbed chicken, topped with a shower of crumbled feta cheese.

This Greek chicken takes only 20 minutes from start to finish, and it's packed full of green buttery olives, sweet roasted eggplant, and spice rubbed chicken, topped with a shower of crumbled feta cheese.

This Greek chicken takes only 20 minutes from start to finish, and it's packed full of green buttery olives, sweet roasted eggplant, and spice rubbed chicken, topped with a shower of crumbled feta cheese.

This Greek chicken takes only 20 minutes from start to finish, and it's packed full of green buttery olives, sweet roasted eggplant, and spice rubbed chicken, topped with a shower of crumbled feta cheese.

This Greek chicken takes only 20 minutes from start to finish, and it's packed full of green buttery olives, sweet roasted eggplant, and spice rubbed chicken, topped with a shower of crumbled feta cheese.

This Greek chicken takes only 20 minutes from start to finish, and it's packed full of green buttery olives, sweet roasted eggplant, and spice rubbed chicken, topped with a shower of crumbled feta cheese.

Please Note: affiliate links are (or likely are) included in this post. That means if you make a purchase through any links I’ve included here, I may receive a pennies on the dollar commission for sending you there. I would never recommend a brand or products I didn’t know and trust. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.

I’ve spoken to no less than 5 people in the last week who have never even heard of sheet pan meals. To which I whip out this incredibly easy chicken sheet pan dish, raise my arms to the heavens, and sing the praises of a dish that literally goes from cutting board to tabletop in like, 20 minutes. Tops.

All that to say if you’re not on the sheet pan meal train yet then choo-choo, mama. Because finding a simple chicken sheet pan meal – or any sheet pan meal, really- is gonna suddenly make your weeknight cooking so much easier.

SHEET PAN RECIPE IDEAS!

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The beauty of a sheet pan meal is threefold:

  • It has to be simple, or else it won’t cook right
  • The best sheet pan meals contain a veggie, a protein, and a sauce (that’s it!)
  • You have one pan to wash at the end of it all. And if you line your sheet pan with tin foil, you have no pans to wash at the end of it all.

Here’s me, after successfully cooking this Greek chicken sheet pan meal the other night, and discovering it only took 20 total minutes from start to finish:

It’s that easy.

Of course, you can’t just throw a bunch of ingredients on a sheet pan and hope for the best. There are a handful of rules that should be followed for maximum quality:

Use a heavy bottom sheet pan. That is- not a jelly roll pan, not a cookie sheet. A strong, durable, rimmed sheet pan. I got these Analon-brand pans in my wedding registry almost 10 years ago and they are still holding up like champs. In fact, they’ve gotten better with time.

Make sure your ingredients are all cut or prepared in a way that makes them cook in the same amount of time. 

Case in point: This Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Meal I’m highlighting in the recipe at the bottom of this post. I took one of those gargantuan chicken breasts and sliced it in half, so each piece was about the same size- this ensures even cooking.

SHEET PAN RECIPE IDEAS!

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Then I paired the chicken with eggplant, a veggie that roasts well but not super quickly. By chopping the eggplant into ½” slices, it ensured they were the right size to roast to a perfect texture alongside the chicken. Bigger, or thinner, or smaller slices would have cooked differently. So until you’re comfortable with cooking times of various ingredients, make sure you find recipes from people you trust and follow their recommendations.

✅ While the pan’s in the oven, make a quick side. 

I like serving my sheet pan meals with something starchy on the side, like boiled potatoes, or cheesy grits. While the sheet pan is in the oven, I make the starch quickly on the stovetop.

Or I just, you know, don’t do any extra cooking and use the time to chillax with my family and start unwinding at the end of a long ass day. You totally have permission to do that as well, mama.

✅ Line it up.

We had a big discussion in my Busy Mamas Cooking Facebook group the other day regarding reusable silicone sheet pan liners: are they worth it? While I personally don’t own any, I think they’re pretty cool to have and they definitely are cheaper than buying tin foil all the time. Regardless of whether you use reusable liners or tin foil, line your sheet pan for super easy cleanup.


This Greek Chicken Sheet Pan is one of the recipes I’ll be making as part of my Sheet Pan Meal Class!

If you’re NYC-based, I’d love for you to join! They’re family classes, part of a series I’m doing with Kim Calichio of The Connected Chef, and the next class is May 20th, 2018. Drop in rates are available for the remainder of the series. You can click here for more info or to sign up!

4.8 from 5 votes
Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
25 mins
 
Servings: 4
Author: Ruthy Kirwan
Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 pound boneless skinless chicken (thighs or breast)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup pitted black or green olives
  • 1 large eggplant ends trimmed and cut into big dice
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 450*F.
  2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with tin foil.
  3. In a small bowl, add the paprika, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper and mix with a fork to combine.
  4. Rub the chicken thighs with olive oil, then place on the sheet pan, leaving an inch or so of space between each thigh. Sprinkle evenly with the spice mix, and rub the spice mix evenly into the thighs.
  5. Scatter the eggplant and olives around the chicken, and use tongs to toss and combine. Spread all ingredients in the pan in one even layer.
  6. Place the pan(s) in the oven and roast, 12-15 minutes, until eggplant has browned and the chicken is cooked completely through (juices from the chicken will run clear when sliced with a sharp knife)
  7. Sprinkle the entire pan with the crumbled feta, transfer to a serving platter, and serve.

SHEET PAN RECIPE IDEAS!

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How to Cook Dinner When You Have Picky Eaters

SO HELPFUL! I love how she shares actually real tips for getting kids to eat their dinner, I've got picky eaters and I'm at my wits end for knowing what to cook for picky eater appetites.

SO HELPFUL! I love how she shares actually real tips for getting kids to eat their dinner, I've got picky eaters and I'm at my wits end for knowing what to cook for picky eater appetites.

SO HELPFUL! I love how she shares actually real tips for getting kids to eat their dinner, I've got picky eaters and I'm at my wits end for knowing what to cook for picky eater appetites.

SO HELPFUL! I love how she shares actually real tips for getting kids to eat their dinner, I've got picky eaters and I'm at my wits end for knowing what to cook for picky eater appetites.

SO HELPFUL! I love how she shares actually real tips for getting kids to eat their dinner, I've got picky eaters and I'm at my wits end for knowing what to cook for picky eater appetites.

SO HELPFUL! I love how she shares actually real tips for getting kids to eat their dinner, I've got picky eaters and I'm at my wits end for knowing what to cook for picky eater appetites.

As if a working parent didn’t have enough to worry about in the evenings, fixing dinner for picky eaters can throw off the game of even the most on-top-of-it cook.

Picture this: me, pre-kids, smugly thinking to myself, “I’m such a foodie! I’ll never raise picky eaters! It’s all about exposure to new foods and taking away the fear! My kids will eat everything!”

God laughed. Then he gave me my daughter, who is just as smug and headstrong as her mama.

(He threw me a bone with my son, who will eat whatever is put in front of him, but that’s another story)

I do hesitate to consider my 4-year-old daughter a “picky eater”, however; her aversion to certain foods ebbs and flows with her moods.

It’s more a determination on her part to let me know that she will be bossed around by nobody, especially not her mommy handing her a plate of previously-adored homemade macaroni and cheese.

She will label the offensive macaroni “di-cus-tig” one day, and gobble it up cheerfully the next.

And while that is maddening, I’m not sure if it qualifies for actual pickiness. My personal definition of a true picky eater is someone who has a genuine aversion to many foods, whether that’s due to taste or texture, and who doesn’t waver from those aversions despite my trying out every trick in the book.

However, for the sake of this post, I’m lumping them all together in the same ‘picky eater boat’.

That’s because I do know one thing: whether your kids is straight up picky or just headstrong, like mine, picky eaters make cooking dinner harder than usual.

Because it’s not just hard to accommodate the wily needs of a picky eater.

It’s downright impossible to do so within the crazy crunch time that lies between getting home from work and getting the kids tucked into bed.

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How is it possible to cook dinner for the entire family, including picky eaters, in 30 minutes, without losing your mother-loving mind?

I may not have all the answers, but I do have four helpful secrets that work for, say, 65% of the time.

If we’re talking picky eaters, that’s a damn good percentage if I do say so myself.

Secret Number 1: Build-It-Yourself Dinners

This is my first go-to trick, and it’s the one that is in some ways the most practical: let them freaking make dinner.

This idea works best when you think of a meal that works as a “bar”. Nope, not the bar you feel driven to when your kid refuses dinner for the third night in a row (that’s the bar I’ll meet you at later, mama, with a shot and a beer, because #solidarity)

I’m talking food bars- taco bar, baked potato bar, pizza bar, quesadilla bar.

How it works:

  • Lay out ingredients so everyone can put together their own meal.
  • Set some ground rules (No cheese-only dinners. You must have 3 different ingredients on your plate. You don’t have to eat it, you just need to choose to have it on your plate)
  • This may mean I finish up the cooking portion of the meal. For instance, they choose their toppings on individual pizzas or quesadillas, and I finish them in the oven.

Why it works:

Overall these build-it-yourself meals cause a lot less stress for everyone. The picky eater feels like they have control over their plate. I feel like I have control over my sanity.

Secret Number 2: Playing ‘Restaurant’

This goes hand in hand with letting kids choose their meals. With the restaurant game, you’re letting them set the scene for dinner.

This idea works best on leftovers night. I’ll often find myself with the remnants of two or three meals that don’t have enough to serve everyone at once, so the leftovers will be divided amongst everyone.

How it works:

  • Pick 2-3 leftovers you’re hoping to use up. Write them out on a “menu”. My daughter can’t read but she does know her letters and numbers, so I’ll draw a picture of each meal and number it.
  • Sit your tired ass down at the table and tell your kids they’re the waiter tonight.
  • Everyone at the table chooses a meal, including the ‘waiter’.
  • Have the kids serve you, serve each other, etc.

Why it works:

Again, they feel in control of what they eat. They get a cheap thrill out of serving you like you’re in a restaurant. You have time to sit down at the table for once, where you can pat yourself on the back because you’re giving your children a life skill of preparing to wait tables in college for beer money.

Secret Number 3: Like-for-Like

This is a class-A parenting ninja move, and it’s one of my most tried and true. If your kid is dead-set against trying new things, give them something that’s suuuuuuuper close to what they’re used to, then make a big deal about how brave they are to try new things.

How it works:

Here’s a case study: A friend of mine has a daughter who loves cream cheese, but this friend was trying to get her daughter to try new foods. At snack time, they’ll usually eat cream cheese on crackers.

Instead, this time my friend spread a bit of labneh (an Israeli soft cheese that’s texturally like a cross between yogurt and cream cheese) on the same cracker brand she always serves and gave that to her daughter instead.

The daughter wasn’t as suspicious of the labneh since it looked so much like cream cheese, so she tried it and liked it.

Cue the parents making a huge effing deal about how awesome the daughter is for trying new things, which jazzed her daughter up to try something else the next day.

Why it works:

A lot of picky eaters come from a place of fear of new foods. They tried a new thing once and it was disgusting, so they think, “Whelp, that’s it! I’ll only stick with stuff I know I like, since new stuff isn’t worth the hassle”.

The new food doesn’t have to be wildly different. It just has to be different enough that you slowly erase that fear by proving their preconceived notion about certain foods wrong.

The key here is to take a gentle approach to trying a new food, not forceful.

Staying super casual about the food beforehand and then basically throwing a ticker tape parade after they try it for the first time will reinforce the idea to your kids that trying new foods is a commonplace thing– but that it’s also super cool to be a brave little badass and step out of your comfort zone (because you may like what you find!).

Secret Number 4: Wait it Out

Seriously, it’s okay to do it this way. It doesn’t guarantee your child will never eat new foods again.

How it works:

  • You just embrace the crazy, ignore the nagging voice in your head, and let your kids eat what they’ll eat. As long as they eat.
  • Keep it casual about trying new foods, continue to introduce new foods to your kids whenever you can, and (this is the hard part) don’t sweat it when your kids rejects the food.

Why it works:

So much of picky eating is control. So much of it is a phase. Striking a balance between giving your kid back that control and waiting out the phase works sometimes better than you think it might!

Case in point: My brother, for about 2 years, only ate hotdogs and cheerios. Ever. Every day.

My mom just rolled with it, since she was busy with work and the rest of the family and #aintnobodygottime, etc etc.

Eventually, my brother got sick of these foods. He got sick of going to eat at friend’s houses and not being able to join in because the dinner was new.

He grew out of his picky eating, started trying new foods, and discovered they don’t make you die.

Now he’s that dude in South Asia eating crickets on sticks and demolishing my fridge of leftovers whenever he visits.

Kids grow up! Their tastebuds change. They change. By keeping it casual and letting them see from other people that trying new foods wasn’t a big scary thing, my brother eventually realized there was a whole new world of food out there, he just had to check it out for himself to see.


Listen, I’ll be the first to agree, cooking dinner for picky eaters is no picnic.

But I’ve found that by staying loose and casual about the thing, and relentlessly keeping new foods in front of my kids and never forcing them to try it, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Do you have a picky eater? Have you found sneaky tricks of your own that seem to work? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Get dinner on the table, FAST.

Join 100+ other families who are getting dinner on the table even faster than before, every single night.
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This is How Working Moms Can Wash LESS Dishes This Week

She's right: having a routine of working moms' meal prep saves SO MUCH TIME, and I know it helps with cooking, but it helps with washing less dishes, too! Such a good point. Has a handy downloadble meal prep worksheet included, too.She's right: having a routine of working moms' meal prep saves SO MUCH TIME, and I know it helps with cooking, but it helps with washing less dishes, too! Such a good point. Has a handy downloadble meal prep worksheet included, too.

She's right: having a routine of working moms' meal prep saves SO MUCH TIME, and I know it helps with cooking, but it helps with washing less dishes, too! Such a good point. Has a handy downloadble meal prep worksheet included, too.

She's right: having a routine of working moms' meal prep saves SO MUCH TIME, and I know it helps with cooking, but it helps with washing less dishes, too! Such a good point. Has a handy downloadble meal prep worksheet included, too.

She's right: having a routine of working moms' meal prep saves SO MUCH TIME, and I know it helps with cooking, but it helps with washing less dishes, too! Such a good point. Has a handy downloadble meal prep worksheet included, too.

She's right: having a routine of working moms' meal prep saves SO MUCH TIME, and I know it helps with cooking, but it helps with washing less dishes, too! Such a good point. Has a handy downloadble meal prep worksheet included, too.

Scheduling in a working moms’ meal prep routine can seem tricky at first but I’ll let you in on this secret: meal prepping is my number one timesaving strategy and some weeks, the only way I manage to keep my sanity!

Want to know why? It’s not because it saves you time cooking (although is fully does) It’s because it saves you time washing dishes. 

By far and large, whenever I talk to my fellow busy parents riding the struggle bus during weekday meal times, their biggest complaint is this: I freaking hate washing dishes.

This is even more so in New York City, where so many apartments come dishwasher-free. If you’re raising kids and doing it without a dishwasher, I say to you: I’m with you, and I salute you and isn’t it just the worst!?

I’ve been living without a dishwasher for almost three years now, and in that time I’ve launched a cooking company, scaled up my recipe testing and recipe development freelance work, and continue to raise two kids, one of whom eats like a horse.

I hand wash a lot of dishes.

Like, seriously a lot.

My hands are constantly dry and battered, and a few weeks ago when I went for a manicure, the manicurist peered down at my hands, with their cracked skin and nicks and cuts and raggedly nails, and then gave me a funny look.

“Your hands are in rough shape,” she told me. Yeah, thanks for that.

MEAL PREP YOUR HEART OUT

Get my fill-in-the-blank Meal Prep Power Hour Worksheet, and shave hours off your weeknight cooking!

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Over the years, especially my years without a dishwasher, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to mitigate the overwhelming-ness of my sink:

  • I listen to podcasts or books on tape to make the time go faster.
  • I buy nice-smelling dish soap.
  • I get the good sponges. (these are legitimately amazing
  • I clean as I go.

Basically, I do #allthethings that cut down on my time spent at the faucet, elbow deep in sudsy water.

But you want to know the one thing that cuts down on my dishwashing throughout the week?

Spending 60 minutes on the weekend, busting through a meal prep power hour.

I first talked about the meal prep power hour around this time last year, when Caroline from a Butterful Mind guest posted here (with this post) and I wrote about my meal prep secrets over on here site with this post.

I also dive deep into the Meal Prep Power Hour in my ebook, The Weeknight Dinner Survival Guide.

The working mom’s meal prep routine is a huge timesaver, that much is true. But its secret superpower is how it cuts down on your dirty dishes throughout the week.

When you’ve already prepped for the week, you’ll only have your storage items and plates to wash after that- no pans, knives, cutting boards, pots, lids, etc. You don’t have to worry about bleaching down your countertops after you’ve prepped raw meats. 

See those cute little storage containers? They’re crazy easy to clean and dry. No funky corners or baked on grease. I’d rather zip through cleaning these guys than a million pots and pans on a busy Wednesday evening when I’d rather be curled up with my kids watching Boss Baby for the zillionth time.

Here’s an example: my meal plan for this week. I write it out in the margins of my Happy Planner because I’m mega Type A and that works best for me.

I’ll also add as an aside, this week was an odd meal plan for us (pizza bagels, I know!), because I’m in the middle of a recipe testing project for Peapod, and some of the items I’m testing have made their way onto our dinner table so I can make sure they work time wise.

So here’s how I broke down my Power Hour last week:

In 60 minutes, I:

  1. Formed 2 pounds of burger into patties for hamburgers
  2. Sliced 4 sweet potatoes into fries
  3. Combined the seasonings and liquids for Beef Stroganoff, since it’s a crockpot dish, and set aside (the meat had come already diced)
  4. Seasoned and cooked the sausage for Stuffed Peppers
  5. Combined panko and parmesan in one container, and egg wash and mustard in another, and chopped fish into fillets Roasted broccoli in a hot oven
  6. Roasted green beans in a hot oven and then tossed them with slivered almonds for a side

Guess how many pans and post and containers I skipped washing?

Like, a million.

Okay- I skipped the big pots and pans, to be fair. So many it wasn’t a million.

At the end of the week, in reality, I had washed only plates, silverware and cups/glasses, plus 2-3 daily containers.

I mean, I’d say that’s not too bad, right? No cutting boards, no pots, no sheet pans- they were all used and then washed in a big push on Sunday afternoon.


You can do this, too! Meal prep is a hassle- believe me, I KNOW THIS. But when you can push through and get it on your schedule and get it done, your tired ass self will thank you a thousand times over throughout the week. To come home to dinner made or mostly made- that is a good feeling. And if you’re stuck on meal prepping and where to start, check out my free prep sheet worksheet download!

MEAL PREP YOUR HEART OUT

Get my fill-in-the-blank Meal Prep Power Hour Worksheet, and shave hours off your weeknight cooking!

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