This Muffin Tin Hack Saved My Family From Dinnertime Chaos

One mom shares how using a simple muffin tin has helped make dinner an easier and less stressful experience for her family.

Three screenshots from a mom's tiktok video about creating dinner in muffin tins.

Photo Illustration by Michela Buttignol for Parents

It was the end of another long, exhausting week, and as the clock ticked closer to 5 p.m., my muddled, mushy brain turned its attention to the task at hand: dinner. With my clingy youngest child perched on my hip, I tentatively opened the fridge door to take stock. Peering inside and willing a meal to magically manifest there on the mostly bare shelves, I let out a deep sigh.

As an overwhelmed and busy mom of two under 2 with a partner away on one of his frequent work trips, I hadn't made it to the store. My options for a reasonably nutritious meal were limited and I didn't want to order pizza. Also, the idea of buckling two unruly toddlers back into their car seats for a trip out? No, thank you!

In desperation, I took two 12-cup muffin tins out of the cabinet and started pulling everything we had out of the fridge and pantry—leftover pasta from the night before, cheese sticks, an assortment of fruits and vegetables, cereal, popcorn, hot dogs, dried fruit, peanut name it. I quickly cut and diced everything I scrounged up, popping a small amount into each round cup until the tin was completely filled.

Voilá! Dinner was served.

This hack has made its way on TikTok and Pinterest, mainly offering parents a fun alternative to snacktime. But it can be so much more. I really wasn't prepared for the way both of my children's eyes immediately lit up when they saw the colorful, pint-sized portions and realized with incredulity that this was, in fact, the main course.

I also draped a blanket on the floor so they could eat picnic-style in front of the TV in the living room. Naturally, this transformed what would have been a regular, boring meal into an "experience," and my kids were so giddy and excited over the spontaneity and novelty of it that I didn't hear one complaint, even when a few rogue pieces of cooked broccoli made their way into a cup. This fun experience also allowed me to have a few peaceful, uninterrupted moments to myself. Another much-needed win.

The muffin tin hack has remained a staple in our household ever since, evolving as my kids grow and their tastebuds mature (or fail to mature, in the case of some foods), but it never ceases to inspire the same delight. Its genius is in its simplicity—it feels like an indulgence when in reality, Mommy is just very, very tired and out of ideas and needs something quick to put on the table, err, the floor. It's the one meal I know will never become a battle, and it's the perfect vehicle through which to try new things because it takes the pressure off and allows my kids to control their own eating experiences. Every item is also self-contained, which is perfect for children who don't like when foods touch each other on their plates.

An added bonus is that cleanup is a cinch, and if you don't like scrubbing out individual muffin cups in the sink, I've discovered that two tins fit perfectly in the bottom rack of a dishwasher (if you have one). Take it one step further and save yourself the mess entirely with muffin liners.

More than once, my husband and I have even prepared our own muffin tin dinners with some of our favorites like Kalamata olives, gourmet cheeses, grapes, pickles, and dried fruits and meats. The idea is also easily adaptable for family movie nights with popcorn, candy, and chocolate.

Every parent knows that mealtimes are at the very heart of how we structure our busy days, and while they can be a source of pleasure and companionship, they can also be an enormous stressor, inconvenience, and burden. Muffin tin dinner has revolutionized the way we approach meals as a family, magically changing the narrative from boring to delightful, and is a win-win for everyone involved.

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