I love to cook. It’s one of my favorite distractions and ways to unplug. There’s nothing like bringing my family together over a meal that I spent time preparing… unless it’s during the week. Those nights usually consist of a mad rush to pick up the kids, get home, get them situated and then prepare something for dinner that doesn’t take all night, add to my stress level, but is still tasty and healthy. Power to those out there who somehow manage to work with kids and serve things like lamb shank on a Wednesday night. I am not one of those people…
Here are my commandments for weeknight dinners.
1. Shop and prepare for 3 weeknight meals.
There is a lot of variation to my husband’s work schedule from week to week, so I’ve learned to plan to make three meals during the week. I tried to shop and plan for five meals, but ended up throwing away unused food (which translated to money) by week’s end because dinners wouldn’t happen as initially planned. Three seems to be the sweet spot for our family. And for those other two nights during the week? We do a lot of grilled cheese and tomato soup in our house. Or eggs. Egg sandwiches, quiches, egg scrambles… the options are endless. I also hit up our freezer a lot for those evenings with no dinner plans (see #4).
2. Stick with recipes you have made before.
Tuesday night at 6 is not the time to dive into a new Chicken Marsala recipe. Not having to constantly refer to a recipe cuts an amazing amount of time out of weeknight cooking. My family tried a meal service a couple of years ago. While the meals were delicious, it took me much longer than the 30 minutes they touted because every recipe was new.
3. 20 minutes from start to the table.
This is a tall order, I know. However, since I stick to recipes I’m familiar with, 20 minutes is attainable. To cut down on prep work further, I try to take care of time-consuming steps (like chopping veggies or making sauces/marinades) the night before.
Another go-to for quick cooking in our house is the grill! We grill year round (which is sometimes challenging in Pittsburgh). It’s super quick, healthy and you can cook almost anything on the grill.
4. The freezer is your friend.
My husband hunts, which means that we have a freezer full of venison. It’s so nice being able to pull out some steaks or ground meat in the morning to thaw for dinner that evening. Hit up those grocery store sales and stock up your freezer.
I do a lot of big quantity cooking over the weekends. If I’m making something that I know will freeze well like soup, meatballs, muffins, or pasta sauce, I double or triple the recipe so I can freeze extras.
5. Get creative with leftovers.
Leftover proteins make great salad toppers or reheat for quick sandwiches. I find that if I “dress up” leftovers so they don’t look like last night’s dinner, my family is far more likely to eat them.
And when all else fails… you can put almost anything in scrambled eggs.
Written by Maria, a 4moms brand manager and FOLD contributor. Read more about Maria here.