Even if you love to cook, making dinner on weeknights can feel like a chore. And if you don’t like to cook, weeknight dinner can be downright annoying. But if you want to eat at home more or you’ve decided to take control of your weekday dinners, I’ve got some suggestions that can help. These ideas won’t make dinner for you but they will make planning and cooking dinner on weeknights a little easier.
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Plan for the Week to Make Cooking Dinner Easier
I know it’s a little obvious but it can be easy to overlook the benefits of planning what you’ll eat every week. If you know what you’re going to cook and eat for the next five to eight days, you can remove one obstacle to your weeknight dinner.
Here’s how a meal plan can make your weeknight cooking easier:
- No more endless discussions about what’s for dinner. You already know what you’re having because you chose it days ago.
- You won’t be caught off-guard and discover you’re missing ingredients or haven’t thawed the salmon
- With dinner already chosen, it’s a lot simpler to get started.
- It’s possible to do some advance prep work earlier in the week
For the best results, make your weekly meal plan and then do all of your grocery shopping for the week.
Buy Some Extra Groceries to Make Weeknight Cooking Easier
If your budget and pantry space allows, consider buying extra quantities of some of your usual groceries. Ideally, you’ll hit the store once a week for all your food. But there are bound to be times you can’t get to the store as planned.
Having a small surplus of staple items and frequent ingredients is a great way to ensure you’ve always got options for dinner, even if you miss a trip to the store. It also means you’ve got the materials for a back up plan, in case something goes wrong with Plan A. Or you just really don’t want to eat what you’ve planned.
One week, you might buy double the cans of beans you need. The next week, it might be a couple extra bags of frozen vegetables or hamburger. You can do this systematically and rotate through your shopping list or you can base it on what’s on sale. The goal is to slowly build up and then maintain a stockpile of ingredients for some dishes you cook regularly.
Circling back to #1, a meal plan will help make sure you buy food you’ll actually consume, too.
Make a List
There’s no better way to dread cooking dinner than to have no appetite for what you’re doing to make. Sit down and make a list of 10-12 meals or dishes you enjoy eating and don’t mind cooking on a weeknight. If you eat with other people in your household, include them in the discussion. The goal is to have a list of go-to options for weeknight dinners so you’re not starting from scratch every single week.
Of course you can – and should!- break away from this list. This isn’t meant to be the only ten dinners you’ll eat. But it is meant to give you a regular framework to plan from. On a given week, you might pull four meals off your main list and then try a couple of new recipes. Or you might plan to get takeout! The point is, it’s very useful to have a list of dishes you can prepare easily and without too much hassle.
Bonus – if you follow #2, this list is a great source for adding those extra items to your weekly grocery list.
Leverage your Leftovers
I know, shouting about leftovers as a way of making cooking easier is almost trite. Heck, I’ve even given that advice on this site previously! But this isn’t just about reheating last night’s food.
Here’s an example.
If you’re going to roast a chicken, which is one of the easiest weeknight meals imaginable, it doesn’t take more time to roast two. So perhaps you eat roast chicken as your entrée on Monday. Then you take the leftover chicken from that meal, plus the second bird you roasted, and shred the meat for Tuesday’s tacos. Or you slice it up for Wednesday night’s Caesar salad. Or you chop it up for Thursday night’s soup. You see where I’m going here.
The more you can minimize your actual time in the kitchen and maximize the amount of food you get for your time, the easier your weeknight dinner cooking can be.
If you don’t want to eat a chicken twice in the same week, break it down into slices or chunks and freeze it. Then you’ve got chicken cooked and ready to go for a future night. You don’t have to cook two chickens to take advantage of this idea, either. Just freeze any leftover meat. Keep doing that and you’ll eventually have enough cooked chicken stashed in the freezer for another meal.
Good tools make the job more fun! Check out these five pieces of cast iron you need in your kitchen.
Keep it Simple
Pick recipes or dishes that are simple to put together. Not easy, necessarily, or even fast, but simple, where simple fits into YOUR evening. Look for recipes you enjoy that have fewer ingredients or steps. Or dishes that don’t need a ton of close supervision.
If you work from home or get home early, then a dish that takes longer to cook but requires little oversight is a great pick. If you need dinner on the table quickly, look for meals that don’t need a lot of preparation, have minimal cooking time or can be partially cooked in advance.
Batch it Up
Yes, it’s another idea that gets thrown out on every list about cooking. But that’s because it’s a great idea. One approach to this is to double a recipe and then freeze the second portion. That’s a great idea, but it’s not the only way to use bigger batches to make weeknight dinners easier.
Here’s what I mean. You don’t have to make two entire lasagnas to benefit from batch cooking. Instead, make a double batch of sauce. Use part of it for the lasagna (or spaghetti or whatever) that night and then freeze the rest. Next time you want tomato sauce, all you have to do is thaw it.
If making tomato sauce from scratch sounds like it doesn’t belong on a post about making weeknight dinner easier, check out how easy it is to make tomato sauce from scratch. True, it does take longer than opening a jar but it’s so much better that its worth the trouble. Given how easy it is to make and how little active supervision it requires, you can definitely make a big batch of it on a weekend day and then freeze it, too.
And that brings me to my final suggestion.
Use your Weekends to Make Weeknights Easier
No, I don’t mean spend 8 hours in the kitchen on Sunday trying to cook for the whole week. But as noted above, a huge pot of tomato sauce can simmer virtually unattended for hours. So once a month, perhaps you whip up a big batch and freeze it into dinner sized portions.
You can do this with just about any soup, stew or sauce. Or with a pot of beans. It works well for large piece of meat with a longer cooking time, like a pork roast, turkey or chicken. Roast it (or put it in the crock pot!) on Sunday and break it down (slice, chop, shred, etc) so it’s ready for later in the week. Ideally, you’ll freeze at least a second portion. Then on Taco Tuesday, you’re chicken is already cooked, so you just have to warm it up and put together the rest of your toppings.
The theme here is planning. If the idea of thinking five days ahead and making a meal plan sounds unbearable, I’d encourage you to just try it for a week or two. Yes, it can be a pretty serious change, if you’re not used to it. And like anything new, it might take a few tries to work out the bugs. But it gets easier the more you do it. For many people, it becomes second-nature.
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