The Secret to Weeknight Dinners that Work

Ever walk in the door after work or driving the kids to/from activities and realize you didn’t take anything out for dinner? You already had take-out the night before and it might be a IMG_2881good if the kids at least looked at a vegetable. After the “Oh Crap” moment, the simplest thing to do may be to go the pantry and see what can be “whipped up” last minute if you still have any energy left to throw something together – or you could order pizza, again.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the “Oh Crap” moment less frequently? Like, almost never? Here is how to make dinner time a little less stressful.
Plan a Menu:
Did you read that and think OMG, that will take FOR-EVER? I promise, it doesn’t have to. If you are the fly by the hem of your skirt type start with 1 or 2 meals. If you cook at home more often than not, planning the whole week may be more your style. Whatever your personality type here is key to success:

Do What Works for You!.. There is no one right way!

Planning a successful menu can start like this:

  • Pick a time to plan a couple meals. 10 minutes may be all you need.
  • Decide how many meals you want to cook a week. If this is the first time you have really thought about menu planning, start with one or two meals.
  • Look at your schedule for the week and determine if there are nights that you have less time than others (kid’s activities, work meeting, networking events). Plan meals that don’t take a lot of time or make use of left overs on the nights when
  • Find some recipes you like and that will fit into the time you have to cook
  • Make a grocery list. It’s easier to resist impulse buys if you stick to the list.
    • Keeping a list of items you stock on a regular basis can be a handy tool to get your list started.
    • Organize your list by food item (produce, dry goods, meats, etc) or by aisle of your store. There are lots of great apps to help with this.
  • It can be exciting to try new things, but unless you like the challenge, use recipes that you have made before, are quick and easy or choose some of your favorites. If you want to mix it up, try adding just one new recipe a week.
  • Consider making double batches of soup or casseroles and freeze the extra to pull out on night when you don’t have time to cook. I love to do this on Sundays. Cook Extra chicken one night and make taco’s, fajitas or quesadillas another night with left overs.

Make Weeknight Cooking More Fun By:

Enlist Help: Have your spouse, significant other, or kids assist with getting ingredients out, chopping vegetables, stirring and/or cleaning up. Involving your kids in the cooking process can be one of the best ways to get them to try different foods. As the mom of the former Pickiest Eater on the Planet, teaching my son to cook has made the biggest difference in having him try different foods.

Clean As You Go: If you have a few minutes as your cooking, toss whatever you are done using in the dishwasher and wipe the counter. Keeping things cleaned up as you are cooking will make the task seem less overwhelming. Or better yet, have your kids help out.

Timers: Set timers to keep track of how long something has been cooking. This allows you to prepare something else or go do something else without the worry of over cooking your food. I generally set my timers for approximately 5 minutes less than the estimated time, just in case something cooks a little quicker than expected.

Music: Play some music while you’re cooking. Choose something relaxing or upbeat, whatever suits your fancy. Music keeps you grooving while you are working. Studies show that playing music in the background helps to calm your system. My kids and I love to rock out to pop music and occasionally have a rubber spatula “fight”.

Having in overall plan for your week can save you a ton of time, money and frustration in the long run with the added bonus of eating healthier and fewer rotten vegetables found in the back of the fridge.

Now it’s your turn. What do you to keep weeknight dinners stress free and healthy. Leave a comment below.

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