You know the feeling. It is late afternoon. You’re sitting at your desk at work when you realize that your family is probably going to want something for dinner tonight. You forgot to plan ahead so what should you do? While take-out is always an option, it can be an expensive one. What can you do to make weeknight cooking easier? Here are three suggestions:
- Keep your pantry and freezer stocked with ingredients that can come together for a quick dinner. This doesn’t have to mean frozen dinners or boxed meals. I keep my pantry stocked with rice, pasta, and potatoes. All three of these can be used in numerous ways as a base for a variety of meals. I also keep canned tuna in my pantry for a chilled tuna-noodle salad or a warm, creamy tuna casserole. If my freezer is stocked with kielbasa sausage, fish fillets, or ground beef, I know that I can have a meal on the table quickly as all three can be thawed in the microwave within a few minutes. Fresh vegetables can be easily sauted in a skillet or roasted in the oven to round out the meal.
- The cooking process can also go more smoothly during the week by prepping the ingredients over the weekend. While I might not plan exactly what I’m going to cook in the upcoming week, it’s safe to say that fresh vegetables will be involved. By spending a few extra minutes chopping and dicing on a Sunday afternoon, I can save precious time on Monday evening’s meal. It’s quite a relief to open the refrigerator to find mixing bowls full of diced or sliced onions, bell peppers, celery or carrots. Potatoes can be peeled and diced and kept in a bowl of cold water overnight. After draining the potatoes and putting them in a pot of fresh water, I’m well on my way to homemade mashed potatoes or potato salad with hardly any effort.
- While I don’t actually practice meal planning, I do like to create food theme nights as a way to get my children involved in the planning process. My sons enjoy making up the themes and those themes help the whole family to know what to expect on any given night. We celebrate Mexican Monday with tacos, burritos, or tortilla soup. “Whatever” Wednesday is the night that we eat whatever we want or whatever is left over in the refrigerator. We also enjoy “Breakfast for Dinner” with bacon, loaded scrambled eggs, pancakes and muffins—both pancakes and muffins made from ingredients from my stocked pantry.
Don’t let the idea of weeknight dinners fill you with dread. With just minimal planning, these dinners can come together quickly so that you can move on to more important things like…homework.