Who doesn’t love warm, home-cooked meals? But when you’ve been busy at work all day, suddenly, making a weeknight dinner from scratch does not sound so inviting. All that chopping, cooking and washing make you want to run to the nearest fast-food restaurant. And then again, you can always do these tips for a simplified dinner time, every time!
1. Cook with a Game Plan
We all know that having a meal plan can help us speed things up. What mums need is to make this a habit. I typically create my menu plan every weekend, so I’ll have extra time to think and do my food shopping. When choosing your planning day, pick one that works for your schedule.
I then post my cycle menu somewhere in the kitchen. I check it every morning, so my weeknight dinner ingredients will be waiting for me when I get home. You can also create an action plan if you want. Group kitchen tasks that you need to do first, then follow it up with things you can cook simultaneously.
2. Go for Quick-Cooking Ingredients
This tip applies to your choice of protein, which often takes time to cook. If you’re serving chicken for dinner, go for a chicken cutlet recipe as bone-in cuts cook longer. For pork or beef dishes, choose lean protein and cut your meat into bite-sized cubes or thin slices. Ground beef and pork are good options, too. Better yet, go for fish and seafood like shrimp or crab. These only take a few minutes on the pan or in the oven.
3. Cook One Thing to Make Many
Batch cooking is another weeknight dinner trick that I love because it pushes me to be creative. For instance, I can make a batch of roast chicken, portion it, then freeze it in individual containers. Throughout the week, I can thaw some to make wraps, burrito bowls, soup or stir-fry.
Roasted vegetables are just as versatile. And a batch of meatballs is perfect for making pizza, taco or spaghetti. I also like making large batches of chicken stock, tomato sauce and grains like rice, barley or quinoa. These items can take time to prep or cook. But they can easily add flavour or complete a balanced meal.
4. Stock up on Staples
Now, it’s easy to play the creative cook when you have pantry supplies within reach. Canned beans, tomatoes, or tuna can wrap up your quick but tasty weeknight dinner plans. So, make sure your pantry is all set and ready. Fill it with olive oil, condiments, dry pasta and grains, bread and spreads. Aside from my go-to staples, I also stock up on milk, deli or cured meats, eggs and cheese.
5. Use Smart Tools and Appliances
The blender and food processor are your partners when you’re in a hurry and hungry! Another great appliance to have in the kitchen is a slow cooker. With it, you can dump your stew or casserole ingredients into the pot, select the cooking mode and time, then head out for work.
When you get home, you have your hot food ready to serve. Alternatively, you can also use a pressure cooker to cut your cooking time. If you love homemade bread, look for a bread maker with a delay timer. This way, you can put your measured ingredients into the machine, use the delay mode and have fresh bread from breakfast to dinner.
6. Choose Easy Family Dinners
OK, save your spectacular cooking skills for the holidays. Your weeknight dinner needs to be fast and delicious but not necessarily over the top. So, stick to simple meals, side dishes and desserts. Ideally, choose quick dinner ideas that you know by heart and everyone will love. This way, you’ll work faster and reduce food waste.
You can also compile 30-minute recipes that require little cooking or minimal ingredients, so you don’t run out of quick dinner ideas. One-pot meals and hearty salads are my favourites. During extra busy days, you can even tweak instant food to make it tasty and healthy. For instance, level up a soup mix with diced vegetables or turn instant ramen noodles into a yummy stir-fry.
7. Prep in Advance
Meal prepping is not all about preparing complete meals ahead of time. You can also meal prep ingredients, raw or cooked, for several dishes. It lessens the prep work for your weeknight cooking and prevents you from serving the same meal over and over.
So, make pre-chopped vegetables, marinated meats or par-cooked pasta a part of your meal prep time. You can even do this technique for snacks and desserts (think frozen cookie dough or pie filling). Fill your freezer with prepped food that you can quickly thaw and put together for a healthy meal.
8. Love Your Leftovers
Even if you’re in a rush, don’t throw leftovers right away into the garbage bin. Find ways how you can save them for later. Repurposing your weeknight dinner into other meals is one way to save food budget and time. So, stock up on reusable food containers and make room in your fridge or freezer. You can even vacuum-seal your leftovers to make them last for longer.
9. Keep Things Clean
After cooking, make sure to wash all pots and pans, wipe the bench, empty the bin and put everything back in order. Keeping your kitchen clean and pantry organised after every use is a time saver. You can use the sink right away and find items where they should be. Plus, you won’t have to move things around to have clean counter space.
10. Assign Dinner Duties
Finally, there’s no need to play the kitchen hero every night. Get the entire family involved! If your kids are old enough to help out, ask them to do easy kitchen tasks. Your partner can do the peeling and chopping while you can man the stovetop. An extra hand, no matter the size, guarantees faster and happier cooking time!