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Cutting Down the Stress of Weeknight Dinners
If you are anything like me, you get stressed thinking about cooking those weeknight dinners after a long day of work or motherhood. It’s not that I don’t love the act of cooking meals for my family to enjoy, trust me, I love it! It is more or less the rush and “time crunch” I always feel like I am under. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I work full-time. I race to pick up my kiddo and get home to start cooking dinner in order to make sure we are able to eat by 6:00, at the latest.
During the school year, this 6:00 time frame for our weeknight dinners is much more important. Since my kiddo is only 6, he still needs someone sitting with him to guide him through homework and reading. Since I am cooking dinner and his Dad isn’t home until right about dinner time, this means school work waits until after we have eaten.
Assuming that I am able to get dinner on the table by 6:00, it’s 6:30 at the earliest when homework and reading time start and then it’s showers and bed by 8:00. School work, showers, and play time all have to fit into a pretty narrow window of time each weeknight. If I hit any traffic on the way home from work? Oh forget it, the whole schedule is thrown off.
Simplifying Cooking is Vital
In order to make week nights and the school year overall as stress-free as possible, I try to take all of the steps possible to reduce the amount of work I have to put in to any given task, whether that be the morning routine or fixing easy weeknight dinners. I have come up with a pretty simplified way of cutting out cooking time each night by putting in just a couple of hours of work on Sundays!
While I know plenty of people cook their food ahead of time or even do freezer meals to simplify their lives, I find that for right now, simply doing a small amount of prep work each week helps me immensely and still allows me to cook a fresh meal each night!
Here are the simple little steps I take that make a HUGE difference in not only the ease of dinners each night, but my attitude towards cooking them as well!
1. Plan out all of my weeknight dinners for the following week on Saturday.
This may seem obvious but you would be surprised how many people still go to the grocery store without having a clue what it is they plan to cook that week. Not only does this make for a much more expensive grocery trip, it makes it take longer and often times leads to forgetting ingredients needed for certain dishes or worse yet, wasting ingredients!
Check out my list of Simple Summer Meals for those nights when it is way too hot to use the oven!
My method for meal planning is pretty easy but also very effective and efficient!
(Check out this Meal Planning Notepad that I can NOT live without! It is magnetic and super convenient!)
- What Meats do I have already in the freezer/fridge that can be utilized in this weeks meal plan? I then plan out the meals that I can by using meat I already have on hand.
- What meats are on sale this week and/or what ingredients do I have on hand that are a great staple for a certain meal?
- For example, if I have a box of pasta left AND ground beef is on sale this week, there is a good chance I will make some type of pasta with a red meat sauce that week since part of the ingredients are on sale and part I already have! This is one of my favorite ways to save on the grocery budget and eliminate waste.
- Next I usually ask my son and fiance if there is something specific they have been craving lately. If so, I’ll add that to the meal plan.
- Last, but not least, I always throw in an “incidentals” night. I know there is bound to be one night that either something comes up, I work late, or just come home way too exhausted to cook. Typically I buy some type of frozen pizza or quick to make meal each week to have on hand for this night!
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2. Grocery List
Once I have all of the dinners planned out, I go through and make my grocery list. I always make sure to double-check what I already have on hand to, again, eliminate waste and save money! IMPORTANT: I always try to grocery shop on the same day that I plan to prep our dinners for the week. So, if Sunday is going to be the most convenient day for me to prep, I will get the groceries on Sunday morning. This is because instead of shopping, putting everything away, and then getting it all back out the next day, I simply shop and keep everything out that I need to prep!
The Meal Planning Notepad that I use is also how I keep my grocery list organized with my weekly plan!
3. Put Away Things You Don’t Need to Prep
Once I get home with all of my groceries, I grab things that I won’t be prepping ahead of time or things that simply need to be immediately put into the freezer or fridge. Meats/veggies/and fruits I keep out and get to work.
4. Prep Vegetables
In order to make weeknight cooking as simple as possible, I like to chop, slice, or dice all of the vegetables I will need for the upcoming weeks meals.
- For example, if I will be making tacos one night (which is almost a guarantee in this household) I will dice up all of the tomatoes and any other vegetables I need for the tacos. If I will be making baked chicken with steamed broccoli, I will get the broccoli all cleaned and cut up so that when the night comes to use it, I only have to throw it in a basket on a pot of boiling water to steam.
5. Cook Your Meats
Next, I focus on cooking the meat I will need that is able to be pre-cooked. Doing this ahead of time is also a HUGE time saver for me. When the meat is already done, I mostly just have to worry about combining ingredients and baking or tossing in a skillet. Plus, by prepping ahead of time, I can cook the meat for 2 or 3 different dishes at one time.
- For example, if I have spaghetti and tacos both on my meal plan for the week, I’ll brown a couple of pounds of ground beef and store them separately in 1 pound portions. Then, when the day to make tacos comes, I pull the cooked meat from the fridge, add it to a skillet with a bit of water and taco seasoning and I am well on the way to dinner being completed.
- Also, since I prep and chop my veggies ahead of time, I wouldn’t have to do anything but simmer the meat in seasoning and heat up some tortillas or taco shells! Another great example of this is chicken. I can throw some chicken breasts in a crock pot with water or chicken broth and let them cook on low for a few hours. Once cooked through, I am able to shred and portion into containers to be used for anything from chicken salad to bbq chicken sandwiches! This is my absolute favorite crock pot! I have tried plenty and this one never disappoints, especially since it is programmable!
If we have meats that we will be grilling or a simple 1 pan dish to bake that week, I will usually prep for these by marinating the meat. You can make your marinade in a Ziploc bag and add in your meat, then refrigerate until you need it! This way, when it is time to cook that weeknight dinner, I can simply dump the meat into a pan, add in some vegetables and potatoes, and bake it all together. (These are some of my favorite dishes since the time the dish is baking allows me time to tidy up the kitchen, help with homework, or even get in a quick load of laundry!)
If you’re following a KETO Diet, it can STILL be simple to prep ahead of time. Check out this post full of awesome Keto Recipe Ideas!
There you have it!
My simple steps to shave off just a bit of prep time for your dinners each week. When I leave work and not only already know what I will be making for dinner but know that the “hard parts” of cooking are already done, I dread it so much less!
I don’t feel like I am racing the clock to get things done as much when dinner is as simplified as it can possibly be. While there are many other ways to make weeknight cooking quicker, this is the method that I find works the absolute best for my family.
Do you have a certain routine you use for cooking during hectic weeks? Making dinner fit in around school, sports practices, and other activities? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!