Strategies for Easy and Enjoyable Weeknight Cooking
Love to cook? Weeknight dinners are a challenge. Hate to cook? Making any dinner is a challenge. Lucky for us, there are a ton of meal delivery services offering healthy, ready to eat options. Depending on your bank account, this may not be an option for every night of the week. Plenty of services that make cooking a little more convenient by offering recipes and ingredients but these too get expensive quickly. For those who are interested in these options, we tried out a few and will share our reviews later in the post.
Regardless of your budget, there’s an age old saying about teaching a man to fish that comes to mind. Learning to source and prepare food that you enjoy and that sustains you is a life sustaining skill. It can be low stress and possibly even fun with a little forethought and some preparation.
For starters, when it comes to weeknight dinners, keep it simple. Following that, think ahead – what veggies are in the fridge that need to be used? What protein would go well with that? If the freezer is well stocked (which I recommend whenever possible), move your proteins for the next few nights to your refrigerator to thaw. What do I need from the store?
Ideas like chopping and freezing onions in ½ cup portions that can be used as you would use fresh with just a few extra minutes of cooking time or chopping fresh herbs and freezing in an ice tray with a bit of olive oil are great for time saving. I use my cuisinart as often as possible to speed up chopping or shredding of those items I don’t have prepped in advance. Heartier vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers and carrots can be washed and prepped ahead of time – America’s Test Kitchen recommends storing them in an airtight container layered with damp paper towels for up to a week.
Slow Cooker Whenever Possible
My favorite evenings are when I come home from a busy day at work, a crazy afternoon of running the kids around and walk into the smell of a ready made, home cooked meal. There’s nothing to it – prep the night before, refrigerate overnight, set the slow cooker up in the morning before leaving. The other benefit of slow cooker meals is that we typically have lots of leftovers to use for lunches or another dinner later in the week. If I could slow cook every meal I think I would – easy, tasty crowd pleasers that typically involve less expensive cuts of meat (especially important when you prioritize high quality proteins that are grassfed, pastured or wild). Hard to argue, right?
Get Ahead of the Game
An unorthodox strategy I have had some success with has been to get a night ahead. Most of us have heard the strategy of prepping for a couple of hours a couple of days per week but I have never had a ton of success with this. When I am able to do it, of course it helps however, I have found the strategy I’m about to share more enjoyable and equally effective. I enjoy cooking but found that the meditative quality of it was lost when I was racing to get dinner on the table shortly after flying in the door. On Sunday night, I make 2 dinners – one for Sunday and the other for Monday. Monday, typically after dinner, I cook for Tuesday. And so on for the rest of the week. I’m still cooking every night but this way I am able to do it at my pace, enjoy the process and remove some stress from my day. If the protein I’m going to cook is quick like fish or if I’m grilling, I will do that the same day but do all the prep the night before for the veggies, salad, etc.
Busy weeks can go more smoothly and be more enjoyable by employing a couple different strategies. First, meals that you are making that are easy to double should be doubled. Taco meat, for example, takes almost zero extra effort to prep and cook, freezes well and comes in handy when you need to throw something together quickly. Chicken pieces (we have an amazing recipe for chicken thighs in the rotation at the moment) also do well in the fridge for a couple of days. Meatloaf – make 2 loaves then freeze one that you have cut and packaged in dinner size portions. Same with meatballs, make a bunch then place those you don’t need for the night on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. Once they are frozen, put them in a bag or container and they will be at your disposal whenever you need them.
Meal and Grocery Delivery Services Can Help
As I mentioned earlier, meal delivery services can also come in handy in these situations. Munchery is one that we have used that doesn’t require a subscription but does need to be ordered ahead. The meals are typically less expensive and made from higher quality ingredients than ordering take out. If I’m headed into a busy period of time – like both my husband and I are coaching each of our kids who have practices and games throughout the week – I will subscribe to Methodology for a few meals per week then cancel once life has settled down. We also tried Thistle which was good but found their meals less satisfying because they supplemented the higher cost animal proteins with legumes which is not in line with our preferences. If these are not available in your area, look for meal delivery services that use high quality proteins (grassfed, pastured, wild) and go from there.
Your facebook feed has no doubt try to sell you services like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Sun Box. Full disclosure, I have not tried all of these but the reason is that I found the ones I tried didn’t solve my problem. The luxury with these is the ability to easily change up your menus without having to think about it – no looking for recipes and wondering how they will turn out, no shopping lists, no shopping. Everything you need for the recipes they provide is in the box. This sounds great but I didn’t save me time when I needed it most which was the time between coming home in the evening and having food on the table for my family. The other challenge we faced was the quality of the proteins used – unfortunately, ‘natural’ is not a term that is regulated nor is it particularly descriptive. This is a subject for a future post, so simply put for now, for the money spent on such a service, I’d rather have good eggs deliver a high quality protein, some veggies and experiment with a recipe I found online or in a magazine.
I do have a secret weapon though, actually 2. Good Eggs grocery delivery service and Thrive Market – game changers. I can be sitting at a baseball game ‘watching’ my kids play and do my grocery shopping for the week or the next few days at the same time. Everything else aside, simply having a plan for what you want to make and having all the ingredients on hand is key. Make a menu for the week, shop for or order the ingredients and you are ahead of the game. Prepping or cooking ahead of time removes pressure and makes the process more enjoyable so prep/cook ahead whenever possible. We love fitpacker containers for individual meal storage and glass tupperware for meals. Foodsaver is a great option if you are limited on storage space in fridge or freezer.
Never Go Hungry
The food we eat has a huge impact on how we feel, how we look and our overall health but life is busy. Figuring out a strategy that helps you eat well throughout the week that doesn’t add stress makes healthy eating possible and sustainable. Learning to fish, and possibly teaching your children to do so, means you will never go hungry. What strategies are working for you?