Years ago, Rachael Ray had a tv show on the Food Network called Week in a Day. In the course of 60 (tv) minutes, she would show you how to make 5 different meals for your family and how to reheat and serve them each night. The idea of having a yummy home-cooked meal on the table for your family each night is quite appealing and beneficial. And this may compel you, even more, to sit down at the dinner table as a family.
But, I remember watching it several times and thinking that the concept was completely impractical. I mean, who really wants (or has time!) to spend half a day (or more!) in the kitchen cooking meals for the entire week!?
Through the course of her career, Rachael Ray has had some brilliant time-saving ideas, some that I have even employed in my own kitchen. However, I just don’t think that the average mom or dad plans to spend that much time in the kitchen each weekend on a regular basis. Home improvement list, anyone? Yard work? Soccer games?
While a day of cooking may not ever make it on your to-do list, I do think there is something to doing a little extra prep on the weekends to make your weeknight meals a little bit (or A LOT bit!) easier. There are several strategies I use each week to help our weeknight meals come together in a flash.
When my husband gets home from work, he likes to spend some time playing with our daughter and I love to go for a walk. But, in order for this to happen, dinner can’t take long to come together.
To be completely honest, I don’t follow all of these strategies every single week, but we do employ them most of the time. They are simple actions that truly get dinner on the table faster and easier during the workweek. It’s not rocket science. It’s just intentional living. And, YOU can do this too!
Each weekend when I am cooking dinner or preparing a lunch, I do a couple extra things since I am already in the kitchen…
Start a Slow Cooker Meal
This is one of the best tools in the entire kitchen! Your slow cooker tends to your food so you don’t have to and it comes out delicious and tender every time! But, some slow cooker meals don’t take a full 8-9 hours (a typical workday). Cooking these recipes on the weekend (or your day off), means you can then cool it and pop it into your fridge for the night you want to eat it. Simply reheat and serve!
And, let’s also applaud most slow cooker recipes that make more than enough for 1 family meal. That means the leftovers are perfect for another dinner or to package up into containers for ready-to-go lunches.
Seriously, if your slow cooker is dusty in a corner of your kitchen, this is a solution waiting to be discovered!
These are a few of our favorite slow cooker meals!
- 6-Ingredient Honey Soy Slow Cooker Chicken– serve with whole grain and sauteed veggies
- Lemon Herb Slow Cooker Chicken Thighs– it will make your mouth water as it’s cooking!
- Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal– Breakfast is ready in a flash! Top with your favorite fruit & nuts.
- Creamy Mexican Chicken– Tastes 10x more amazing than it looks!
Wash & Chop Veggies
This might not be a new or clever sounding strategy, but it really works!! If you need an onion chopped for 2 separate recipes, why not do it all at once!? By batching washing and chopping, you can save yourself valuable time and energy each weeknight. While there are a few veggies (like tomatoes) that just aren’t as good chopped in advance, many veggies work well with this strategy!
- Wash lettuce and place in container or plastic bags with a damp paper towel
- Chop onions, bell peppers, carrots- store in containers or plastic bags
- Rinse and chop squash, zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower
A staple meal we have every single week is grilled chicken salads with sweet potatoes. Every. Single. Week. Do you have a meal like that too? But, potatoes, sweet or white, take about 1 hour to cook in the oven. To save time during the week, we cook them on the weekends and wrap them up to be reheated on salad night. Of course, you could mash them for sweet/white potato mash as well. This one is a no-brainer- it only takes a minute to wash them, throw them into the oven and set a timer. This means we don’t end up moving to “plan B” during the week if it’s too late to wait on potatoes to bake.
Cook 1 Type of Whole Grain
Whether your family likes wild/brown rice, quinoa, farro or any other type of whole grain, it is so simple to cook this up on the weekend and have ready to reheat with a splash of water, vegetable or chicken broth before serving during the week. You can season or keep plain so that it is versatile.
Making extra means that you can then use your whole grain in different dishes you might want to throw together, like this Quinoa Edamame Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette. When ingredients are already cooked and prepped, it takes absolutely no time to make recipes like these!
Grill or Pan-Sear Extra Chicken
Chicken is one of the most popular proteins, especially among families. It is a great lean source of protein and well received by most kids and adults alike. But, if you are like me, too many times I have forgotten to take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost and have ready to cook by that evening. This quickly makes us turn to plan B or C!
Instead of that pressure, save yourself and go ahead and cook extra on the weekends. You can grill it, pan-sear it, or even bake extra chicken so that you can use it in at least 1 other recipe during the week. It can easily be sliced and reheated in a pan with a bit of low sodium chicken broth (or even its own juices) in a matter of a couple of minutes.
Here is what we do with leftover, reheated chicken:
- Add atop salads
- Shred and make chicken tacos or even enchiladas
- Add to a stir fry with quick sauteed veggies and a whole grain
- Slice and top with marinara sauce over pasta with broccoli and parmesan
Weeknights are already hectic enough! But, it is not impossible to get a healthy meal on the dinner table. Choose a strategy or 2 to try out this week and see if it makes a difference. For our family, we like to get our daughter in the kitchen 1 or 2 nights to “help” us put together dinner. However, if the meal takes too long to prep and cook, she loses interest and gets restless. By having many of these ingredients prepped and cooked in advance, time is saved, frustration is avoided and dinner is served!