For those not in the habit of cooking every day, coming up with a unique, delicious, healthy meal the whole family will love can seem like a major hurdle that makes takeout look like a blessing. But dinnertime doesn't need to be overwhelming – the secret comes from capitalizing on your weekends.
By taking just a few hours of your time each Saturday or Sunday, you can create a weekday meal plan that’s easy and delicious. Here are our favorite ways to make weeknight cooking super-simple.
1. Plan Out Your Meals
Meal planning is truly your saving grace when it comes to making weeknight cooking easy. Even with a fully stocked fridge, it can be tough to find inspiration after a long day of work, so we take some time every weekend to plan out all of our meals for the week ahead.
Planning out all your meals in advance doesn’t just take the guesswork out of dinnertime; it also helps you stick to a budget. If you plan out all your meals first and grocery shop based on your menu, you’ll be less likely to succumb to tempting treats at the store. And moreover, if you’ve already bought the delicious grass-fed steak you’re planning to grill on Tuesday, come Tuesday night, it’ll be a lot harder to throw in the towel and just order delivery.
When planning, we try to stick to a few rules:
- Plan at least two meatless dinners per week, like carrot "fettuccine" or pulled jackfruit.
- Consider the volume of the ingredients you need and the way in which they’re packaged or sold. For example, if you need to buy red cabbage to make this delicious Thai cabbage wrap, consider also making this German red cabbage so that the other half of your produce doesn't go to waste.
- If you’re only shopping once a week, put meals featuring fish on Sunday or Monday so that your wild-caught salmon or sustainable scallops aren’t stinking up the fridge.
2. Organize Your Fridge
Taking the time to organize your fridge will be immensely helpful by the time busy weeknights roll around. Group ingredients that you’ll need for individual meals together as best you can, so that when you’ve just gotten home after picking the kids up from swim practice and everyone is starving, you’ll be able to quickly and easily grab everything you need.
3. Prep and Pre-Portion Ingredients
While prepping some ingredients, like fresh berries, might only cause them to lose out in flavor and texture, prepping others can be immensely helpful. Onerous tasks like dicing butternut squash or shredding cabbage are much less annoying when you have an expanse of Sunday afternoon in which to complete them.
Some ingredients are even improved by advance prep, like meats that need marinating. Studies even point to the health benefits of pre-cooking starches like potatoes, which can then be reheated the day of with minimal fuss.
4. Prep Lunches
If you or your kids take your lunch to school or work, make these meals ahead of time. Some things, like sandwiches, may not age well, but there are tons of recipes that can be made a few days in advance and are just as good – if not better – a few days later. Consider, for example, a fresh and herbaceous tabbouleh salad or a spiced black beans and quinoa bowl.
Once you’ve prepped a big batch, distribute into eco-friendly, reusable containers, clearly labeled with the name of the person and the day of the week. Stack them so that the one you need first is on top, and it’s easy to grab them and go.
5. Pre-Cook a Big Batch of Something Delicious
While you might be able to carve out half an hour to cook most evenings, sometimes, even 30 minutes is 30 minutes too many. That’s when you can rely on weekend-you to really take care of business.
Once a week, pick a slow-cooked dish that just needs to be reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave, something like turkey chili with butternut squash or vegan Thai curry with kabocha squash and coconut. Not only will the aroma make your house smell marvelous, but if you make a triple-batch, you can enjoy one at the weekend, one during the week, and freeze one for a later date.