Before we had a steady routine of making our meals at home, the biggest obstacle for me was time. I knew cooking at home would save us money, but I genuinely felt so rushed from work to home to getting the kids to do their homework and get to bed that I believed the easiest solution was to pick up takeout on the way home, order a pizza, or throw in a Stouffer’s frozen dinner.
The challenge in all that was, I still wound up waiting. The takeout meant I had to make a stop on the way home, the pizza took an hour or more to deliver, and the Stouffer’s still took 50 minutes in the oven. And even though I didn’t spend my time cooking, I found that delaying dinner more than an hour from the time I got home meant rushing through the rest of our nighttime routines, which also meant added stress for me. I decided to give making quick and easy dinners a try.
Of course, I found the other obstacle that kept me from cooking more regularly to be a little trickier: figuring out what to cook. I may have had a kitchen full of ingredients, but after a long day at work, my brain just couldn’t put those ingredients together to make something edible for my troop. In all that stress, I’d end up ordering more food, and then wasting the ingredients that sat in my fridge not being eaten.
The solution? A simple menu. It’s nothing fancy. And I follow a pretty easy formula, which rotates only slightly with the seasons and produce that’s available. A little whiteboard in my kitchen posts the days of the week, with a menu included for all to see. Voila! No more “what are we having for dinner?”
Here’s my formula:
- Mondays: Pasta dish (usually a pasta base with a green like kale or spinach, a tomato variation, meatless protein, and herbs)
- Tuesdays: Mexican (we rotate enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and taquitos)
- Wednesdays: Church supper
- Thursdays: Asian (noodle bowls, tofu over rice, stir fry)
- Fridays: Comfort food (tuna noodle, soups/stews, veggie meatloaf and potatoes)
- Saturdays: Make your own pizza night
- Sundays: Soup and sandwiches
A few other easy tips for making dinner fast:
- Prep ahead: after the grocery store, rinse and chop your produce before putting it away- you’re much more likely to use it and not let it rot if it’s prepped and ready to go at meal time
- Pre-cook your meat: if you’re a meat-eater, this probably takes the majority of your time. To save time and money, buy your meat in bulk, and cook it as soon as you get home from the grocery store. Then bag it individually in quart-size freezer bags and freeze for future recipes.
- Keep fast-cooking ingredients on-hand: grains like brown rice pasta, quinoa, couscous, and soba noodles cook twice as fast as traditional pasta and rice. Greens like spinach and bok choy wilt quickly in simple sauces and make great additions to pasta dishes.
- Let kids “build their own:” it’s super easy to make a base dish (like enchiladas or tacos) and then have bowls of chopped onions, avocados, tomatoes, salsa and cheese available. The same goes for making pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches. We do a grilled cheese night that lets everyone add their faves to a grilled cheese, and mommy toasts it super quick.
What do you do to make eating at home a breeze? I’d love to hear your yummy secrets!