This post originally appeared Pockets Full of Wonder.
Listen. Weeknights can be brutal. Between homework, extra-curriculars, volunteering, dinner, and bath/bedtime routines, it’s easy to end the day feeling beaten. And it’s easy to let dinner be the sacrificial lamb when take-out and convenience foods are right at your fingertips. Homemade meals are the best, but man, it can be a lot to take on! So I have a few tricks up my sleeve for de-stressing dinnertime.
My 5 Secrets to Stress-Free Weeknight Dinners
1. I stick to the basics.
Busy weeknights are not the time for experimenting in the kitchen! I make things I know how to make without a recipe and that I know my little kids will eat without too much of a fight.
Don’t get me wrong. Our menu isn’t catered 100% to the kids. Even if I wanted to do that, it would be an impossibility with three kids who all like and dislike different things. But I’m a pick-my-battles type of mom. And weeknight dinners are not a battle I choose to even step into, let alone fight.
2. Cook once, serve twice.
My favorite thing to do is to cook up a bunch of shredded chicken in the Instant Pot and split it into two meals. For one, I might toss half the chicken with some teriyaki and serve it over rice. For the second, I might mix the chicken with salsa or seasonings and make tacos. And for a super fast dinner, I might use some to make chicken salad for sandwiches and serve with salad.
3. Salad kits.
Yep, I went there. I used to be VERY anti-salad kit. I saw them as a huge waste of money. Well, back when they first started appearing, they were nothing more than some chopped iceberg, 3 strands of carrot, about a teaspoon of shredded cheese, and some barely-edible ranch dressing. And all for like $6! Plus, I felt like a salad is easy enough to make already.
Salad kits have come a long way! Now you can find them with spring greens, cabbage, even kale and shredded Brussels Sprouts. And they come in a variety of flavors. At least 1 night per week, sometimes 2, I use a salad kit for an easy no-cook side dish.
4. Frozen vegetables.
Same logic as the salad kit, but takes a little time to cook. But literally ZERO prep time. I get my frozen veggies at Costco (they even have LOTS of organic options). I steam some in a pan while I’m cooking the rest of the meal and toss with a little butter, season with salt and pepper, and voila! An easy side dish that takes very little effort. Frozen veggies are also good for main dishes, like stir-fry and casseroles, to make cook time faster than with fresh, raw veggies.
5. I *strategically* meal plan.
I’ve talked about meal planning before, and I still swear by it! I even shared a meal planner printable that you can download for free.
But I don’t just write down a bunch of meals to make. I am strategic. I make sure to take into account what’s going on each night and I plan meals that work together (i.e. the cook once, serve twice trick). If I had to pick just one thing to recommend to make dinnertime easier, it would be this!
I’m ALWAYS looking for new ways to make dinnertime easier! What are YOU’RE secrets??