Well, it definitely looks like “Easy Weeknight Dinners” is running away with it in the polls.
And I hear ya. What’s not to love about a delicious, easy-to-prepare, home-cooked, nutritious meal after you get home from work?
I don’t know about you, but our time after work and before dinner is pretty packed. After the commute home and picking up the girls, we have about an hour and 15 minutes to fit in making dinner, eating dinner, family time and clean-up all before bath time and then bed time for the girls. Few!
Sometimes, when I’m feeling lazy, I break down and buy pre-packaged meals or frozen foods that are easy to just heat up and serve. I mean, who doesn’t like a tater tot every now and again?
While this isn’t the end of the world, these types of foods tend not to be as healthy for you because of all the processing and unnecessary added ingredients.
The funny thing is that it really doesn’t take that much time to prepare a great home-cooked weeknight meal within 30 minutes or less.
Here are some of my tips for making easy weeknight dinners:
- Plan your meals ahead of time. Before each week, decide what dinners you want to have for the upcoming week. Plan out the main part of the meal and the entree. For example, “Monday will be Panko-Crusted Sea Bass with Steamed Broccoli, Tuesday will be Chicken Alfredo with Fettuccine Noodles,” etc. The more you plan it out, the easier the grocery shopping experience and the less stressed you will be when it’s time to get dinner ready. Have trouble remembering what you planned? Post it on the fridge — it’ll be like a menu for your week! Plus, writing it down like a menu will hold you more accountable for actually making it when you get home.
- Buy staples that will keep in your pantry or freezer. Make sure to keep some extra noodles, rice and other grains in your pantry just in case you want to throw something together or you need a side. Also, keep some frozen chicken breasts, ground beef and maybe even some frozen vegetables in the freezer to use on an as-needed basis if you don’t have something ready in mind for dinner. This will help in the event that you didn’t plan anything for that night and you really don’t want to eat cereal again for dinner.
- Plan meals that you will enjoy. No one wants to come home from work and make a meal that doesn’t sound tasty. Try to make your meal plan exciting and new. Rotate in new easy recipes and some old favorites. Make every Tuesday a Taco Tuesday, for example. Keeping it interesting will help you mentally prepare to make the dinner and enjoy your evening.
- Plan out each meal, if possible, to include Proteins, Vegetables and a Starch. While you may not get all three into every meal, making your weeknight dinners well-balanced will keep you healthy and satisfy your appetite. Try to do your grocery shopping on the weekend before the week gets too crazy. That way, everything you need will already be there for you when you get home.
- Make ahead if you have time. It’s a lot easier to prepare meatballs, lasagna or pizza dough on a lazy Sunday afternoon than on a busy, tired week night. Try to make some things ahead of time for your upcoming week so that you can simply heat up when you get home.
I hope these tips will help you with making your weeknights less stressful and more tasty. Making delicious, nutritious dinners after work takes *some* effort, but — like mostly anything — it will get easier the more you do it.
To get you started, this recipe for Chicken Florentine is a great weeknight dinner for you to try out this week. You can cook the chicken and noodles ahead of time if you’d like and just throw it all together when you’re ready to prepare your meal. Either way, it’s quick, it’s nutritious and it’s yummy.
What are some of your tips for making weeknight dinners? What are your go-to last minute meals?
1 lb. bow-tie noodles (can also be penne or a similar type)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1-2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot (2 tbsp), chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
15 oz. alfredo sauce (homemade or store-bought)
kosher salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups fresh baby spinach
Prepare noodles as directed on box. Once cooked, rinse and set aside.
Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken breast with salt and pepper, then add the chicken to the hot oil. Cook until well-browned and cooked through, about 6-8 minutes per side. Remove from skillet and let cool. Once cooled, slice into bite-size chunks.
Add garlic and shallots to the chicken drippings in the skillet. Cook on medium heat for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add chicken and noodles to the skillet and stir to combine. Add sauce and parmesan and heat through. Season to taste. Turn off heat and add the spinach. Combine and stir until spinach begins to wilt.
Serve warm, garnished with grated parmesan if desired.