As much as I enjoy cooking, as a working mom there are nights when I really need preparing a healthy home-cooked meal for my family to be easy. I used to choose dinners based on a wide variety of healthy foods, new recipes I wanted to try out, or just whatever sounded good at the time. But over the last couple of years, I’ve learned a few simple tricks that make preparing and cooking dinner easier.
1. Eyeball measurements. You really only need exact measurements when baking. I rarely get out the measuring cups and spoons when cooking dinner. Not sure how to do this? Get out your measuring cups and spoons and experiment. I’d use something cheap, like flour or rice. Measure a tablespoon and put it in your palm. Do the same for a teaspoon. Don’t bother doing this with the fractions. If you know what a tablespoon looks like in your palm, you can easily figure out a half tablespoon. Do the same with measuring cups, but in reverse. Measure out a quarter cup and put it in your hand. Now you can eyeball any multiple of that. This simple trick speeds up the prep and cooking process and makes fewer dirty dishes.
2. Use fewer dishes. This obviously makes cleaning up faster and easier, but meals that use fewer dishes also tend to be simpler and easier to prepare. I rarely make “one-pot” meals, but I do strategically plan meals for work-nights partially based on how many dishes I’ll need. So on those nights I’ll avoid dishes that require several bowls for mixing or separate dishes for condiments or sauces. Mashed potatoes and gravy, for example, is a dish we don’t typically have on a work-night. Instead, I’d opt for roasted potatoes and toss the potatoes in oil and seasoning right in the baking dish and not end up with a dirty potato masher, and saucepan, spoon, and ladle for the gravy. I also wouldn’t have to spend the time making the gravy or mashing the potatoes.
3. Simplify your sides. We have a small salad as a side dish quite often, and that’s about as simple as you can get. And in the summer, we actually make a dinner out of a nice big salad quite often. Other simple sides we have include raw veggies (like carrot sticks), steamed veggies, roasted veggies (like the example above), plain brown rice with a pat of butter or soy sauce, or bread. I used to feel like I always needed to make more complicated side dishes, like scalloped potatoes and green beans almondine and rice pilaf. And I do still love to make side dishes like that on non-work-nights. But on work-nights I keep it simple.
4. Prep for multiple meals at the same time. You don’t have to spend an entire day cooking to stock your freezer. Simply stock your freezer by prepping and cooking double when you make dinner. It doesn’t take much, if any, more time to make a double recipe of a dish that freezes well. You can also stock your freezer with basics, like browned ground beef, cubed cooked chicken, cooked pasta (just toss with olive oil first), cooked rice, among many others. I like to go ahead and chop veggies for several meals at once too. I don’t spend a lot of extra time doing this; I just go ahead and chop an entire onion instead of half, or cut carrot sticks for the next night’s dinner, for example.
These tricks are so easy, they may even seem like common sense to some folks. But I went years doing things the hard way! Using these methods for work-night dinners simplifies the process, letting me spend a little time with the kids before starting dinner and making clean up faster. I hope you find them helpful too!
* * *
What are your best tips for taking the stress out of weeknight dinners? Share with us below!
Looking for more tips for cooking, food prep, and food shopping? Follow my Food Tips board on Pinterest!