12 Tips for Quick and Easy Weeknight Meals

Week nights can be hectic and difficult to plan for. An unpredictable turn of events (say the boss asks you to stay late at work, the nanny calls in sick, after-school programs are cancelled) can change a well-thought-out plan to cook a healthy dinner into an emergency drive-thru meal. But a few simple tips can keep you on track even during your busiest hour – allowing you to create quick and easy weeknight meals that will help you stick to that New Year’s resolution.

fast and easy cooking tips

This is a sponsored post supported by Perfect Fit Meals. Although I did receive complimentary samples for the following product, all views and opinions expressed on this blog are entirely my own and based on my own unique experiences.

  1. Plan Ahead: If you don’t already plan out your meals for the week ahead of time, it’s time to start. Stop meal planning on your way home from work each evening and take a couple hours on Saturday or Sunday to plan what you and your family will eat for dinner for the next 5-7 nights. And write it down. I have a dry erase board calendar on my fridge that I fill out each week. Not only does it help me remember what I am going to cook tonight and the next day, but it helps others (i.e. my husband) know what’s to come so there are no surprises or no excuses for takeout.
  2. Stock up on Pantry Essentials – Cooking becomes stressful when you have a poorly stocked pantry. Make sure you have all of the proper pantry staples (think spices, oils, vinegars, canned tomato products, beans, etc.) in full supply each week. These items generally have a long shelf life so there is no excuse to not have them readily available. I generally keep a container (plus one backup!) of each of the following healthy pantry staples. A short supply of tomato sauce for your baked spaghetti squash is NOT an excuse to order takeout.
  3. Improve Your Knife Skills: Do chopping garlic and onion stress you out? Don’t let these seemingly tedious tasks slow you down in the kitchen! I cannot tell you how much time has been saved in my kitchen thanks to a few skillful knife techniques I learned in one simple beginner cooking class in college. If you can find a class to attend, great. However, don’t underestimate the power of YouTube – you can always find videos online that demonstrate proper techniques. The more you practice, the more efficient you will become in the kitchen when it comes to chopping, slicing and dicing. Trust me when I say it – good knife skills are one of the secrets to quick and easy cooking. And please, for the love of cooking, get yourself a real chef’s knife (possibly even two). I promise it’s not as scary as it looks once you learn how to use it properly!
  4. Consider Purchasing Time-Saving Appliances – Time-saving appliances are ones that are easy to use (less than 5 pieces or parts) and easy to clean (i.e. all or most parts are dishwasher safe). My favorite time-saving appliances? A mini food processor (for sauces and dressings), a slow cooker (which practically does all of the work for you), a pressure cooker (for cooking high-fiber whole grains quickly) and a high-speed blender (to blend purees or aid in making less common ingredients like rice flour or almond flour in a pinch).
  5. Do the Prep Work in Advance: After purchasing all of the ingredients needed to execute your weekly meal plan, consider doing some of the heavy lifting in advance when you have extra time on the weekend. Can you chop fruit and veggies ahead of time? Can you load the crockpot with your weeknight meal and simply leave it covered in the fridge until you’re ready to use it? Can you make a sauce or dressing today that can be used in the next 2-3 days? Ask yourself what tasks, if done today, will make your cooking life easier during the week. Not only does this tip help save time later on, but knowing you have already started the meal preparation process will encourage you to see it through to the end during the week!
  6. Use Pre-Cut and Pre-Cooked Ingredients: Having pre-cut produce and pre-cooked proteins (think rotisserie chicken, cooked shrimp, chilled grilled chicken breast, etc.) readily available can make or break your decision to cook a healthy meal on a chaotic week night. Consider buying pre-cut fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables for convenience. Or better yet, raid the supermarket salad bar for a few items in you’re really in a pinch! Slice off a few pieces from a chilled rotisserie chicken and toss it in a soup or salad. Or use it in a stir fry or on a homemade Friday-night pizza! cooking tips for easy dinners
  7. Use Aluminum Foil or Parchment Paper for Easy Cleanup: Making something on a baking sheet in the oven? Line the pan with foil or parchment paper before cooking. When you’re done, toss the disposable layer and put the clean pan away. I use this trick every time I cook and cannot tell you how many hours of soaking and scrubbing it has saved me!
  8. Consider Salad as the Main Dish: If you make a hearty salad, there’s no reason it can’t be the star of the show. Mix hearty greens (such as kale and spinach) with a chewy whole grain (think quinoa, wheat berries, or couscous), a warm winter starchy vegetable (butternut squash, sweet potato or parsnips for example) and some nuts or seeds. Toss with simple oil and vinegar or get creative with one of our DIY Salad Dressings. You can even toss in some of that rotisserie chicken to ensure you stay full until morning! Try one of these: Colorful Beet Salad with Carrot, Quinoa & Spinach, Quinoa Apricot Arugula Salad, or Garlic-Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Wheat Berry Salad with Pomegranate.
  9. Eat Breakfast for Dinner: Eggs don’t have to be solely for breakfast! Think outside the box and use eggs in a variety of savory dinner options such as Avocado Toast with Sunny Side Egg topped with pesto of hot sauce, Huevos Rancheros Tacos with tomatoes and avocado, Shakshuka (aka Eggs in Hell), Egg Spaghetti Squash Boats or Baked Eggs in Stuffed Peppers. This complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs and cooks in minutes!
  10. Transform Leftovers – Don’t underestimate the power of small leftovers. Save small amounts of ingredients and sauces like red wine, broth, tomato sauce, pesto and gravy by pouring them into ice cube trays and freezing them. Once frozen, dump them into a freezer-friendly zip-tight bag and label for later use. These small leftover ingredients can bring life to a boring dish when you’re in a hurry to make a healthy, yet flavorful, dish.
  11. Use the Stovetop Instead of the Oven: Anytime you can rely on the stovetop to do all of the cooking without turning on the oven, you’ll be saving time. Consider stove-top skillet meals to avoid the timely task of preheating the oven. A tenderized, seasoned chicken breast can be grilled in a little olive oil on the stovetop in less than 10 minutes versus pre-heating the oven and allowing it to bake which may take up to 30 minutes in total. Sautéing chopped veggies (especially starchy ones like sweet potatoes and carrots) in a skillet will take significantly less time than baking them. Try one of these easy skillet meals: Ground Turkey Potato Skillet, One Pot Wonder Stuffed Pepper Skillet or Easy Chicken Enchilada Skillet.
  12. Have an Emergency Back Up Plan: There will be nights when all else fails and your plans go out the window. So have a few emergency backup meals on hand that you can feel good about. Think frozen and microwaveable meals – whether it’s pulling a leftover container of soup out of the freezer, relying on the microwave to cook up a baked potato, or heating up a ready-to-eat meal (like new Perfect Fit Meals). Having a healthy plan B should be part of your long-term plan from the start! The aforementioned Perfect Fit Meals offer clean and fresh ready-to-eat, microwaveable entrées that are dietitian approved, portion-controlled and designed for busy consumers who value wholesome and healthy cooking, but may need to fall back on convenience to get them through a busy week. Having a plan B will ensure that you don’t sacrifice your healthy eating habits on nights when you simply don’t have time to execute your initial cooking plans.

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