Simple dinners for busy weeknights

This post was written by Brittany Swygart, RDN, LD, clinical inpatient dietitian, Parkview Huntington Hospital, outpatient dietitian, Parkview Regional Medical Center.

I can’t believe it, but summer is coming to a close, and school and all of the activities that come with it, are back in season. Between class projects, sports practices, PTO meetings, music lessons, and the typical never-ending to-do list, it can seem overwhelming to try to plan meals for dinner. It’s very likely that by the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I have a few tips that can smooth out the process and minimize the effort it takes to get something nourishing on the table.

Weekly meal prep and batch cooking are both tremendously time-efficient and helpful when it comes to dinner. These strategies might look different for everyone, but the idea is to prepare meals or components of meals ahead of time to then enjoy throughout the week. This can be a lifesaver and reduce stress during the week, as well as ensure you have healthy and delicious food to eat throughout the week. In addition to saving you time, batch cooking can also help you with eating nutritionally balanced meals.

To get started …
  • Write a grocery list each week. This will ensure sticking to a budget as well as prevent multiple trips to the grocery store each week.
  • Go grocery shopping. I recommend going weekly to stock up on fresh produce.
  • Set aside a couple hours each week to meal prep/batch cook. Sunday afternoon usually works best for me, but do what is most practical for your schedule.
Three strategies for success

Use a slow cooker and/or pressure cooker. You can prep the ingredients the night before, so it’s all ready to go into your cooking device in the morning.

Recipes

36+ Healthy Instant Pot Recipes For Meal Prep from the blog Sweet Peas and Saffron

6 Crockpot freezer meals from the blog Fit Foodie Finds

38+ Freezer Meals the Whole Family will Love from the blog Sweet Peas and Saffron

27 Healthy Crockpot Freezer Meals for Effortless Weeknights from the blog Sweet Peas and Saffron

Super Simple Chili from the blog Audra’s Appetite

Embrace casseroles.  Learn to prepare healthy casseroles ahead so all you have to do is bake them. This is a meal prep technique that includes prepping the entire meal ahead of time.

Recipes

Healthy Chicken Parmesan Quinoa Bake from the blog Fit Foodie Finds

Skinny Orange Chicken Casserole from the blog Fit Foodie Finds

The Best Healthy Turkey Lasagna You’ll Ever Eat from the blog Ambitious Kitchen

Healthy Low Carb Zucchini Lasagna with Spicy Turkey Meat Sauce from the blog Ambitious Kitchen

Mexican Layered Enchilada Bake from the blog Audra’s Appetite

Cheesy Corn Quinoa Casserole from the blog Well Plated

But into batch cooking.  Another strategy is to make a larger batch of something specifically to have leftovers throughout the week. Examples of this might be egg muffins, baked oatmeal, granola bars, homemade granola, etc.

Another way to batch cook is to cook separate components of meals ahead of time and then mix and match later (opposed to prepping an entire meal at once). For example, you could cook chicken in your slow cooker. Then you might use that chicken throughout the week, once in tacos, the next day in a wrap for lunch, and another time on top of a salad.

You can also prep foods, such as homemade hummus and salad dressings, cook grains such as rice or quinoa, and roast vegetables. This can help prevent being bored with leftovers.

Recipes and tips

Easy Baked Oatmeal Muffins from the blog Sweet Peas and Saffron

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip No Bake Granola Bars from the blog Audra’s Appetite

Broccoli Cheddar Ham Egg Muffins from the blog Audra’s Appetite 

Chop veggies for roasting and prep fresh veggies. Are you guilty of buying fresh vegetables, with the best of intentions, only to find later that they have gone uneaten and spoiled in the fridge? Taking the few extra minutes to wash and chop vegetables during your meal prep session can help prevent food waste, as well as ensure you and your family are eating more vegetables.

Make two batches of a recipe and then freeze half for later. Many of the recipes above can be frozen. I also like to cook a huge batch of a main entree (such as meatballs, pulled pork in the slow cooker and chili) and then freeze half for a busy weeknight. Your future self will thank you.  

Don’t feel overwhelmed with feeling like you need to incorporate all of the suggestions above. Start small and you’ll notice a reduction in stress right away.   

 

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