Weeknight Turmoil and Dinner

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Heather says:

Today instead of the usual Menu Monday, I wanted to start a discussion with advice for those who feel there isn’t enough time on a weeknight to cook a meal.  I don’t live in a 9 – 5 world,  sometimes I know I lose sight of what that is like1 -and sometimes I really, really wish I lived in that world. Grass is greener syndrome, I guess.

Ways to cope with busy night dinners.

Have a plan. We all have bad days where we don’t like to cook, but not having any clue what is on hand makes life hard. Sit down and figure out what can be made with ingredients on hand. Coming home at 5:45 and staring in the fridge makes putting dinner on the table by 6:30 a nightmare. Doing this every night is a recipe for misery and drudgery. If you have never meal planned, I have a series on how to get started with meal planning.

Do what you can ahead of time. Yeah, you caught me, that’s another way of saying have a plan.

Brown and freeze ground beef, be sure to label it with the date and if it has been seasoned for taco meat.

Bell peppers can also be diced and frozen ahead of time, but only if they will be used as an ingredient. They will be softer than their fresh counterparts.

Wash and process some produce the day it is brought home. A handful of grapes or already cut carrot sticks added to a dinner plate takes no time and who couldn’t use that extra serving.

Grill or cook extra meat every time. Extra burger patties can be crumbled into spaghetti or pasta, extra chicken breasts served over salads. Pork can be cubed and tossed with rice and vegetables. Pre-cooked chicken is very versatile, it can used in salads, pot pies, quiches /frittatas, omelets, pasta, a million different casseroles -that’s hot dish for you Minnesotans. Really though, watch how often you reach for Cream of X soup, it’s not healthy. There is a quick homemade alternative called bechamel. It’s not low fat, but it’s better than the canned stuff.

Bake or roast extra vegetables or potatoes on the weekend. You have tried roasted broccoli, right? Any of these make excellent side dishes reheated or can be chopped and thrown into an omelet, frittata, or turned into a skillet .

Utilize planned overs.

Don’t underestimate the sandwich, in all of its forms -melts, open faced, wraps, lettuce wraps, cabbage wraps.

Make extra pasta, run it under cold water drain, toss with a small amount of olive oil and store in the refrigerator. In the morning, throw in your favorite dressing, some chopped vegetables, and it’ll be excellent by the time you get home from work. (Be sure to store it in the fridge).

When cooking on the weekend double or triple (TRUSTED) recipes and put them in the freezer. Soup, chili, and stews can all be made in large batches and frozen to thaw and reheat later

So Home Eccers, what advice do you have to share?

1For the record, working from home with three small children, homeschooling, and having a spouse who works rotating 12 hour shifts is not exactly a life of leisure.
2Yes, that’s an affiliate link, but it is a handy way to show you what I’ve been using for 6 years.

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12 thoughts on “Weeknight Turmoil and Dinner”

  1. I've found that meat is the biggest hangup to getting dinner together quickly. Either the hubby doesn't want what is thawed, or I didn't thaw anything, or it's going to take too long to cook, so he's out the door on his way to Taco Bell. So we grill a bunch of meat on Saturday or Sunday, and use it as the basis of our meals the rest of the week. A big batch of beef fajitas, some chicken legs, and some sausage turns into steak quesadillas, chicken pot pie, actual fajitas, chicken salad sandwiches, sausage peppers and onions, and then whatever is left in little bits makes wonderful pizza toppings…mexican pizza, barbeque chicken pizza, sausage and onions. I have felt more creative when considering what to create with the leftover meat, rather than constrained by what we had thawed or otherwise available. This method has also helped us eat at home so very much, and the weeks we don't manage to grill, we eat out every night. It has become a weekly ritual that is (almost) more important than laundry!!!

    • I like your ideas here. Thanks! You're nicer than I am because I rarely even ask my husband if it sounds okay to him before making dinner. I decided a few years ago that if he wants to cook, he can make decisions. Otherwise, I just make it and serve it. Of course, if I'm in a quandary about what to make, or he has some special request, we talk about it–I'm not uptight about it, I just don't have the time or the energy to deal with what I CAN manage, and what he might want. I'm completely okay with him cooking anytime he wants to do it though, and I'm okay changing directions if he suggests something. It's just that I don't really consult beforehand if I have an idea already.

      As for what we do…our default leftover meat meal is almost always a burrito or taco. We usually have refried beans, cheese, cilantro and onion on hand, as well as salsa, and sometimes avocado, so it works for us. I've learned to make homemade tortillas, so we always have them available, or we buy some at the market down the road.

      I've also taken to freezing more things that I didn't used to freeze, to use in future meals. I've been freezing meat, of course, and vegetables sometimes, bananas, pancakes, chicken broth, gravy, and a few other things. Those come in so handy on nights when I don't know what to cook quickly. Yesterday I made a new dish out of already baked potatoes I'd frozen–it was way better than the original baked potatoes (baked rosemary & onion with cubed cooked potatoes and olive oil, salt, and pepper..).

      • Another thing I forgot to add is that we make chicken soup a lot these days. I can use up leftover chicken, most of the above burrito ingredients (minus the beans and avocado), or other things I have frozen or fresh and in need of being used quickly. I've been trying to make variations on it too, like tortilla soup, Cuban style chicken soup (really good–use plenty of cumin and oregano in the soup, then serve it with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lemon on top).

  2. Excellent post; I'm eager to read more posts. I typically post a weekly menu, but for the past several weeks, nothing sounds interesting. On weekdays, I don't get home until 7:00 p.m. and we hit the hay early, so my evening are 2-3 hours max. It's not uncommon to sit down to dinner at 8 – 8:15, then go to bed at 9:30. If we're planning on having baked chicken, I pop them into the oven as I head into the shower. When I get home, it's pretty fast to heat up the chicken and make vegetables.

  3. My favorite starting point for quick meals is Mark Bittman's Summer Express list of 101 things you can make in 10 minutes or less. These aren't so much recipes as starting points but they're really quick, not limited to summer and with over 100, even if you only like 1/4 of the things listed that's nearly a month of meals.

    Peanut Butter pasta is also a nice, quick change from tomato sauce. The sauce is put together in the time it takes the pasta to cook. I often add some chicken or green veggies as well. Just drop the veggies into the pasta pot for the last minute of cooking. Any peanut sauce recipe will do but I start with 1/4 cup water, pb, and coconut milk. Put in a pot and add soy sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, maybe some red onion/scallions/shallots, spices like 5 spice powder/garlic/ginger, maybe some fish sauce, sesame oil…

    The chef rules at our house too. Yes, I work everyone's favorites into the rotation, but since I'm the one in charge of the food, I lean heavily towards what I like to cook and eat.

  4. My sister-in-law said to me yesterday "I wish I had as much time as you to cook from scratch" but I told her it just takes planning. Your post rings so true and is full of great tips for busy mothers.

    I've awarded you the Hard Working Mommy Blogger Award! You're such an inspiration to so many 🙂 /

  5. I have yet to find decent recipes for one or two people. Sure i can make a casserole, but then I'm eating the darn thing for a week! And when it's 105 outside the last week I want is a casserole anyway. Time isn't my problem, it's just coming up with something to cook. Or if I for example make a roast chicken on Sunday, what else can I do with it besides leftovers, chicken salad, or quesadillas/sandwiches?

    • Caroline, offhand:
      Chicken pilau, jambalaya, soup – which you could take in a variety of directions.
      Toss the chicken into a light pasta dish at the end of cooking.
      Cube it and serve over a chopped salad or tossed salad.
      Add salsa, heat through, shred and serve in tacos, burritos, over nachos.
      Make bbq chicken pizza on flatbread (pitas).
      Tear into chunks and put in a pita with some hummus and tzatziki sauce, bell peppers, and onions.
      I could go on. . .

    • Also, Taste of Home has or maybe just had a Cooking for 1 or 2 magazine, it may be a great resource for you. Most of the recipes aren't out there with ingredients.
      I'm hoping with the book almost behind me that I can spend some time working on more recipes on different scales, but it has just not been possible at the moment.

  6. I'm finding it hard to believe that bechamel is better than fat-free cream of X. Is that because of all the preservatives and what not in the canned stuff? If I remember correctly, bechamel is full of fat (which is why it's so good).

    • Yes, bechamel is full of fat, which I noted, but have you looked at the ingredient list for Cream of Chicken? It has both margarine an dpartially hydrogenated soy bean oil, partially hydrogenated fats are the source of trans fats, which are notoriously unhealthy. The homemade version is also significantly lower in sodium.

      It's certainly not health food, but it is healthier than the canned version.

      If you need a refresher on the ingredient list: /bechamel-white-sauce-th…


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