Oh dinner, dinner, dinner. How you make my husband and I have a useless 15 minute conversation about how we will eat whatever the other person feels like, only to come to the conclusion we don’t feel like what the other person feels like. Or how you make me beg and bargain with my 4 year old to eat her chicken after she found a green speck on it she has labeled as “salad.” #dinnerisapainintheass
I actually love to cook. I truly do. I am really proud of how far I have come from my microwave dinner days to now being a well seasoned cook who can whip up a Sunday roast with all the fixins’. As much as I enjoy it, there is something about coming home after a long day of work, getting only limited time with my kids, all while attempting to meet everyone’s ridiculous food preferences, that leaves me resenting weeknight meals, wishing we could just live off of take out forever (and I totally would if my waist and wallet would let me).
Weeknight dinner is essentially a war I will never win. I feel like I have done it all. I own 20 different “quick and easy” cookbooks, pinned 200 “weekday friendly” meals on Pinterest, downloaded useless recipe apps, and have even tried a subscription delivery meal kit box. Yet, these “easy” solutions become too hard, and we go back to falling into dinner ruts, and turn to take out by Thursday. By no means have I perfected the art of dinner for a busy family, and I will probably always be in the trenches, however, there are some things I have learned along the way that have at least taken me away from the front lines of the weeknight dinner battle.
Plan. There is no better way to eliminate the burden of dinner then by eliminating the thought of what to make each evening. I have a weekly dry erase calendar on my fridge where I map out each evening’s dinner. I generally update it every Sunday morning before I head to the grocery store.
Sunday leftovers. I mentioned this in my Sunday post. Sundays are the best day to MAKE dinner. I am talking a meal made with love, something that sticks to your ribs, and most importantly, something that makes great leftovers. Our Sunday meals always feed us on Mondays, and sometimes Tuesdays too. It is the perfect way to ease into the week and not have to worry about cooking.
Remix go-tos. I have this bad habit of discovering a new recipe my family likes then make it every week for dinner until my family literally begs me to stop. It is just so hard to find recipes that check all the boxes, so when I do, I literally will make it to death. The solution I found is to remix these go-tos. That 4 ingredient garlic chicken you can make with your eyes closed? Well you can still make it weekly, but just remix it.You can have garlic chicken and rice, or penne with a garlic ground chicken sauce, or even a grilled cheese and garlic chicken sandwich. See where I’m going with this? I can keep making what is easy, but completely transform it to keep dinner interesting.
Say no to new recipes. Never ever make a new recipe on a weeknight. No matter how “easy” and “weekday friendly” it is, don’t do it! Weekdays are already hard enough, adding a new dinner you are not familiar is NOT WORTH IT. Before you know it, that 30 minute meal is taking twice as long and is way too spicy for the kids. Please stick with the basics and try out new recipes on the weekends. Trust me.
Chop free zone. What I find the most daunting about weeknight meals is well, making it. I’m tired and I don’t want to deal with it. However, things seem to feel a little less daunting when I know the lettuce for the salad is already washed and chopped, or the onions for the stir fry are ready to thrown in the pan. I try and do all my chopping for the week on Sundays while I cook dinner since I am already in the cooking groove. I also cheat a little and will buy the pre-chopped veggies in the produce section, but am a bit selective on this since it is generally more expensive and not as fresh.
Spouses can cook too. I am definitely the cook in the family, but not because I am a woman and my husband is a man. I like to cook, and he doesn’t, plain and simple. Just how he doesn’t mind doing yard work, and I despise it. However, having help with dinner during the week is necessary. Generally he does something easy like spaghetti and jarred sauce, which is what he is comfortable with, and totally fine (and a HUGE relief).
Always have a frozen favorite on hand. No matter how much you plan, pre-chop, or lean on your spouse, there are just days that cooking is just not going to happen. Having a frozen favorite on hand is a life saver on these nights. You can pop it in the oven, and voila, everyone has dinner 15 minutes later with zero effort and no expensive take out bill.
I feel like this post would not be useful without some real life dinner inspirations. Below are a few of our current family favorite weekday go-tos along with some remix suggestions to keep things exciting.
- Served over a baguette with a side of grilled chicken
- Warm through with chopped garlic and serve over angel hair pasta
- Grilled caprese sandwich
- Open face meatball sandwich
- Plain with quinoa roasted veggies
- Tossed in teriyaki sauce and served over rice and veggies
*this recipe is for 24 servings to freeze, but you can cut the recipe way down and make for just 1 meal
- Chicken and veggie kabobs with quinoa
- Chicken wraps with your favorite dressing on top
- Grilled chicken sliders with roasted potatoes