Simple Weeknight Dinner

 I’m not lazy.  I am all about simple solutions to make everyday life better.   In fact, I will work extremely hard to find a simple solution for a mom struggle for 2 reasons:  1.  To make sure it actually works, and 2. so I can share my solutions with you to make your life easier.  

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Yes, I must admit that sometimes I DO  make situations harder than they have to be, but by the time I get to the end, you can be absolutely sure I have found the most ingenious simple solution to for even the most simple struggle.  It’s just my gift.  Take that with a bit of silliness, but it is true .  I can take the most difficult situation, make it just a bit harder, and come out on the other side with the most simple solution.  So now this ridiculously daunting – or repetitive – task is now one of the most simple tasks on my list.  

Simple Weeknight Dinner

We are a crazy busy family of 7.  My kids each have something to do at least 4 days of the week, and on most weeks, we are running to and from activities up to 6 or 7 days a week.  We are a family that does not know ‘down time’.  One thing that suffers – or used to suffer – is family dinner.  We are often ‘eating on the run’ and that is dangerous for not only the budget, but for growing bodies.  I had to find a solution to continue feeding my kids healthy balanced meals.

 I learned about meal prep and meal planning and I absolutely love it.  I even came up with a super simple weekday meal plan and shopping list that you can download and print to help you plan your meals for the week.  

Weekday Meal Planner & Shopping List

I love the whole idea of simple solutions and meal planning.  I know some of you struggle with this as well, so I invited my friend, Surya, from The Crazy Busy Mama, to share her 5 tips to help you prepare for busy weeknight dinners.  

So without further ado, Surya says…

Dinner time is like leg hair.  No matter how many times you take care of it, it just keeps coming back.  forever.  Dinner time doesn’t care if you are tired or sick or your kids are sick.  It doesn’t care if you are busy or running late or hit traffic.  Dinner time will still be there.  Every.single.night.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  I mean, dinnertime will still happen every night whether you are prepared or not, but it’s a whole lot easier if you are prepared.  So, today I’d like to share five tips and tricks to help you better prepare for those busy weeknight dinner times.  If you follow these tips (even just one or two), dinner time will be easier, quicker, and less stressful.  Couldn’t we all use a little a that?!

Let’s go!

Simple Weeknight Dinner

Tip #1: Plan Ahead

What to make….what to make?  The question that haunts everyone who is responsible for nightly dinner prep in their family.  Sometimes it feels like it takes just as long to decide what  to make as it does to actually make it.  An easy way to side step this time killer is to plan ahead.  For the whole week.  Seriously.  I’ve heard lots of people say “oh, I know people who already know what they are making on Thursday, but that’s just not me.”  Well, it should be!  Who doesn’t want some of their time back?!  Spend 20 minutes every week planning out your week’s meals and you will be thanking yourself on those busy weeknights.

Tip #2: Shop With a List

So, you just finished up planning all your meals for the week.  It’s a smart idea to make a grocery list at the same time.  I sit down with my meal planner and my grocery list pad together and write down what I need as I plan each meal.  This way I have the recipes in front of me, so I don’t come to find that I have forgotten the chicken broth at 5:15 on Wednesday night.  It also saves tons of time (and money!) at the grocery store if you shop with a list.  No more impulse buys.  No more wandering the aisles wondering what to get for the week.  Write a list and stick to it and your dinners (and wallet) will thank you. 🙂

I like to keep a list of my favorite, easy, and go to meals on the side of my fridge (the list with the zebra magnet).  This helps me when I am planning my menus for the week.  I can glance at the list and pick a few (or seven, ha!) and it makes my meal planning go much faster.

I also keep a magnetic note pad on the side of my fridge.  This lets me (or my husband, nudge nudge) write down items during the week as we run out.  This helps prevent you getting back from the store only to remember that you ran out of ketchup on Tuesday, but forgot to put it on the list.  There are two magnetic notepads in the picture, well, because, I love magnetic notepads.  I like to get mine at TJ Maxx.  They come in super handy quite often.

Photos courtesy of The Crazy Busy Mama

Tip #3: Take Advantage of Shortcuts

This one I really only adopted since the birth of my third child.  It was also the hardest for me to do because I always loved to cook and prided myself on being a ‘from scratch’ Mama.  Made my own Alfredo sauce, homemade fresh bread to go with the lasagna, homemade “cream of” sauces, you get the idea.  With each addition to our family dinner got a little less gourmet or homemade or whatever, but I noticed the biggest change when my last little pumpkin arrived.  I felt like I wanted to give my family healthy meals, but needed some help in the prep area.

Your grocery store is overflowing with shortcut items.  You just have to decide to take advantage of them.

And you can decide which  shortcuts to buy depending on how busy your week is.

One of my now favorite shortcuts is frozen mixed vegetables.  If I am in a hurry, no chopping needed, just pour some in a pot, a touch of water to steam, and healthy veggies for your dinner.  If you are having a super busy week, some grocery stores even sell pre-chopped chicken that you could just throw in the pan to skip the chopping.  And I finally put my ego aside and found some frozen dinners that actually taste good and keep a bag or two in my freezer at all times.  That way, if my schedule got all screwed up or I got home later than I was supposed to, I can just grab a bag, heat, and serve.

Tip #4: Make Extra

This is a definite game changer.  And a favorite of mine.  It adds such little work and saves so much time and so many dishes that’s it’s just plain awesome.  For example, let’s say you make meatloaf, instead of just making enough for dinner, make 2 batches and either save it for later in the week or freeze it for later.  This works with so many things – lasagna, burgers, casseroles, the list goes on!  If you start to think about this as you are preparing dinners, you will find a lot of your meals are “make extra” friendly.

This does mean that you have a repeat menu going on in your house, but most families do anyway, so this is no different.  And if you don’t have a repeat menu going on in your house, I highly recommend that you start.  Thinking about what to make takes up so much time in so many ways, it’s just ridiculous.  What to make, what do I need to buy to make it, you get the idea.  Start a 15 day menu and try to make extra on some of those nights and you will have more frequent nights with only 1 or 2 dishes to clean up.  Win!

Tip #5: Prep Meat and Veggies Ahead of Time

If you decide to forgo the pre-chopped veggies and/or meat, that’s fine.  There is still another way to save time on busy weeknights.  If you set aside 20 minutes when you get home from the grocery store, you can do all your chopping and prepping right away.  Then, come busy weeknight dinner time, everything is ready to throw in a frying pan or casserole dish or whatever.

One of my favorite dishes to make is stir fry, but it is super heavy on the chopping.  I have done pre-chopped a few times and it has saved me a ton of time! (note to self: pre-chop for stir fry more often!)  If you can chop your chicken or mix your meatloaf up, or whatever on a “less busy” grocery day, then you will not be so pressed for time on those busy weeknights.

An added bonus of this strategy is that you only get your cutting boards dirty once.  This makes for less dishes on those busy weeknights as well.  Double win!

These five tips and tricks for easy dinner prep have done wonders for me in my quest to put a healthy dinner on the table every night for our family of five. I hope you find a few that work for you and your family, so that making dinner can be enjoyable and fun.

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Do you have any dinner prep secrets?  We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!  

About Surya:

Surya is a busy mom who loves finding tips & tricks that make her life easier.  She loves learning new things and sharing what she learns with you!  Get 5 Tips & Tricks to a Cleaner Home at The Crazy Busy Mama.  Stop on over and visit her at The Crazy Busy Mama, or get in touch with her at thecrazybusymama@gmail.com.

I hope you have enjoyed Surya’s 5 simple weeknight dinner tips as much as I have!  Let us know – what are your weeknight dinner routines?  Have another weekday routine you are struggling with?  Leave it in a comment below and I’ll find a simple solution for you!

My Aggrandized Life

 Here is another helpful post for busy moms: Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress for Busy Moms

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23 comments on “Simple Solutions for Busy Weeknight Dinners: 5 Tips to Make Dinner Time Less Stressful”

  1. These are great tips. One thing I do after coming home from the grocery store is precook my ground beef crumbles and chicken. I throw bone in chicken in the crockpot to make stocks and shredded chicken for pot pies etc. Some Boneless chicken is seasoned then under the broiler for a few minutes did quick salads and wraps.

    • Wow, Kenyatta, I need to take some of these tips for this coming school year when we are running 7 different directions in one day! These are some great ideas. I am glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. These are great tips! Especially the one about making more. We live off leftovers so this has been key in our dinner planning as well.

    • Hi Cheryl – I also struggle with this as we have 5 kids in our house and we are always running somewhere. The crock pot has been such a lifesaver some weeks! I am happy to hear these ideas are helpful to you.

    • Holly – yes! It’s those weeks we end up running through the Wendy’s 4-for-4 drive-through or we end up spending triple at the grocery store for ‘quick meals’ and that’s just as bad! Menus definitely are needed in our house.

    • I am still working on it, too, so you can expect to see more ‘get organized and simplified’ posts as I work through it and find solutions to make the processes simpler. 🙂

  3. I’m still working on the “make extra” idea. I don’t know when to freeze it (after it’s all cooked or before) and then I have no idea how hot/long to cook it. Any help?

    • Hi Tara! Yes – actually what I do is meal prep on the weekends and freeze the uncooked portions. Think about it like creating your own (much less expensive and often healthier!) freezer meals that you find in your grocer’s frozen section. Say you’re making chicken. You can cook the chicken and then freeze it so all you need to do is defrost and heat and eat for the busy nights. For crock pot meals, you would not cook them. I am working on a meal prep compilation with step by step instructions and recipes to help busy moms. Keep your eyes open for it! 🙂

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