Every week day with three kids (or 1 or 2 or 4, or, you know, none) seems so busy, right? I feel like I’m constantly in search of ways to make the weeknight dinner rush less stressful – and reduce the number of days we resort to fast food. Over many years (almost 13 since my oldest will be celebrating her 13th birthday this summer), I’ve come up with several keys to stress-free weeknight dinners.
The main step in the process for me is always taking the time to plan out our weekly meals on the weekend. I sit down and look at our calendar to see what evening activities we have in any given week first, so that I know if there are certain nights that need not just a quick and easy meal, but a super-fast one. I then look through our meal spreadsheet (yes, that makes me sound like an accountant) and the weekly grocery store ad to see which meats will be the center of the plate for us in the current week. I use some of my favorite Knock Knock pads to plan out the week in meals and make my grocery store list.
If I’m having a very productive weekend, I will do some of my prep work for the week’s meals. This is essential for weeks that are extremely busy, and while it takes a little bit of time out of the weekend, it makes the week go so much more smoothly. The best days are the ones where I’ve managed to come home from the grocery store, prepare meat and veggies for 2-3 meals, store them in freezer bags and stash them in the freezer or refrigerator to be moved to the slow cooker on meal day. It makes me so happy to be able to take the food straight from the refrigerator to the slow cooker, and straight from the slow cooker to our dinner table. A few of my recent recipes and tips for freezer-to-slow-cooker-cooking can be found here.
I also like to do as much prep work as possible for other meals to decrease the work necessary at the end of the day. For example, this Bubble Up Pizza can be prepared ahead of time and then simply placed in the oven at the end of the day.
Any type of pasta or rice casseroles are also great for early morning or mid-day prep so they just have to be popped into the oven at the end of the day – lasagna, baked ziti, chicken and wild rice casserole. And one more great meal to prepare ahead of time? Mini meatloaves.
I also like recipes that combine slow cooker preparation with oven preparation. Cooking meats in the slow cooker really makes dinner prep less messy and more convenient – from the simple salsa chicken (chicken with a jar of salsa tossed into the slow cooker and shredded) that can be used in so many other meals like tacos, salads and casseroles, to some of my favorite recipes like Garlic Chicken Farfalle and Baked Chicken Parmesan Ziti. Making a hearty spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker and then boiling the pasta and adding some garlic bread at dinner time is another convenient weeknight meal. Since the meat has already been cooked for these recipes, most can be easily finished off within 30 minutes right before dinner.
Reviewing the Plan Daily:
Every night before I go to bed, I double check the meal plan for the week to see if anything needs to be done for the next evening’s dinner. Sometimes this just involves taking a bag out of the freezer. Or taking meat that hasn’t been prepared yet out of the freezer. Or cooking the meat and pasta for a casserole and putting it in the refrigerator. The nightly review keeps us on track and reduces the likelihood that we’ll decide to ditch the plan for a day and pick up fast food instead.
What are your tips for stress-free weeknight dinners? What are your favorite weeknight dinners?