Do-Ahead Dinners: 5 Ideas to Get Dinner on the Table Quick
Words Megan Gordon
Getting dinner on the table in a timely manner is always a challenge, but in the fall as the days shorten and the school year kicks into gear, it feels even harder. Our son Oliver is far from school age, but even so, both my husband Sam and I work for ourselves and the daily to-do lists always feel weighty. I’ve gotten a lot better about giving myself permission to put together simple, basic meals with good ingredients and I try to do as much in advance as possible so no one’s standing at the fridge at 6:00 pm looking paralyzed. Here are a few do-ahead tips that work famously in our house:
1. Meal Planning
It may not be all that sexy, but if we don’t plan out our meals, things become really hectic at the end of the day inevitably resulting in takeout. I remember before I had kids, I’d silently scoff at friends with their menu plan on the fridge, thinking how nice it was to cook by whim and craving, but now I completely understand that it’s pure survival mechanism when you have kids. My sister has a rule that you should always know what you’re having three days out, and I’ve started to adopt this for our family, too.
2. Prep Those Veggies
I often have good intentions, picking up greens from the farmers market and envisioning a week full of fresh, healthy salads. But the truth is, the extra step of washing and chopping those greens often prevents me from using them right away. Now I get in the habit of prepping lettuce, hearty greens like kale and fresh herbs (as well as chopping tops off carrots and radishes and storing them in a GreenSaver) the second we get home – whether I feel like it or not – and then they almost always make their way into salads, soups or scrambles.
3. Double Your Recipe and Get Creative
When I’m cooking something like meatballs, baked pasta, meatloaf or really any recipe that’s worth doubling, I do it. If you cook enough for leftovers, you can often tweak the way you use it throughout the week to make less work for yourself. This week I roasted a chicken on Monday and we had a big green salad and cornbread. On Tuesday, I shredded the leftover chicken for easy tacos, and on Wednesday I added it into a quick pasta with canned tomato sauce. One night of cooking made three simple dinners. My sister would be proud.
4. Celebrate Ready-Made Ingredients
I cook a lot of homemade meals and write recipes for a living, but let’s get real: every night can’t be a homemade extravaganza. So I’ve gotten a lot better about being smart and picking up ready-made ingredients I feel good about. Last night I grabbed a can of curry sauce and frozen veggies. In a pinch, we’ll have pasta and jarred tomato sauce or homemade pizzas using store-bought dough. At the end of the day, keeping stress at a minimum is far more important than having every element of our meal 100% homemade.
5. Embrace Breakfast for Dinner
When all else fails, breakfast for dinner is almost always the solution. Kids tend to love it and see it as a novelty, and Sam and I love a good breakfast burrito. These meals cook up quickly, so if we’ve got any work we need to finish up in the evening or I need to tend to things out in the yard or garden, we’ll often do a quick scramble with some breakfast sausages and call it a day.