Preparing a weekday evening meal is not supposed to be a stressful marathon or a trial by stir-fry. After all, it’s just dinner. You can eat well – and feed others too - with modest effort and planning. You don’t need tons of money or hours of research online or rummaging through cookbooks either.
If you've read MotherWouldKnow before, you have already figured out that I am all for sanity, in the kitchen and elsewhere. I start with a few basic tenets:
- First, leave your competitive, Type A qualities (if you have them) at the kitchen door.
- Second, if you notice that your dinner plate has a chip or doesn’t match the placemat, resist the urge to switch them. That’s for company – this is about weekday sanity. You can throw out the chipped plate after dinner or switch out the placemat next time
- Third, take a deep breath, ditch your heels or your tie (if you dress that way at work) and smile. After all, it’s just dinner.
Are you with me?
Weekday Dinner Tip# 1 Plan – and Shop – Ahead
Although I’ve been known to start my dinner preparation with a glance into the refrigerator and pantry to see what’s available, that’s not the ideal first step. At some point you have to shop, so you might as well make it a well-planned trip with a list.
Shopping Lists Strategies:
If you’re an organized type, you may already have a basic list of foods you like to keep in stock. Keeping an electronic or paper copy nearby during the week and circling or highlighting the items you need creates a ready-made list of staples needed on the following shopping trip.
Other folks start their list “from scratch”, adding items they use up from their pantry or refrigerator during the week.
Either method works; the bottom line is that an efficient shopping trip begins with stock items that need to be replenished, includes as “special purchases” those ingredients that will go into a recipe or meal planned for that week, and new items that you would like to try.
I’m a big believer in shopping sales and buying what is in season, even while using a list. For example, if I need a vegetable to go with a particular chicken dish, I’ll note that on the list. Then at the store, I check out which vegetables fitting that bill look especially good, which are local, and what’s on sale.
I hate seeing food go to waste. Figuring out how many nights in the week you will need to make dinner and how many will be home to eat each dinner avoids buying – and cooking – more than you actually need. Cooking for the freezer is one thing, but buying food for 5 weekday dinners when you have 3 evening meetings and a weekday dinner date is not smart.
Being realistic when you shop for weekday dinners can require self-control. Sure grilling is a great idea in the beautiful weather, but do you really want to set up the grill on a weekday night? Sometimes I do, but it is not always an option. Roasting a whole chicken takes a lot more time than sautéing or poaching chicken breasts. Think about preparation methods and timing. You might save the roasting for a weekend and do a quicker method during the week, or buy an already roasted chicken and make fresh vegetables, salad and a grain.
Much as I love to read food blogs, they can make me feel as though every homemade meal is supposed to include exotic ingredients and look like edible art. But I fight that urge to turn my life into a culinary can-you-top-this. After all, there is no shame in having breakfast for dinner or a super simple pasta meal. In fact, that’s what is on tap at my house tonight, as we go in separate directions for evening activities with barely any time for a quick bite together.
I contribute a bi-monthly column, It's Just Dinner, to the Whole Foods Market Cooking site. This post is a modified version of the first column in that series.