Preparing healthy homemade dinners can be a real chore, especially if you don't know what to make for dinner, or don't have the necessary ingredients in the house. However, using some simple strategies can help you get dinner on the table with ease and avoid the last minute trap of ordering take-out or going out to eat.
1. Have a plan. If you have a plan for the week you can make sure you have all the necessary ingredients in the house and save time by prepping foods in advance. Take a look at your week and plug in quick meals for busy nights, slow cooker meals for nights you need to eat as soon as you walk in the door, and more involved meals for days you have additional time.
2. Keep a list of family favorites. Making weekly menu plans will be easier if you have a list of recipes you've made before that your family likes. It is easy to forget about a new dish, especially if it is seasonal. There may be recipes that you cook on the grill in the summer and warm soups you make more in the winter. Having a list helps you remember those dishes the next time that season rolls around.
3. Try to minimize grocery trips. Make your grocery list before you leave home so you won't have to go back to the store to get something you forgot. The more trips you make, the more you will probably spend and the more time you will waste. If you make a weekly plan you can also purchase the majority of the items you need in one trip.
4. Double up and freeze. Many recipes freeze well. As much as I like to cook, there are some nights that I love having a pre-made dinner in the freezer that I can just heat up and know that there won't be many dishes to do.
5. Keep the ingredients for a few quick meals in the house. In a pinch, I usually have the ingredients for linguine with clam sauce, stovetop macaroni and cheese, and potato soup in the house. Find a few recipes for dishes you family likes, which have a minimum of perishable ingredients, and keep those ingredients in the house for a quick throw together dinner.
6.Prep in advance. If you have a plan for the meals you're going to make for a given week, you may want to chop some of the vegetables up at once for the whole week. If you will be making three recipes with chopped onions, chop all the onions at once.
7. Keep frozen cooked meats in the freezer. Taco salad is a mainstay recipe in my house. When I make it, I usually make a double or triple batch of the browned meat and freeze one or two containers of this for a future dinner. I like to do the same with grilled sausage. I usually make extra sausage, cut it up and freeze if for future use in lasagna or jambalaya.
8. Side dishes don't have to be complicated. Simple sides can include fresh fruit, raw veggies or buttered noodles.
9. Entrées don't have to be complicated. A simple soup and salad dinner can be very satisfying. Tuna and Egg salad, whether served inside of a tomato or in a sandwich can be a quick dinner as well as a salad with cut up deli meats and cheese. Every dinner doesn't have to be a 5 star meal.
10. Some convenience foods are worth the convenience. It's hard to beat the price or convenience of a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, bagged salads are often on sale and save a lot of time, and peeled baby carrots can speed up soups and stews. If you find these items on sale, you may find you not only save time but money as well.
11. Have fun and break the rules! Make breakfast for dinner, eat dessert first, have an indoor picnic. Spice up dinner by breaking your usual routine.
12. Recruit Help. Teaching your kids to help not only helps make dinner easier for you but will also help them in the future. If you are making dinner for just you and your spouse, consider doing it together. Dinner parties can even be a joint effort. When I was single, I used to have a lot of dinner parties. When guests arrived, I gave them a cutting board and a knife along with a drink. Themed dinners, such as an Asian dinner, work great with a lot of hands in the kitchen.
A little planning can help even the busiest person make healthy, homemade dinners without a lot of stress.