Since marathon training has started again, I have been trying to be better about making sure I’m getting nutritious meals. Because I run in the morning, dinner has really become important. As much as I love pizza, it doesn’t always make the best pre-run meal. My husband and I both like to cook, so it’s not that big of a burden for us. Still, fitting in time to cook dinner in an already tight schedule can have its challenges. While making dinner the other night, I started to think about some of the things we do that make weeknight cooking easier for us. Here are some of my tips for cooking during the week!
You may be thinking “Yeah, no sh–,” but planning ahead really does make a difference. Plus, with so many options for grocery shopping that don’t actually require shoppers to spend time at the store, it’s easier than ever to make a plan for the week, order groceries, and not have it take up so much time. Each weekend, we come up with five meals for the week, make a list, do our shopping, and we are set. When I get home from work I know my options for dinner and it’s easy to get cooking.
Keep it simple
A weeknight may not be the best night to try a new recipe you found. Often times, the “prep” time takes longer than noted since you’re forced to keep referencing the recipe. We try to reserve these types of meals for the weekend when we have more time and patience to try them out. During the week, we keep it simple. Burritos, tacos, or quesadillas with lots of veggies are an easy and quick weekday staple for us. I’m Italian, so pasta once a week is a must! Again, I love to mix in some veggies (eggplant, zucchini, peas). Stick to what you know to save time and stress and keep the fancy new dishes for weekend cooking so you can determine if it’s doable during the week.
Have a backup plan
Planning ahead is great, but sometimes we just don’t feel like eating what we had planned. For me, this happens most often on Thursday nights. By Thursday I’m tired from training and work and I rarely feel like cooking. Sometimes work or other obligations can result in getting home later than normal, too. That’s when backing a backup plan is good. Frozen crispy chicken tenders may not be the healthiest option, but they are easy to throw into a wrap or a salad making it a better option than most fast-food choices. Omelets or scrambled eggs with veggies are also another quick and easy option.
Keep some things stocked
If you open our freezer, you will always find a bag of frozen peas and a bag of frozen corn. You’ll also find a bag of chicken breasts. We always have some type of shredded cheese in our refrigerator, bags of various kinds of rice on the shelf, and cans of black beans, garbanzo beans, or navy beans. The drawers in our fridge always have salad items ready to go. It’s easy to have a backup plan when there’s other food around. It’s also easier for meal planning when I can look at what we already have and create a menu based off of that. Sides are never an issue because we always have things around to make!
Listen to your favorite podcast while you cook
It’s so tempting to go home and sit on the couch and enjoy some TV instead of putting together a good dinner. This can be one of the biggest obstacles of cooking each night. Maybe you just got home from a workout or, if you’re like me, have been up since 4:30 am. No matter what your schedule is like, there are a million things more relaxing than cooking dinner after a long day. I started listening to Podcasts a few years ago while cooking dinner and now it’s one of my favorite times of the evening. There are so many great Podcast series available and most have episodes of 30-60 minutes, perfect for cooking!
This doesn’t always have to be literal. Sometimes my husband and I co-cook together, other times the non-cook just hangs out and chats. Either way, we get to spend some quality time together catching up and the person cooking doesn’t feel stuck in the kitchen by themselves. (But hey, sometimes when I’m catching up on Podcasts I politely let my husband know he can go watch TV!)
Clean up as you go
My husband and I have an unspoken rule that whoever doesn’t cook cleans up. Lucky for my husband, he does a lot of evening work that gets him home late, so I end up cooking and cleaning up. I’ve found the best thing to do is to clean up as I go. Once prep is done and things are cooking on the stove or in the oven, I get all of my prep items clean. Cutting boards, knives, bowls, etc. We don’t have a dishwasher in our current rental, so it’s even more important that I get it done sooner than later (also, cutting knives shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher to avoid dulling). Once I’m done with dinner, the only thing left to clean are the pots/pans/baking sheet and the plate and utensils I used. That means quicker post-dinner cleanup and more time to relax before bed!
How do you make sure you’re getting good meals during the week?