Being a cook by profession, most may think that I push out 3 course meals every day for the crew. The truth is, I DON’T! I am just like every other mom in the world who struggles with answering the question “what’s for dinner?” Can I just say, that question is sometimes extremely annoying………especially when I don’t have a clue what to cook. Because I have a such a large family, grabbing take out is not a go-to option for us. We may eat out 2-3 times a month. Most times it’s just grabbing a couple $5 hot & ready pizzas from Little Caesars or picking up some chicken and adding side dishes. That can get expensive though. So the only other option is to cook! But how do I make it easier for myself?
Where It Starts
I was over at my neighbor’s house for a bonfire one day and I caught a glance at a list on her refrigerator. It was a list of what they were having for dinner that week along with grocery/household items needed for the next shopping trip. I asked her if it really helps and she emphatically said “YES”. The following week, I gave that method a try and I must say, she was right. Family meal planning takes the pressure away from dinner time. When you know ahead of time what you’re cooking, it makes grocery shopping so much easier. Having everything you need before your week starts sets you up for a smooth ride, most of the time. We always have to leave a little flex room for those “change of plans” moments.
During the week, I have no interest in spending hours in the kitchen. The only way I am able to cook a decent meal is by doing it the “semi-homemade” way. Years ago, there was show on food network called “Semi-homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee”. It was all about how to cook delicious food that had the appearance and taste of homemade cooking but in less time. The way my life is set up, I don’t have time to spend more than 45 minutes over a stove every single night. So how do I avoid this? I get help! Here are a few of my go-to dinner cheat codes:
- Rotisserie Chicken- This is my number one cheat code! Precooked rotisserie chicken is cheap (cheaper than a whole, uncooked chicken), it’s versatile, and it tastes yummy. You can eat it as is with a salad or you can shred it up, add some taco seasoning and use it for tacos. The chicken from Sam’s club is my family’s absolute favorite.
- Steamable Sides- I love fresh broccoli but I don’t love the prep work. Steamable sides are a great alternative. Green Giant has an AMAZING line called “Steamers”, which is a variety of veggie and pasta sides that you can pop in the microwave to cook and serve straight out the bag. I typically add a little butter and some extra seasonings to the veggies before serving but it is still a super quick go-to. Head to your local grocery store and check it out!
- Preprepped Items- There is a new trend in stores now where they are selling meat that has already been seasoned and oven ready. The Fit and Active Turkey Tenderloin from Aldi is awesome. I pop it in the oven on 325, let it cook for 45 minutes, served with some steamed veggies and minute brown rice- WALLAH! Dinner is done with very little effort. Pre-chopped veggies, jar pasta sauces, salads with the dressing and add-ins in one bag, and frozen family meals are a huge help during the week.
One of the most important things I learned in culinary school was the power of prepping. We had to take turns doing a mock restaurant in order to graduate, which took a whole lot of work. The day before a luncheon was always prep day. Looking back, there would have been no way possible for us to pull those 11am lunch services off without doing the simple things such as chopping all the veggies, making salad dressing, seasoning meats, and prepping dough the day before. I say all that to say- Prepping is IMPORTANT! Yes, it may take a little extra time one day a week but this will help you in the long haul. Some super easy but helpful ways to prep are:
- Make a large batch of ground beef (or turkey) that can be portioned into storage bags. If you’re having tacos, spaghetti, and ground turkey stir fry all in the same week, this eliminates you having to cook the meat you need 3 times. Use your normal seasonings then adjust when it’s time to use that portion of meat. You can even freeze it to use at a later time.
- Chop your veggies once! Whatever you will need for the week- onions, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage……..take one day to chop it and throw it in storage bags to refrigerate. If you do it once, you don’t have to keep repeating the same step over and over. I use onions just about every time I cook so this step helps a lot!
- For you pasta lovers, boil your noodles in advance. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain how I found this helpful. I had to cater an event on a day that I also had to work, which meant I had to do as much prep as possible the night before. I googled “can you pre-cook pasta?” and the answer was “UH DUH”! Maybe it was just yes, but you get the idea! I was shocked to find out that most of your prominent restaurant do this. They make a large batch and use it as service progresses. So, I tried it and it was pretty mind blowing. I cooked it about 90%, tossed it in cold water, drained it, then tossed it in some olive oil so that it would not stick. I put it in the refrigerator and used it the next day. It was perfectly fine! Next time you have pasta night, try this trick. It’s good for up to 48 hrs in the refrigerator.
- Say yes to leftovers! This may not be prep-work in your eyes but in my house, this is clutch. If you strategically make enough food for 2 days, that eliminates a day of cooking. It’s just that simple! I have even taken a Monday night and cooked 3 meals just so I wouldn’t have to see the kitchen for a few days in a row. Cooked food is good for up to 7 days in the refrigerator, but we normally use within 3-5 days. All I’m trying to say is that leftovers is a way of life at “The J Spot”!
So, What’s For Dinner Tonight?
Hopefully these tips will help you be able to answer that question with ease. I highly encourage you to give meal planning a try. I have created a Free Meal Planning Printable to make it super simple for you!
You can print this out to put on your refrigerator or, if you are tech savvy, you can download it on your computer or tablet and edit it every week. Plan your meals for the next week on Saturday, do your shopping, and set yourself up for an easy week in the kitchen. I have also created a list of 7 easy weeknight meals that can be found on my Pinterest page- Reese J.~ The J Spot Mom. Click on the Easy recipes for the week board and you’ll find those 7 plus plenty more super quick meals to cook for your hungry family for dinner.