Quick weeknight meals: 10 top tips

 

I cross paths with many people who want to improve their eating habits, but say they have no time to cook. But it’s often because they find meal prep arduous, they choose complicated recipes, or they don’t plan ahead. Did you know that you can get a delicious and home-cooked meal on the table in under 20 minutes? The key is to keep it simple.

I cook for my family of four most nights of the week, and I have to balance that with baseball, hockey, guitar lessons, a full-time job, no nanny or extra help, and more laundry than I thought was humanly possible. I get it – I know what it’s like to be busy. So I remind myself of this: healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated!

You can make nutritious meals that don’t takes hours to prep and cook. Maybe it’s scrambled eggs or a speedy shrimp stir-fry. Great! Perhaps leftovers. Wonderful! Your goal is to remove the complications, so healthy eating feels accessible and achievable. Here are 10 tips to help you prep for nutritious weeknight meals.

  1. You need a plan: On Sunday nights, write a list of what the next seven dinners will be. Let other family members have a say too (then save those seven-nights-of-dinner lists to reuse on subsequent weeks). Some ideas for 20 minutes recipes are: Sesame noodles; Herbed chickpeas with quinoa and broccoli; Broiled salmon with salad; and a Tuna & vegetable salad with crusty bread.
  1. Grocery shop with a list: Once you know what you’re going to make, plan your groceries accordingly. If you only shop once a week, use the perishable ingredients (like fish and avocado) in recipes at the beginning of the week, and save the hardier, less-perishable foods (like pasta, kale and cheese) foods for later on.
  1. Fill your freezer: Make sure your freezer is stocked with vegetables, beans, pre-cooked whole grains and pre-sliced raw proteins. A very simple dinner can be made from a quick stir-fry of frozen vegetables and beans on re-heated brown rice. You can also fill the freezer with leftovers like chili, lasagna and other meals that can be reheated.
  1. Pre-prep in downtime: Instead of watching TV, spend that hour prepping ingredients to make mealtime easier. Pre-cook grains like barley, rice or quinoa; dice vegetables; wash lettuce for quick salads; or roast vegetables as a side dish. When you get home, dinner will be even faster if prep started in advance.
  1. Pick quick-to-cook proteins. Okay, if you’re buying a whole chicken to roast, you’ll need more than 20 minutes for cooking dinner. Right? So, stick with these protein choices, which are super-fast to cook or prep in:
    • One minute – canned tuna or salmon; can of beans or lentils
    • Five minutes – shrimp, scallops, squid, sole, minute steaks, edamame
    • 10 minutes – tofu, stir-fry strips of chicken or meat; 1-inch thick fish
  1. Other whole grains: We all love brown rice, but hate that its takes 60 minutes to cook. So, do you opt for white rice? Nope! Get parboiled brown rice, which cooks in 15 minutes, or used pre-cooked and frozen brown rice. Or choose quinoa, millet or buckwheat; these whole grains cooks in under 20 minutes!
  1. Make one pot meals: It takes a long time to prep separate protein, veg and grains, so make meals all-in-one. Sheet pan or one-pot dinners save time and there’s less to clean up afterwards. Try this Sheet-pan mustard maple salmon with potatoes or search online for one-pot pastas and choose your favourite. If you have a slow cooker, use it to come home to a pre-cooked dinner.
  1. Pick your plan-B meal: Despite your best efforts, there will always be days where your dinner falls apart. Maybe you are missing a key ingredient or you burnt something by accident. That’s when your plan-B meal steps in. Always have a back-up meal in case of emergency. Mine is scrambled eggs or grilled cheese – I always have eggs, cheese and bread on hand, and these options can be quickly paired with salad for delicious meal.
  1. Cook once, use twice: Make use of your leftovers for tomorrow’s dinner. Use your leftover stir-fried chicken and vegetables on top of greens for a hardy salad; leftover fish in tortillas becomes fish tacos with some cilantro and guacamole; and add roasted vegetables to tomorrow’s dinner frittata.
  1. The upgraded ploughman’s lunch: We know that the old ham, cheese and pickle is not the healthiest option, but the idea of a no-cook meal is brilliant! Make it with whole foods instead: a handful of nuts, some berries, raw veg with hummus, a wedge of excellent Cheddar and some whole grain crackers make a delicious plate.

The key to quick weeknight meals is to always have a variety of staples on-hand! With a full freezer, some pre-prepped ingredients and a list of go-to recipes, your meals will be simplified and well-enjoyed.

 

Cara’s bookNourish: Whole Food Recipes featuring Seeds, Nut and Beans is available on Amazon.

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Cara Rosenbloom is a Registered Dietician, celebrated author and international columnist, active as a food blogger, recipe developer and nutrition educator.

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