Organizing healthier weeknight meals

Ahhh, September. There’s nothing like the return of ‘normal schedules’ to overwhelm even the most well-intentioned cooks come 5pm. Already busy families face an onslaught of extracurricular activities and workers of all stripes lose those precious extra “summer hours” that make the days seem much longer.

Unfortunately, when you’re stressed and feeling pulled in a million different directions, healthy dinners are often the first thing to fall by the wayside (right after your morning exercise routine). Fortunately there are literally hundreds of smart made-from-scratch dinner shortcuts out there. We’ve put a few of our favorites together in this article so you can protect yourself from take-out temptation in the months ahead.

7 Meal Planning & Prep Ideas You Can Use

Build around the basics. Getting a well-balanced meal on the table does not have to be a complicated affair. Rather than reinventing the components of a meal each night, pick one or two protein/starch combinations and rotate them as the basis for all of your dinners in a week. For example, pick chicken and rice, or rice and beans, or fish and couscous. Alter the sauce and change-up the vegetable option each time you make it and the same basic dish becomes new each night. (If you’re looking for a delicious chicken & rice recipe, this one from Campbell’s Kitchen is delicious – pictured above)

Broil and bake as much as possible. It’s usually much easier than sautéing, and is healthier than frying your dinner foods. Instead of standing over the stove, put together a roster of five or ten recipes for all-in-one baked dishes (or croc pot dishes). Then on a busy weeknight, all you have to do is just pop the dish in and move on to the next task.

Cheat healthily. Buying frozen, mixed veggies is a very simple way to make sure you always have a quick, healthy side dish on hand. They take less than five minutes to go from freezer to the table.

Focus on just getting to Wednesday. Rather than stressing out about a detailed menu plan for the entire week, plan the meals for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday ahead of time. Then on Thursday, you can enjoy leftovers and Friday can be a “get out of dinner free” night, where you turn to a frozen casserole or pizza. Use our free meal planning printable to help you get yourself organized.

Go green. You can make incredible salads in 10 minutes or less. Just chop up any vegetables you have in the fridge. Got picky eaters on your hands? Don’t underestimate the power of tasty dressing. If you’re at a loss, follow Pioneer Woman’s recipe for a Spinach salad (pictured above). It’s so good my husband forgets he “doesn’t eat salads.”

Take a knife skills class. Being able to slice and dice like an iron chef is not only fun but it will save you literally hours in the kitchen over the long-haul. Prepping the veggies can be a time-consuming affair if you aren’t confident when wielding a knife. But good knife skills don’t just save you in prep time, they’ll also help you eat healthier too. The faster you can prep veggies, the more likely you are to include them in meals. If you don’t live near a cooking school, the book Knives Cooks Love: Selection. Care. Techniques. Recipes from Sur La Table is a must-read: .

Marinade en-masse once a week. Every Sunday, marinate an entire package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. That same night (or within 3 days), grill up the entire lot. Then cut it into strips and keep in the refrigerator to create healthy quick meals. The rosemary lemon marinade from Real Simple (shown in the picture above) is to die for

Invest in a pressure cooker. Steaming your food reduces the amount of vitamins lost in the cooking process, shortens cooking time, and uses less water and energy.

{feature photo via Food Network}

I’m always looking for more shortcuts in this area! I’d love to hear what YOU do to get healthy meals on the table on weeknights.