We have always had the same dilemma! What should we have for dinner? Sometimes I dread the evening routine, dinner seems to get later or take longer these days, and I don’t seem to have very much of my evening to myself. I know this is primarily my fault since I choose to cook what I choose to cook, but I’m thinking it might be about time I got organised and planned ahead on a few little things.
I had a thought when I was at work today. Another nurse was talking about cooking dinner, she asked if I cook and she said something that got me thinking, as she was saying how she probably wouldn’t cook if she lived alone. Why does one serve have to be any different to two or three? Why can’t we just be more prepared? After all I struggle more with cooking for one.
So I was thinking about all the things you could be “prepared for” in regards to dinner, some early preparation, and even some longer-term preparation. As I came home to cook dinner I was thinking about the things I use and our options for dinner, and how tired and exhausted I am. So I’ve developed a few ideas to make dinner times easier, although it does mean a little preparation once a week or so.
Tip #1: Prepare vegetables for packing in the kitchen
I like to use my tupperware fridgesmart containers for vegetables, and part of getting vegetables to fit in them properly requires cutting them up. Tip number one: is to cut them up and store them appropriately, as this means you will have less prep when you go to use them (this is one of my pet hates – cutting pumpkin), you can also pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower to the sizes you would use for cooking.
Tip #2: Grate cheese for later
I use grated cheese a lot these days, it might not necessarily be the healthiest option, but it is use in many recipes and it’s nice to have it on hand. Now I have a thermomix I grate my own parmesan cheese, it’s quick (takes only seconds) and cheaper to get a block than to buy it already grated, plus I can shave some too if I’d like.
Tip #3: Prepare ahead for easy nights
I like to have some heat and eat meals in the fridge or freezer ready to go. This can be anything from risotto, soup, pasta bake, quiche, sausage rolls, stir fries… Really anything that will freeze and reheat well. Having some serving sized portions of veggies you can quickly steam is also useful if you want to pick up a piece of fish on the way home. I find this tip especially useful for work, it means all I have to do in the morning is grab something on my way out. I often even buy some turkish bread, cut it up and freeze it for a quick grab in the morning when I have soup for work.
Tip #4: Always have something on hand
If you’re like me and sometimes you just don’t want to go to the shops after work, make sure there’s always an emergency meal option at home. We usually always have some kind of meat in the freezer, and packets in the cupboard (I’m hoping to move away from this and use my own spices and ingredients but I haven’t worked this part out yet). The other thing I always have is some pasta sauce and pasta. Worse case scenario I can boil some pasta and throw a sauce through it and bake while I have a shower, and dinner will be ready when I get out… Not to mention the pre-grated cheese in the fridge ready to go.
Tip #4: Do your weekly/fortnightly shopping equipped with a shopping list developed from your meal plan/ideas
I like to have a discussion with my partner about what we’ll eat this week. I usually know what the suggestions will be, he’s the kind of person who gets caught up with something and eats it over and over until it’s worn out it’s welcome. Currently it’s chilli con carne and a new pasta dish.
So I would make up a list of those ingredients, along with whatever we’re eating for breakfasts and I’ll cook up a batch of a dish I know he doesn’t like that I do like, and I can use that for work lunches and dinner for myself. It also means I know he won’t eat it all while I’m at work, and I get to eat the dishes I like.
Make sure when you go shopping that you get some items you can use for a hurry, or an easy night… Like the pasta idea, or steamed veggies.
Tip #5: Prepare some easy to grab snack foods
I like to make dip, or protein bars that are ready to go in the fridge. I’m thinking this week I might even have some pre-sliced cheese ready to go, since the snack of choice around here at the moment is tomato and cheese on crackers. But, you can prepare whatever is effective for your household, I find that having easy to grab snacks means less snacking on other things that are easy to grab. Lets face it sometimes you just don’t want to make anything. Convenience is the key.
Tip #6: Prepare some ingredients ready to go for late nights
For this tip I am referring to making dinner fool proof for your partner to quickly put on when you’re on your way home, or that they can watch while you have a shower. For me this is simply getting all the ingredients pre-cut and packed in containers for soup with some simple instructions or leave the cook book out open to the recipe, or having the dough pre-made and getting him to load it into the oven for ready made bread when I get home. It could also mean leaving the ingredients there for the meal they make well. For my partner he says he’ll cook if we have the ingredients for spaghetti bolognese or chilli con carne. I just have to call on my way home so he can get started.
Tip #7: An oldie but a goodie – Plan your meals
If you plan ahead, this makes shopping easier and it means only picking up bits and pieces through the week. Plus you know everything you need is there ready to go. Have a couple of different options, depending on what you might be in the mood for. And, remember a left-overs option if that’s something you’re interested in and would use. Planning ahead means less take-away options, and you can choose dishes you want, get the family involved then they have no excuses to say they don’t like it (referring to children here).
Tip #8: Make a dinner options list
This is an extension of tip #7 but it’s something I need to work on. I would like to get a whiteboard magnet made up of all our options, we can choose together which meals to have for the week, but we can also look at things we haven’t had in a while to mix it up a little. Also a great opportunity to make a note of something we really like when trialling new recipes.
I know this covers a lot of the things I’ve already mentioned, but I’m starting to notice really planning ahead is helping my preparation, and means my partner can help out in the kitchen more. I like the idea of having a cooking day once a week or once a fortnight with foods to freeze, chopping up the veggies for quick dinners etc. I really find this helpful, stead of me trying to cook a meal in the morning, the rushing around to get to the gym before my afternoon shift. It’s just the little things, but you’d be surprised how much of a difference they can make. Even things as simple as having your meal for work/school lunches prepared the night before.
Of course this will also aid your diet, and help you stick to it if you can plan healthy cooked meals at home. I don’t think we really eat that unhealthy these days, as long as what we eat has been cooked at home. Just have to watch those serving sizes!