Possibly one of the most loathed questions in many households and often, coming up with an answer can be challenging!
It's not to say we don't like cooking...But the monotony and struggle of coming up with nutritious meals, that also please, in our increasingly time-poor lives can often take the enjoyment away...
Read on for a few tips I use to keep things as quick, easy, varied and tasty as possible - with little effort. There are also some useful recipes linked you might like to give a try.
I've found that having a rough plan at the beginning of the week helps immensely. I definitely don't mean I create a solid menu for the week, just think about what I have in the freezer, what is on for the week, opportunities for leftovers and when I might get groceries. This helps eliminate decision fatigue, lessens the amount of time in the kitchen and minimises trips to the supermarket!
For example, I might have mince, chicken and salmon on hand. I would likely cook the mince on Monday and have enough to use for leftovers later in the week. Chicken would be great for a quick mid-week stir fry and as salmon is my fave, I would use this on an evening I have a little more time to enjoy it!
Cooking extra and using for leftovers or freezing is the ultimate time saving hack! Things like mince and casseroles are fab for this. Depending on how much variety you like in your week, you've got at least two meals and maybe some for the freezer done with the same amount of effort it would have taken to cook for one meal. I also like to cook up a big pot of rice or extra roast veggies to use throughout the week for a handy base for lunch or dinner.
Keep your pantry and freezer stocked with staples like rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, onions, potatoes, tinned fish, sauces and frozen veggies. Buy meats and fish when they're on special and freeze them. This way you have the bases for easy meals on hand, minimising effort and trips to the supermarket. You can then top up with fresh items and anything extra you need throughout the week.
Don't Overthink It
Coming from the queen of overthinking...Ironic.
Often a simple meal can be the most satisfying! As long as you have a source of protein, carbohydrate, a little healthy fat and lots of colour on your plate, you've got yourself a well balanced meal. This can look vastly different night to night - chicken and veg stir fry on rice, steak with baked potato and steamed veg, roast meat and veg, spaghetti bolognese and salad.....Stick to the basics and make life easier for yourself! (Take a look at this previous blog post for more info on how to create a balanced meal.)
Try Something New...
When time allows! If there is an evening you have a bit more time, try a new recipe. If it turns out well, it might become a favourite and provide some variety on your weekly rotation. If not, take it as a learning experience!
Google can be your best friend here...Search for recipes using ingredients you have or simply what you're feeling like creating!
Throw Together Dinners
I'm a massive fan of a 'throw everything in the pan' dinner. This is where your well stocked pantry comes in handy! The same rules apply as above - protein, carb, fat + colour - and it doesn't have to be pretty. Mine often follow the same theme - pasta or rice, canned tomatoes, tinned fish/beans/mince/leftovers, veg and whatever herbs, spices and seasonings I feel like on the day. 99% of the time it's a success!
Linked below are a few recipes I believe fit the bill as useful, family friendly weeknight dinners - I'd love to hear if you give any a go and what you thought!
Chicken Casserole - I would do something like this in the slow cooker, adding a tin of tomatoes and thickening with cornflour at the end.
Beef Tacos - Use this recipe as a base, season and fill your tacos with whatever you fancy!
Baked Salmon - Throw some rice or baked potatoes with this and you've got a delicious and easy meal.
Tomato Pasta - Add some extra veg in here and maybe even a tin of beans/tuna/shredded chicken to boost the protein and there's a one dish dinner!
Shephards Pie - Again, I would add extra veg and probably use beef mince rather than lamb as the recipe states.
Lemon Chicken - Something different and easy to do with chicken breast. Would be yum with rice and salad or steamed veg!
I'll confess I hardly ever follow a recipe exactly, I'm more likely use them as a guide and put my own twist on things....Hopefully there's something useful in here, have fun having a play around!
I can thank my mum for teaching me all of the above, whether she intended to or not! Growing up in a busy household with parents who both worked full time, her organisation and habits were ingrained in me and became second nature.
My brother and I were often left in charge of some of the dinner prep after school - peeling the spuds, putting the roast in, chopping the veges - so from a young age we have been able to cook (even if somewhat basic) meals.
If you don't already, get your kids in the kitchen! It may test your patience at times, but it can help you and them a lot in the long run!
Feel free to get in contact if you have any questions or comments - I love hearing from you.
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