The last couple of weeks have been surreal to say the least. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are now trying to work from home while homeschooling our kids. We’re all cooking a lot more simply because we have to so I wanted to share 5 of my work night meals and a few tips to help make dinners easier during this situation. Finally, there is also a grocery list to make all of these meals at the end.
Meal plan: Make a plan so you only have to go to the grocery store once a week. We’re trying really hard to do this just to limit our potential exposures. My guide for how I meal plan is here.
Make double batches: If you’re getting tired of all the cooking, make double batches of anything you can. Then you get two meals out of one cooking effort. You can then:
Save the second batch for another meal that week
Use the leftovers for lunch the next day
Freeze the second batch for another meal later on
Eat fresh: There are many items unavailable at groceries store right now but fresh produce has been well stocked. Finding fresh products is easier and has also helped us feel good during the day. We also have our freezer stocked with meats, veggies, and fruit just in case we don’t want to get out for several days but still want to eat healthy items instead of non-perishable items.
Cook your way through a cookbook: Open up that cookbook you’ve been meaning to cook out of for awhile. Add a couple of different dishes to your meal plan each week and try something new. My friend starting doing this and I thought it was a brilliant way to mix things up. We’re both cooking through The Defined Dish by Alex Snodgrass, which I highly recommend.
The Plan:The 5 meals listed below are lined up for the work week. You could have leftovers/carryout Saturday and something from your favorite cook book Sunday to fill your plan.
Soak up some fresh air and sunshine while you make this easy dinner. If the weather isn’t good for grilling, switch to a oven roasted chicken and veggies instead (400 degrees for ~30 minutes.)
This list has all the items for these 5 meals for 4 servings each meal. Add your lunch, breakfast, and other staples and you’ll be ready to go for your grocery trip. Make sure you have olive oil, salt, pepper, and butter on hand.
Salmon (1.5-2 lbs)
Ground beef (1 lb)
Ground turkey (1 lb)
Chicken breasts (6-8 pieces)
Broccoli crowns (3)
Carrots (2 lbs)
Red pepper (3)
White onion (2)
Pineapple (or container of fresh prepped pineapple)
When I was first starting to cook, I would often skip over recipes I saw that called for fresh ginger. It felt like something I never had on hand and something I didn’t want to commit to a whole chunk of because I could never use it all. Yes, I finally realized I could freeze ginger for later but just throwing the whole root in a freezer bag meant I had to thaw the whole root or saw off the chunk I needed which didn’t work well.
The time I put a little effort in up front to peel and cut the ginger into useable chunks was a real game changer. And now I LOVE recipes that call for fresh ginger because I know I can just run to the freeze and grab the exact amount I need whenever I need it.
Here is what you’ll need:
Big hunk of ginger
Plastic freezer bag
Here is what you do:
Peel the ginger completely
Cut the ginger into “coins” (1-2 Tablespoon sized pieces)
Label plastic bag with date
Put sliced ginger in bag
Put bag in freezer where it can be flat with ginger pieces as separated as possible
When frozen, move bag to more convenient spot in freezer
Open the bag and grab the amount you need whenever a recipe calls for fresh ginger (frozen ginger is really easy to grate or mince)
Seal bag and place it back in the freezer
So if you’re skipping over recipes with fresh ginger like I was (or have an unpeeled ginger root in your freezer right now) give this a whirl and see if it works for you!
Meal planning is something that has been written about often and, in my opinion, way overcomplicated by many. I’m sharing this to show how I do it easily for my family in a way that doesn’t take a bunch of time or effort. It isn’t fancy but it is effective.
For me, I always need to know WHY I should be doing something before I would ever put any effort into doing it. My whys: Meal planning helps me to save time, save money, have less stress, and have less waste. The weeks I don’t meal plan sometimes wind up with me coming home from work to frantically rummage through the fridge and pantry attempting to put whatever I have on hand together in a way that somewhat resembles a put together meal. Basically, I’m playing “Chopped” in my own kitchen with my husband and children as the judges.
When I meal plan, things go so much better. I come home work and execute the plan I had. If Beast beats me home, he can check the plan and get started on dinner too. No one attempting to make something out of nothing each and every night.
So here is how I do it. I usually meal plan Sunday nights because I’m off on Mondays and can get groceries for the week then, if needed. I typically do this while Beast and I watch Sunday Night Football or some other show so I can hang out with him, get his feedback/ideas, and not feel like I’m off doing this all on my own. A regular time helps make sure you get in the habit of doing the planning regularly.
What you need:
Glass of wine
Place to hang the clipboard
Binder for saved favorite recipes
Meal planning steps:
Pour yourself a glass of wine.
Stand in front of the fridge and pantry to take a quick look at what you have on hand already and need to use. Jot these down on the corner of your paper if you need to.
Take a seat and spread out your paper, go-to cookbook, and recipe binder.
Outline the meals you need to plan for the week and any special circumstances for those meals. (Work events, people coming over, celebrations, eating out, etc.) If you have a spouse or partner, this gives you a chance to do a quick run down of the week to make sure everyone is on the same page about what is and isn’t going on.
Put down any meals you already have the groceries for and can easily put together.
Pick meals out of your favorite recipes binder or go-to cookbook for any of the single items you have on hand that need to be used. Put these earlier in the week since these items are likely older than what you will purchase for the week.
Ask your family if there is anything they would like to have this week (optional). Don’t do this unless you are really willing to write down their requests. I usually ask Beast (after the kids have gone to bed) if there is anything he’s craving for dinner this week.
Put down one or two of your “regular rotators” (meals that you make well and easily that are loved by all). My examples would be my go-to taco meat or my go-to pasta sauce. We usually have one of two each week. If I skip a week, I’m asked when we’ll be having it next, which I don’t mind since both are full of hidden veggies.
If you are new to cooking regularly or like to have a break occasionally, add a “bring home” night for someone to bring dinner home. I frequently have Beast bring dinner home on one of my work nights to give me a break from making dinner and also give me some extra time with the kids. Our favorites are Panera, Chipotle or Qdoba, a local Greek restaurant, a local Italian restaurant, or our favorite sushi place (for celebrations).
Fill in the holes with things you are craving or want to try from your binder or go-to cookbook.
Saved recipe binder
Tabs to organize
Put items you need to complete each of those meals on your grocery list as you go.
Make sure to tuck any recipes behind your plan on the clip board or write the page numbers from your cook book to make finding recipes easy.
Get what you need from the store the next day (either in store or through a pick-up/delivery service).
Execute your plan.
What can help:
Try a meal delivery service once a month: This gives you recipe cards for your binder and also gives you a break on the planning once a month. We use HelloFresh once a month for these exact reasons and you can see more about why we love it here.
Have a household grocery list: Beast and I use the Reminders app on our phones to make a grocery list so we can both add things to it and check things off of it once they have been purchased. AND, most importantly, if one of us is going to the store, we make sure to get everything on the list. This makes it really easy not to forget items you need because whenever you realize you are out of something you can easily add it to the list and make sure you get it the next time you’re at the store.
Use grocery shopping or delivery services when your time is limited to go to the store. If you’ll be doing this, just add items to your order instead of your grocery list as you meal plan. I use either ClickList from Kroger/Kings Soopers or Walmart To Go occasionally and both are great. Yes, I let them pick my meats and fresh items and yes, I’ve been very happy with the result. They probably pick some items better than I do.
Be flexible. If you come home later than expected and don’t have time for X that you have planned, make Y (the quick meal for another day) and draw a double sided arrow between the two on your planning sheet. Problem solved.
If you are new to cooking or meal planning, plan out two or more weeks and just repeat them over and over until you have additional recipes you want to add in.
Build in meals to “clean out fridge.” You can use these meals to clean out the leftovers. We call these “smorgasbord” meals. We heat up our leftovers and put everything out on the table. Then everyone gets a chance to have what they liked best the last few days. This helps to make less waste and more space in your fridge.
And in no time, I have enjoyed a glass of wine, talked through the week with my hubby, and planned our meals for the week (saving time, money, and sanity).
I hope this is helpful for you! If you have any questions or other ideas of your own, please use the “leave a comment” button above.
If you’ve taken a look at my recipes, a lot of them include deglazing with wine or beer. Is this just an excuse to open up a bottle of something on a weeknight? Well, maybe. But really the goal is to deepen the flavor of whatever I’m cooking, which brings me to this cooking tip:
Never, EVER, cook with booze you wouldn’t enjoy drinking.
Seriously. Never. If they sell it as “cooking wine” in a grocery store DO NOT cook with it. Ever. If you have a can of Natty Light in the fridge that’s been there forever DO NOT put it in your food.
Why? If you don’t like the flavor of it enough to drink it, you won’t like the flavor it adds to your food.
A lot of the cooking wine I’ve tasted honestly tastes nothing like wine at all so it doesn’t have the same effect as adding a glug of chardonnay.
Here’s my rule: If you like it and genuinely enjoy drinking it, then it is good enough for your food. It doesn’t have to be expensive. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t let it touch your food.
There you have it. Now crack open a bottle of something and deglaze a pan with it. And pour yourself a glass while you’re at it.
I don’t know about you, but when I first started cooking grilling chicken was one thing I could not figure out. I’d throw a chicken breast on the grill. Flip it. Pull it off. Result: Half was already dry and gross. Half had pink in the middle.
The problem: chicken breasts don’t come in a uniform thickness. You can easily have a chicken breast that is 2 inches thick on one side and 1/2 inch thick on the other. There is no way to cook that completely without overdoing one half.
My solution: Beat it. I put the chicken breasts I plan to grill in a large plastic bag with whatever marinade I am planning on (barbecue sauce, lemon and olive oil, etc). Get out my metal ladle, put the bag on the floor and go at it until the chicken is a uniform thickness. The kids can even help.
At this point, my kids know what I am up to when I start walking over to our rug with a bag of chicken and a metal spoon. They run and get their ladles and join in the fun.
This time I was using Bryant’s BBQ sauce. A favorite for KC natives.
I focus on the large ends of the chicken breasts and work to get them even (or much closer to even) with the other half.
The result: Easily grilled chicken. I preheat my grill on high, place the chicken on the grill, and then turn the grill down to medium. I flip the chicken once it has released from the grill (you shouldn’t have to pry it off), which is usually about 5 minutes. Around 4-5 minutes on the other side and you have tender, moist chicken that is done all the way through.
Bonus: The kids say they “helped cook” the chicken. And my kids always eat things even better when they’ve helped make it. This is an easy and safe way for them to help cook chicken without getting completely gross or making a total mess.