We all go through periods where we have very little time in the evenings to cook dinner. And when time is limited, it seems like you don’t have to cook let alone have any time to spare to make a menu plan. But in reality, the busier you are, the more important it is to eat healthy to maintain your energy. Taking a little time to create a realistic menu plan filled with easy, healthy recipes will ultimately save you time, energy, and money.
Salads are fast and easy and you could always plan to create a different flavor combination in your salads each night, but if you have some free time on the weekend, you can use it to prep much of your food in advance and create a more varied menu plan.
Tips to speed up dinner prep on busy nights:
Batch Broil – During inclimate weather batch broil meat using different marinades instead of grilling. I even use this method when the weather is nice because it is faster than grilling. I can have several pounds of meat broiled in under 15 minutes and not have to worry about cooking meat again the rest of the week.
Batch cook vegetables in advance. Batch cooking vegetables allows you to make enough veggies to serve as side dishes, soups, and stir-frys.
Prep raw vegetables in advance. Here are some time saving tips for quickly prepping your veggies. Use the vegetables in stir-frys, salads, soups, casseroles, or for snacks in lunches.
Make a large salad on the weekends. I combine greens, shredded carrots, and cherry tomatoes (diced tomatoes will make the salad soggy) in a large bowl with a lid. The salad can be used as a base for a fast and easy dinner or as a side dish.
Double or triple a recipe. It takes the same amount of time to cook a pound of rice as it does to cook a cup of rice, so it makes sense to make extra. You can use the extra rice later in the week or freeze it to use in the future.
Once-a-month-cooking. Use one day a month to stock your freezer with meals or modify once a month cooking to fit your lifestyle and needs.
Use a Slow Cooker to do some of your batch cooking. Download this FREE Slow Cooker Batch Cooking Coobook for inspiration.
Prep slow cooker meals in advance. Slow cookers are billed as great way to cook food while you are away, but they still require time to assemble the ingredients. Instead of trying to prepare your slow cooker meal during the morning rush, prep the ingredients the night before. Or better yet, assemble your slow cooker meals on the weekend, place them in a sealable bag and freeze them. Then all you have to do is pull them out the day before to thaw and then dump the contents of the bag in the slow cooker in the morning and come home to a delicious dinner.
Include Leftovers in your plan. Have one or two leftover buffets, use your leftovers in your lunches, or as a basis for another meal. Leftover chili can be used in a Chili Pasta Bake or to top Baked Potatoes.
Make a plan! Use the food you have prepped to create a menu. All you have to do is change the sauce to create a variety of meals from your batch cooked and prepped food. Rice can serve as a side dish, can be added to soups, salads, and used with a stir-fry. Combine the cooked meat with veggies in a soup, casserole, or stir-fry. If you don’t have time to make a sauce raid your supply of salad dressings to create one.
Have a Plan B! If you planned on making enchiladas, but don’t have enough time to make them, use the ingredients to make quesadillas instead. Did you want to make lasagna, but are short on time? Make skillet lasagna instead.
Plan B Menu Ideas:
Salads – Fast, easy, and wholesome; Salads are the perfect “fast” food for busy nights.
Quesadillas – The Ultimate Quesadilla Recipe Roundup
Frittatas – Frittatas are a fast and easy, yet elegant dish that can be served for any meal of the day.
Leftovers – You can simply reheat leftovers or use them as the base for a fast and easy meal.
Create a list of fast and easy meals. Create a list of recipes that you can make in under 20 minutes. Tape the list to the inside of your cupboard and keep the ingredients for those recipes on hand. When you have no idea what to make, look over the list and pick a recipe.