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Weeknight dinner SURVIVAL GUIDE

It is possible to get a home-cooked meal on the table each night, and kick butt while doing so

I can’t say I ever had a special affinity for cooking while growing up. Back in university, my first foray into the world of adulthood, I had my reliable, go-to, one-pot quick meals: stir-fry with tofu, pasta and veggies; scrambled eggs – you get the picture. Yet, even with limited culinary skills and no one to cook for but myself, something propelled me to put together home cooked meals instead of ordering in.

And to think that my day was “busy” back then [*sigh*]. Well, with full-time work and kids, things are certainly much more hectic these days, and I know many parents feel this plight, wondering how it’s possible to whip together minimum-effort, healthy dinners.

So here are a few tips for surviving weeknight meals – and dare I say, kicking butt while doing so:

1. It does not have to be fancy.

Honestly, thinking back to my college days, my approach to dinner wasn’t half bad. Sure, my dietary habits have changed, but the principles remain the same. Stick to a short ingredient list, keep cooking time to a minimum, and make extra so that there are leftovers for the next day. Make sure each meal has veggies, protein, and healthy fats.

2. Do the mental prep in advance.

At the beginning of the week, take a quick kitchen inventory and jot down some meal ideas based on what you’ve already got lying around. That should get you sorted for the first few days. Then think of some additional ideas for the rest of the week, and make a shopping list of items that you’ll need to pick up.

3. Re-purpose weekend leftovers.

Batch cooking is the name of the game. By dedicating some time for meal prep on the weekend, you will reap the benefits well into the beginning of the week. For instance, if you're cooking for Shabbat, make double portions. A pot of soup goes a long way, as does a large tray of fish or chicken, a pot of quinoa, lentils or rice, and a pan of roasted vegetables. These are all staples in my house.

4. Breakfast is a perfectly acceptable dinner.

I’ll admit, I really like eggs, and I don’t care what time of day it is. Eggs are versatile and quick to whip up. Spruce ‘em up with some mushrooms or greens, and serve up with avocado, veggies, and wholegrain toast. This is 10-minute meal prep at its finest.

5. Enlist your kids as sous chefs.

Whether you have toddlers or school-aged kids, they can take part in food prep. This often keeps them out of other mischief while you’re in the kitchen. Plus, when they help make the food, they’re more likely to be enthused about eating it at the dinner table. I can’t guarantee that this will actually speed up dinner prep, but it can turn it into a nice family activity.

Just to get you started, here’s a sample 5-day dinner plan that you could try. (The first 3 days are based on weekend leftovers):

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