Do you struggle to cook a simple weeknight dinner that’s easy to make, fast, and healthy? If so, you’re not alone. Millions of men and women struggle to make a decent meal after a hard day’s work, and I don’t blame them. I work most evenings, sometimes until 8 or 9 PM, and if I didn’t plan things ahead of time I could see myself ordering take out on the reg or slipping into some unhealthy eating habits. That’s why today I’ve provided some simple tips to help make dinner every night, even on crazy weeknights that involve soccer practice, long meetings, and other obligations. There’s no reason you should have to sacrifice your health for your schedule. Check out these simple tips (and amazingggg chicken pesto recipe) that will help you stay committed to a healthy lifestyle.
1. Own Your Strengths (And Your Weaknesses)
Take a minute to sit down and write down all the reasons you want to make a healthy dinner and all the reasons/obstacles that are preventing you. Do you want to cook, but work late every evening? Do you often come home to an empty fridge, and the thought of going grocery shopping is just too much to handle? Figure out your trigger points and address them accordingly.
2. Develop a Plan of Action
If you work late most evenings, try putting something together in a slow cooker so that you can come home to a hot meal. Or think about if you can rearrange your schedule a few nights a week so that you can get home a little earlier. If you never have any food to cook in your fridge, find some recipes you’d like to make BEFORE you go grocery shopping over the weekend. This way, you’ll be better equipped and can plan your meals accordingly.
If it’s something like your kid’s soccer practice or other obligation that’s keeping you from cooking in the evenings, see if you can arrange for your spouse or another parent to help you out. Take turns with the carpooling. Thank your spouse/other parent by cooking enough food so that they can also join you for dinner 🙂
For me to give you some be all end all tip isn’t going to get you anywhere. Learning to modify behavior is really about figuring out what you’re good at and what you need to work on. If you’re wide awake and fresh in the mornings, maybe that’s the time to do a little meal prep and put your slow cooker to work! No tip works for every person and it all really depends on your personal preferences.
3. Invest in a Good Slow Cooker
I feel like slow cookers used to get a bad rap, but thanks to the wonderful world of Pinterest that’s all completely changing. Slow cookers and crock pots have made a total comeback in the last couple of years and I’m totally on board with this trend.
Slow cookers are an easy way to make healthy food while you’re out of the house and/or working all day. Better yet, you can often use cheaper cuts of meat, because the slow cooking process will make even the toughest meats soft and tender. There are also a ton of different slow cooker recipes out there so you really shouldn’t have a problem finding something you like. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different proteins, veggies, and spices until you’ve developed a handful of recipes that work for you.
4. Think Protein, Starch, Veggie
Part of the problem I think some people have with making dinner is that they’re overwhelmed with all the choices laid out before them. Should they make enchiladas? Or lasagna? Or Chinese? What’s the difference between Chinese dumpling and other East Asian dumplings anyways?
See where I’m going here? With the abundance of food and food choices, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of culture, fancy ingredients, and complicated cooking techniques. Make it easy on yourself. Strive for balance and nutritional adequacy by aiming for a protein, a starch, and a veggie in each dinner. For instance, you bake chicken in your oven (protein) while you boil brown rice on the stove (starch) and quickly steam some broccoli and cauliflower. Sure, this sounds boring at first. But it’s balanced and healthy. Over time, you’ll learn how to season your food appropriately and work different flavors into your meals. For instance, you could marinate your chicken the day before in a little soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and olive oil, then bake as you normally would for a healthy take on Asian chicken. Add a little ginger to your steamed broccoli and keep your rice as is for a healthy Asian-inspired dinner.
Conversely, swap the brown rice for whole grain pasta (starch). Pan fry your chicken in a can of diced tomatoes and a little herb de provence (protein). Roast zucchini in the oven while both dishes cook on the stove (veggie). Now you’ve gone from Asian to Mediterranean by just switching a few ingredients. Simple, right?
Using the protein + starch + veggie equation is a perfect way to sift mind from matter and figure out what you really need to eat versus what you end up making because you’re too tired, lazy, insert excuse here, etc.
5. You’re Not In This Alone
In my family of four, we all take turns helping out with cooking. Some nights I get dinner started before I head into work, then instruct whoever is home on how to finish the meal. Other times another family member will take over completely. The point is, cooking is a family affair, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re carrying the entire weight. Remember, many hands make light work!
Even if you live alone, build camaraderie with your neighbors, coworkers, and other contacts. Having a potluck where everyone gets together as little as twice a month can be a perfect way to save time on cooking, bond, and get some awesome leftovers for the next day 🙂
Below is today’s super simple chicken pesto recipe. You can serve this with whole grain pasta, a gluten-free grain, or even potatoes (I used baked white, yes white, potatoes, sue me). It’s a super simple but tasty take on pesto (I used spinach and walnuts instead of the traditional basil and pine nuts) and it turned out great. There’s no excuse for not eating healthy, even when you’re in a time crunch.