Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Streamlining weeknight meals
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
No matter what your day holds, it is comforting to end it with a meal that you feel good eating, and you can get on the table easily. Try these strategies for streamlined weeknight meals.
First, plan and buy what you need: Knowing that you have a plan and the ingredients you need to execute it can be the difference between calling for pizza and sitting down to a home-cooked meal. A stocked pantry makes it possible to literally pull something together out of what seems like nothing.
Keep it simple and divide the plate: Meat, potatoes and a vegetable become a staple because they are easy to plan for. Choose a protein, such as meat, tempeh, beans or lentils; a vegetable; and a starch or whole grain. Experiment with the seasonings and use different ones — spicy, sweet, salty, acidic — on the different parts of the plate. Try jerk seasoning on your chicken, steamed broccoli, a light drizzle of maple syrup and a small baked potato.
Use theme nights: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Stir Fry Wednesday, Curry Thursday, Homemade Pizza Friday. Theme nights are great because limiting your options from “what are we going to eat for dinner” to “something in a taco shell” makes it easier to decide what to pull out of the fridge. In the beginning, you may make the same meal for every meatless Monday, but over time, you will try new things and soon have a rotating menu.
Rotating menus: Do you have five things that your family will eat and that you like to make? Assign those to a night of the week. You will have the same core shopping list every week and dinner will be quick. If one night is always a late night, make it a crockpot or leftover night. Try a new dish on the weekend and slowly expand your menu. Invite others in your house to cook, too. If the kids are home from school, help them plan and choose a dish they can contribute.
Cook in bulk: Choose a protein and a grain of the week and try new ones each time. Cook two to three ingredients on the weekend and reinvent them throughout the week. You could grill some chicken breasts or a flank steak; peel, cube and roast sweet potatoes; cook quinoa; and use these on salads, in wraps and on a traditional meat and potatoes plate.
Use what you have: Life happens, and there will be times when whatever you planned is not going to work. In those moments, it is “clean out the fridge night.” What do you have that will make a quick, simple meal? Taco salad? Grilled cheese and a piece of fruit? Quesadilla? Scrambled eggs with veggies? Salad — greens, tuna packets, cucumbers and leftover grains?
Invest two hours on your days off: This may be the most important investment you can make. Use this time to plan and shop for everything you need for the week.
Making small changes over time can have a big impact on your health and your wallet, and food prepared at home is often better for you than what you would buy already prepared, so keep trying different strategies to get dinner on the table. Your body will thank you.
Kathy Yeiser is a member of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition and a certified nutrition coach. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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