How to Make Cooking Dinner at Home Happen when You Have a Crazy Busy Schedule
Cooking at home on a regular basis helps you eat healthier, save money, and refine practical skills in the kitchen—sounds great, right? As much as you might love the idea of prepping dinner at home 5 nights per week, finding the time and energy to make it happen can be a struggle. But it's far from impossible; here are a few simple strategies to help you cook dinner more often.
Let's be honest, we all have those days where the absolute last thing we feel like thinking about is making dinner.
Though eating out may be convenient at times when you're carpooling from one evening activity to the next, studies show that families who cook at home are more likely to eat healthier and less likely to overeat. Additionally, cooking homemade dinners during the week is far more cost effective (if you're feeding 2 or more people), and, on top of that, dinner prep time is a great opportunity to memories with and pass skills to your loved ones. Although it sounds like the ideal situation, I understand that it's not as easy as it sounds to whip up quick, healthy, and delicious dinners on a regular basis. But, rest assured, with a plan of action and little preparation, you'll be well on your way to saving money, feeling healthier, and achieving your goal of cooking more for yourself and your family this year.
1. Nail down your game plan
So you want to become little Miss Martha Stewart, huh? Before you begin your first week of attempting to cook more than one homemade dinner in a row, sit down and assess the situation and identify your plan of action.
- Saturday: Choose 2-4 recipes to cook for the week and read through them entirely. I love to gather recipes and inspiration from social media (I follow way too many food bloggers), food and recipe websites, and Pinterest. Wherever you go to find your recipes, read through each entire recipe--including the ingredient list--and try to imagine yourself creating the dish as you read. Unfortunately, recipes are not always perfect and can often include typos, forget ingredients, give inaccurate cooking times or temperatures, etc., so reading through the entirety of the recipe long before you start cooking can save you from many potentially disastrous cooking situations well before you even start chopping. Make this one simple tip second nature and, I promise, it will give you confidence and save you time down the road.
- Sunday: Shop for your ingredients. When you return from the grocery store, chop and prep any ingredients you can ahead of time to speed up the cooking process for Monday's meal.
- Monday: Is there anything you can do to prepare before you leave for the day? For instance, if the recipe calls for marinating your meat, go ahead and start the process. If the slow cooker is involved, you can prepare nearly the entire meal and let it start cooking before you leave. Read through your recipe once more before you head out, making sure that you have all the ingredients and understand the process.
- Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday: Repeat, repeat, repeat. That was easy, wasn't it?
Cheesy Chicken Cutlets with Ham and Jam image Photo: Jennifer Causey; Food Styling: Catherine Crowell Steele; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke
2. Start where you're comfortable
The quickest way to overwhelm yourself to the point that you give up cooking weeknight dinners altogether is to get in over your head from the get-go. Start with the cooking skills you've already mastered, like simple-to-throw-together casseroles, searing meat, roasting veggies, etc. Then, once you have a week of cooking under your belt and you've mastered the weekly swing and rhythm of selecting recipes, shopping, prepping, and cooking, you can begin incorporating new cooking techniques and trying new ingredients. Build your confidence gradually. Like anything, the more often you're in the kitchen pulling together homemade meals, the more natural it will become. I would suggest adding one new cooking technique weekly and experimenting with 1-3 new ingredients if you're actively trying to broaden your culinary horizons. If you immediately jump from everything that's familiar to you and try to cook numeroues recipes featuring completely foreign ingredients with techniques you've never heard of, much less tried, you'll likely end up spending much longer than anticipated preparing the meal and serve a late dinner to 'hangry' family members. And nobody wants that.
Creamy Lemon Orzo with Peas and Shrimp image Photo: Jennifer Causey; Food Styling: Catherine Crowell Steele; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine
3. Get cooking
And that's really all there is to it. Becoming a regular home cook really is achievable, and with a little preparation and practice, it may just become your favorite new hobby. Here are my two favorite meal-planning resources available on our site:
And here are a handful of other go-to recipe collections for sourcing a wide variety of vibrant, easy-to-make dinner options:
Now take a deep breathe, pour yourself a glass of wine, and browse through some of these favorite recipes for easy, family-friendly, and delicious dinner ideas. You've got this.