Meal Planning

Weeknight Dinners: Making them Happen

Weeknight dinners. How do you make it happen? It can seem so difficult to get dinner on the table on weeknights. Whether you are getting home from a long commute, work from home, or take care of your kids all day long, many of us are exhausted by the time dinner rolls around. However, here are 4 ways I’ve found that help me make sure we are eating a healthy home cooked dinner – even on weeknights!

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weeknight dinners

4 Ways to Make Weeknight Dinners Happen

1. Create a Realistic Plan

If there is one piece of advice I could give it’s this. Plan ahead. Make a menu plan and stick to it. It will get easier and quicker over time, but the first few times you actually sit down and do this it might seem overwhelming. After you have decided the dinners you will serve, make a grocery list and go to the store. If you work a conventional job, you may want to have this finished by Sunday evening so that you can come home from work on Monday and start cooking!

Planning ahead often involves prepping ahead as well.  If time is really pinched during the weeknight dinner crunch, do extra meal prep on the weekend.

Ways to Prep Ahead of Time:

  • Wash and cut veggies
  • Brown any ground beef/turkey
  • Fix shredded chicken in the crockpot
  • Cook quinoa, rice, or other grains

Prepping ingredients ahead of time makes it quick to throw a weeknight dinner together. Some even find it simpler to prep whole meals ahead of time and reheat for dinner.

2. Have Back-Up Dinner Ideas Ready

Healthy-Inspiration has a great post on dinner solutions when your family is starving and you don’t have a plan.

We are all human and we all fail to plan ahead at times. Or perhaps we forget a key ingredient for our plan and find ourselves in need of a back up solution. Having a few dinner ideas you can always fall back on (and have the ingredients on hand) is an important part of following through with weeknight dinners.

In the post above, Healthy-Inspiration offers a great suggestion that I’m implementing in my home. She suggests, your “Plan B” meals need to be typed out or written down.  This is an incredible idea! I’ve always had my back up meals that I can go to, but when panic rises and we are hungry (as in the hungry-1-hour-ago kind of hungry) occasionally these ideas will flee! Writing them down gives you something concrete to look at.

A few of our “Plan B” dinner solutions include:

  • Sprouted Whole Grain French Toast served with Green Smoothies
  • Spinach Salad with Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Frozen flounder served with frozen veggies. Ok, we don’t eat them frozen, but that’s how they stay good for an emergency dinner moment. (They can be cooked on the stove relatively quickly and be bought at Sam’s Club in bulk. ?)

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Healthy-Inspiration’s post for some really great ideas!

3. Keep Your Counter Tops Clear

Keeping your kitchen clean and your counter tops open is one of the most important things in making sure weeknight dinners happen. Imagine these 2 scenarios:

  • It’s 5:30 pm and you walk into your kitchen. The dishes are piled high from last nights dinner (and possibly the night before), the kids are already hungry and your hubby will walk through the door in half an hour ready to eat. It takes you half an hour to just clean up the kitchen which leaves you even hungrier.
  • It’s 5:30 pm and you walk into the kitchen. The counter tops are clear and the dishes are done. It feels peaceful and you can easily access all the pots and pans you need, not to mention a place to work on dinner prep! Maybe you even have the planned recipe and pantry items you will use already sitting out ready to go. Because you are able to get right to work and have a simple 30 minute dinner planned, at 6:00 dinner is served.

Atmosphere makes a huge different. But it really comes down to more than that. It’s so much easier to find the time to cook dinner on a weeknight if you walk into a kitchen that is ready to use.

4. Eat a Light Snack

Seriously. A late afternoon snack can be a really helpful to keep you satisfied and boost your energy. No-one likes to be way too hungry.  So, before you reach “I’ll eat anything in sight and dinner isn’t ready” point, have a healthy snack. This well help to hold you over while you fix dinner. If your kids complain about being hungry when they get home from school, set out only healthy options for their afternoon snack such as veggies, fruit, or a small green smoothie. This will help to ensure they are not filling up on other “snack foods” and missing out on important nutrients offered in dinner.

Pre-Dinner Snack Ideas:

  • Veggies with Hummus or Guacamole
  • Apple with Peanut Butter
  • Fruit and Yogurt or Cottage Cheese
  • Homemade Trail Mix
  • Green Smoothie

For me, I’ve found the best time to eat this is either as soon as I get home or right before I leave work, depending on how late my work day is. I’m still plenty hungry by dinner time and it helps me to avoid irrational decisions due to hunger.

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