Weeknight cooking is a challenge, no matter what your employment situation. From full-time job to working at home to stay-at-home parent to retiree with spare time (what is that like?), putting together an evening meal during the week always seems to be a challenge. Maybe it’s our busy lives, or maybe it’s just that we’re out of practice.
Or a little of both.
For dietary reasons (see last week’s piece) and health reasons (see: gluten free!), I prefer to cook at home as often as possible. While I try to make weeknight meals as diverse as possible — saving my creative experiments for the weekend, where I have a little more time — the truth is most meals end up being a variation on meat, vegetable and/or legume-y thing, grain. These days the vegetables are taking up a larger portion of my plate, with meat and grain coming in second and third.
One trick I do to get food on the table quickly is prepare things ahead of time. On Sunday afternoon, I spend about an hour or so making my lunches for the week, which helps me get out the door faster. I also do weeknight food prep, so I have key ingredients on hand.
For me, this includes rice. Yes, I’ve really, really cut back on rice, but I like a bit in my lunches and cooked rice is a great thing to have on hand. I also throw some beans into the pressure cooker — soaked or unsoaked, they take very little time that way, and again, make perfect ingredients for lunch and dinner.
(I will be honest: so many pressure cooker advocates talk about their efficiency in preparing weeknight meals, and pressure cookers are great for making food much faster, but I haven’t found them to be a weeknight savior. There is a good amount of inconsistency in how long it takes the cooker to get up to pressure, then cook, then to depressurize. I need to make sure things happen efficiently on weeknights!)
Another trick up my sleeve is preparing spice blends. For example, if I’m making a curry later in the week, I get my spices together and store them in an airtight container, ready to go. Likewise for marinades. Spending fifteen minutes on prep work like this on Sunday helps me when I’m racing the clock on Wednesday.
I will confess that I’m not the most organized human in the world, and most of the things I do to save time are really a result of my innate laziness. It’s easier to prep foods on a Sunday than it is to get up early to make my lunch. And since I’m doing prep for lunches all week, getting myself ready for weeknight meals at the same time is a no-brainer.
Tip of the Week
I’ve found having sturdy containers with lids that close tightly to be a lifesaver when it comes to making my work week lunches. Since I’ve also been dieting, I have come to rely on the Fit & Fresh brand to help with portion control.
Gluten-Free Meal of the Week
I love making braises on weekends because they turn into amazing leftovers for weekday lunches. Any braise will do, of course, from chile verde to goulash. Also stews. I love stews of all sorts! Since it’s chilly outside, I’m in the mood for gumbo, so that delicious stew will form the basis of my lunch this week.
While gumbo is more than enough for a perfect meal, I like to bring fruit or veggies to munch on as well. Recently, I picked up some pickled carrots and snap peas at Whole Foods (I know, but they looked soooo good!), and they really hit the crunchy spot.
- Chicken Gumbo
- Fruit or veggies