Tips for Getting Dinner on the Table Fast (+Free Meal Plan and Grocery List)

One of the most common (if not the most common) barrier to folks cooking more meals at home is a lack of time, am I right? Many of us work long hours, try to squeeze in some exercise, then have to brave traffic and by the time we get home, cooking can be the least appealing thing to do.

I look forward to it because I'm a total cooking nerd (at least most nights), but I know not everyone feels the same way so I wanted to give some practical tips that might be helpful for getting dinner on the table FAST on a week night, and a healthyish dinner at that. 

Go Semi-Homemade

Does anyone else remember that show on The Food Network, Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee? I haven't seen it in years (I actually don't even know if it's on anymore) but I used to love it. Sandra Lee made all sorts of fun stuff using shortcuts like boxed baking mixes to make cooking quicker and easier. As much as I love cooking, I know there is a time and a place for convenience items and I definitely take advantage of them when necessary. My favorites:

  • Rotisserie chicken 
  • Pre-chopped butternut squash (it's pretty much the worst thing ever to chop)
  • Angel hair slaw (versus buying the whole cabbage and shaving it myself)
  • Shredded cheese 

The trade-off is, these are usually a bit pricier than their "made-from-scratch" counterparts. Think about your week and what you'll have the time and energy to do.

Think Ahead & Be More Efficient  

Something that has dramatically helped me with week-night cooking is planning. I don't just mean weekend prep because while I realize that's helpful, I also appreciate that not everyone has the time or desire to do it. What I mean is, if you have to chop an onion on Monday and know you'll need another one on Wednesday, do both at the same time. Similarly, if you need a small amount of rice, double the batch because it won't take that much longer but saves you time later and rice is super versatile for other on-the-fly dishes later. If you take the time to rinse and chop some cilantro, chop the whole bunch even if you don't need it all in that moment. I know I'm a lot more likely to use it throughout the week if it's already chopped any way, which means less waste too so this one's a double win. 

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Try Breakfast for Dinner

If there's ever a night when Jacob and I just aren't feeling what was on our menu, or really just can't imagine spending more than 15 minutes getting something cooked, breakfast for dinner it is. Some of our favorites are breakfast burritos with avocado, hot sauce and whatever else we have on hand, or Kodiak Cakes with nut butter and fruit. 

Nutrition Tip: Keep things balanced by including a source of carbohydrates/fiber, protein and heart-healthy fat. This way you won't be raiding the kitchen for something else an hour later.

Here are some other quick ideas:

  • Open-face, whole grain English muffin topped with cream cheese, fried eggs, sautéed spinach or kale and tomato slices (don't forget to season with salt + pepper)
  • Savory oatmeal: make per the usual directions but instead of adding fruit and sweetener, add shredded cheese, a poached egg and some chives/cilantro/green onions
  • Scrambled eggs with green chili, avocado and Sriracha + sides (pictured above)
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Snack Boards for the Win

Like I mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of snack boards at any time of the day. They make great appetizers or party food, but you can also use them as a way to clean out the fridge on Friday night and make a super quick dinner that's perfect for movie-watching. Add whatever you like, but think about a variety of textures, temperatures and food groups to make it great. Click the link above to grab a snack board shopping list and how-to guide that I put together if you don't want to spend time coming up with your own (just scroll to the end!). 

Stock Some Helpful Tools

If you follow me on Instagram, you might already know that I recently bought an Instant Pot (<-- this is the one I have, and this is an affiliate link just fyi) and so far I am really impressed with how magical this thing is. You can cook things in minutes that typically take hours. For example, on Halloween I cooked a whole chicken in just 14 minutes! Now I will say that cook times are a little bit misleading because you also have to account for the time it takes for the IP to come up to pressure and then come back down before you can open the lid (15-20 minute each). However even with this time included, certain items that are usually only doable on weekends can easily turn into week night meals. This weekend I made black beans from scratch in an hour from start to finish (no soaking necessary). Not too bad considering that it's entirely hands-off once you get it going. 

In addition to the instant pot, I'm a fan of stocking some basic, inexpensive tools that save a lot of time, like a garlic press, and a few good quality knives (I say this a lot but... so important!). They make chopping quicker and easier and I promise, it's worth the investment. You might also grab some small sauce dishes to make getting your mise en place simple. 

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Free Resource

I recently created a basic one-week meal plan and grocery list if you're looking for some cooking inspiration and hate taking the time to meal plan yourself. It's completely free and you can find it on my Coaching + Resources page. Hopefully this helps!

So I would love to know, what's your go-to fast weeknight meal when you don't feel like cooking?