For too long I felt like dinner was stuck on repeat.
Chicken tacos. Pasta. Salads.
Dinner on repeat.
And when I ask the fam what they want for dinner?
“Hmm… not sure.”
“Food. The edible kind.” (My kids are hilarious.)
“I don’t care.”
It’s all so exhausting.
If you’re in a meal rut, you know what I’m talking about.
You might not be able to quit your job as family chef, but you can make life a little easier.
Check out these ideas to make meals easier.
Meal Planning Service
Let me guess. You have a massive recipe board on Pinterest. Full of recipes waiting to be recreated in your home.
Me too! I make a few of the recipes. But when I go to meal plan, none of them really seem that great anymore.
Plus, you have to search for the ingredients list and create your own grocery lists.
It’s time-consuming. And I usually end up getting frustrated and go back to my staples.
Enter the meal planning service. It makes things easier because you can sort through recipes and find ones you really want.
I like $5 Meal Plans.
Not only can you search for lots of different types of recipes, but you can print a PDF of shopping lists for the recipes you choose. No more manually creating your shopping lists.
You can get a free trial if you want to test it out before you commit. If you like it, the low cost of the service is totally worth the time savings.
You can learn more about my experience in my $5 Meal Plan review.
Assign Cooking Nights
Do you have kids over the age of 10? A spouse or partner? A roommate?
Then girl, assign them a cooking night!
I’m just dipping my toe into this one. My kids are 12 and 14. Time for them to start earning their keep!
I decided I was tired of planning 7 meals a week. And cooking 7 meals a week. And cleaning up after 7 meals a week.
So on a whim, I announced that they would each be picking a night every week.
- On your night you plan the menu
- You give me a list of ingredients and I’ll order them
- You cook (I help if needed)
- The person who cooks doesn’t have to clean up the kitchen (maybe a little selfish so I don’t have to clean on the rest of the nights that are still mine while everyone else disperses!)
One child (the one who already cooks a lot on her own) was excited. The other? Not so much. But he’s embracing it.
This option is easier if your kids are older. And if you have a spouse/partner/other adult living in the home, even better. They can handle the whole meal on their own.
Stop feeling like you have to do it all! Call in the reserves!
Even if your fam can’t handle the full cooking duties, getting them to pitch in somehow can make dinner time a little less stressful for you. I recommend starting with the “you don’t have to clean if you cook” rule.
Heat and Eat Meals
Some nights I just don’t have it in me.
Even cooking pasta seems too difficult.
Those are the nights when I just want to order takeout. But then my budget is like, “Girl, you need to save money!”
The answer? Easy heat-and-eat meals.
Trader Joe’s is awesome for this.
Okay, confession time. Love the idea of Trader Joes. But it overwhelms me!
So many things. All packed into a small space. You’ve got a million things in the freezer on both sides of the aisles.
But then you also have snacks and treats above the freezers. Where do you look? How do you see it all? How do you not hold up traffic?
I guess the excitement of Trader Joe’s is that you see something new each time. Because you can’t possible take it all in during one trip.
Plus, the nearest Trader Joe’s is about 30 minutes away. I’m spoiled and I don’t like to drive that far.
But I ventured out last week and grabbed several options. Game changer! Now I have several options on hand that are ready to go quickly.
Two Night Meals
If you’re already cooking, you might as well knock two (or three) meals out at once. Or at least part of the meal prep.
I do this as much as possible.
I’ll plan meals so I can carry over at least part of the meal to the next night.
Example: I’ll grill extra chicken when I’m doing chicken tacos. The next night we’ll have chicken salads. Just grab out the lettuce, cold chicken and other salad toppings. Everyone makes their own salads. Instant meal!
Half of my family won’t eat chili, but if they did, I would do chili one night and baked potatoes with chili on top the next.
You get more mileage out of what you make so the second night isn’t as difficult.
Extra Large Batches
Along the same lines, double up on those family favorites that reheat well.
Instead of making enough enchiladas for one night, make enough for two or three. Or double your favorite casserole recipe.
If you don’t want the same meal two nights in a row, pop the leftovers in the freezer. The next time you’re just not in the cooking zone, pull it out and reheat. Simple meal with virtually no prep. You can serve your family a hot meal (without spending money on takeout) and you barely break a sweat.
Breakfast for Dinner
Have you tried the magic that is breakfast for dinner?
When my daughter was in 4th grade, I volunteered every week in her class. This one little boy always liked to chat about my life when I worked with him. One day he asked me what we were having for dinner that night. I told him we were having breakfast for dinner. He was SO confused. Apparently he’s living some kind of deprived life where his parents don’t cook a super easy breakfast and call it dinner.
He then asked me if I eat dinner for breakfast. Because apparently he thinks I live some kind of bizarro backward life.
But yes. If you must know I do sometimes eat leftover pizza for breakfast. Judgment free zone right here ladies!
Anyway, my point is, don’t overlook the mighty breakfast food when it comes to your weeknight menus.
Think about it. Breakfast foods are super easy yet super yummy. I mean not super easy enough that I’m whipping up omelets for my kids on school mornings. We’re stretching it if we throw a Pop-Tart in the toaster most mornings.
Which is why we have breakfast for dinner. More time. Yet not a huge time commitment.
And everyone loves breakfast food. Even my vegetarian daughter. Minus the bacon, of course.
If you’ve never cooked breakfast food for dinner, I highly recommend it. Not only is it yummy and easy, but it’s also a good way to save money on groceries since many breakfast ingredients are inexpensive.
Some of our favorites are scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, pancakes and waffles.
New Twist on an Old Classic
Meal planning is one of the best ways to make cooking easier. But it can be tough to come up with new ideas.
So instead of coming up with completely different meals, just tweak the time-tested recipes your family loves.
Instead of bacon quiche, try ham and Swiss.
Instead of homemade pizza, make homemade calzones.
Instead of ground beef tacos, do grilled chicken or steak.
The little swaps make the meal feel different, but it’s really not much different for you when it comes to prep.
You don’t have to search for new recipes. And then figure out the ingredients you need. And then spend twice as long on prep as the recipe says it’s supposed to take.
But your family will think you’re a culinary genius because it’s not the same old thing.
Smorgasboard of What’s on Hand
Quick, what’s in your fridge and pantry?
Random things that don’t make sense together? Who cares! Throw it all on the counter and call it a buffet.
If you have kids, they’ll love it. They get to choose from lots of different things and create their own weird little meals. We used to do this all the time when the kids were little.
Grapes that are getting a little squishy? Put ’em out.
String cheese? Simple prep! Throw it on the counter. Boom. Done.
Leftover chicken or ham or bacon or whatever? Add it to the mix.
This is a great way to clear out the fridge. And it’s also fun for kids to pick what they want at their home buffet. Bonus points because you don’t have to cook!
Make Meals Easier
Stop stressing about meals at the end of an already busy day! Using one, two or all of these strategies can make your life easier. What are your favorite ways to make cooking easier?