In this Ultimate Guide to Easy Weeknight Cooking, I have outlined helpful tips to make weeknight cooking that much easier. This guide does not focus heavily on meal prep; however, planning ahead does help tremendously.
Juggling work and family life amongst other things can sometimes be exhausting. You are constantly on the go, your mind is racing, and you have no idea what to cook for dinner.
You have good intentions on making a delicious home cooked meal for your family, but it’s getting late and you’re running out of time, so you choose to buy ‘Take-Out’ instead. I know this scenario all-too-well, and as a working mom, myself, I totally understand.
Here’s the good news… once you decide on what your family likes, make a grocery list, and plan around your 'main ingredients', you will see a light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is that this guide solves the problem that many of us have when it comes to not knowing what to cook during those busy weeknights.
Center Meals Around Your Protein
When doing your weekly grocery shopping (if that’s your routine), choose a variety of different proteins to switch things up for the week. To give you an idea, I always have many of the following on hand:
- Chicken (wings, bone-in and boneless thighs, breast, and even a whole chicken)
- Beef (ribeye steaks, porter-house or New York steaks, flanken short ribs, flank steak)
- Fish (fresh or frozen salmon, arctic char, fresh cod, fresh cat fish)
- Ground meat (beef, turkey and occasionally chicken)
When I have different protein in the fridge or freezer to choose from, I feel confident that I can whip something up that we will all enjoy and in a reasonable amount of time.
Here are a few quick and easy recipes to get you inspired:
- Broiled Cajun Blackened Cod
- Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Breast
- Best Way to Cook London Broil
- Lemon Garlic Broiled Salmon
- Pan Seared Salmon
- Best Turkey Burger
- Baked Ziti with Ground Turkey
- BBQ Chicken Wings
- Grilled Ribeye Steak
Easily Whip Up Those Veggies
Purchasing certain kinds of pre-cut and packaged vegetables can be a time-saver. Some of my favorites are packaged:
- Power Greens (aka Super Greens)
- Fresh Spring Mix Salad
- Organic Spinach
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Snow Peas
- Green Beans
- Sweet Mini Peppers
- Zucchini and squash
Having these on hand is a great way to incorporate more vegetables and makes an awesome side dish.
Seasonings to Have on Hand
So here's the deal, you should be seasoning with kosher salt at the bare minimum unless you're following a sodium-free diet for health reasons or whatever the case may be. I prefer Morton's Kosher Salt over Diamond Crystals. If you want to learn more about the difference between the 2 brands, this article is insightful. If you haven't already, try adding some or all of these seasonings to your pantry. They add so much flavor to meats, vegetables, sauces, dry rubs, wet rubs, and vinaigrettes.
- Cajun seasoning (my go-to)
- Granulated garlic powder
- Granulated onion powder
- Smoked paprika
- Red chili flakes
- Dried thyme
- Dried rosemary
- Dried parsley
- Herbs de provence (my new favorite)
- Lemon pepper
- Black pepper
Experiment with different seasoning combinations and create an all-purpose seasoning blend that you love and can incorporate into your weeknight cooking.
Make a Cream Sauce Without Heavy Cream
When I learned that I could substitute unsweetened canned coconut milk for heavy cream for my recipes, was a complete game-changer. You might be thinking but... does it taste like coconut. Guess what... absolutely not.
Unsweetened canned coconut milk has definitely become my go to when it comes to making a rich creamy sauce. I highly recommend giving it a try. I have a recipe that would be perfect. It's Creamy Cajun Shrimp Pasta (without Cream). I think you'll appreciate how easy it is to make and the creamy sauce is so darn good.
You can add a splash of canned coconut milk to your pasta sauces to balance out the acidity and have a more creamy texture. You can also add a splash to your homemade gravy.
Make a Pan Sauce
Sauces can really elevate a dish. Just by adding a simple flavorful sauce can take a dish from boring to fantastic. Some of my favorite ingredients to use as a base for sauces are:
- Red wine (choose one of your favorite bottles of red or white wine)
- Low sodium chicken broth (is more flavorful than just adding water alone)
- Coco aminos (a soy sauce substitute that has a sweet and savory taste which is perfect for making a stir fry or other Asian inspired dishes)
You can use wine or chicken broth for braising meat, deglazing your skillet as a base for starting a sauce. You can use chicken broth for making homemade gravy to smother chicken or as a perfect gravy to spoon over mashed potatoes.
Citrus and Herbs
Finishing a dish with a splash of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice and garnishing it with fresh herbs can really transform a dish. A squeeze of lemon juice can really balance out a savory dish by brightening the entire dish and enhancing the flavor even more.
Do not try to juice a cold lemon, especially a lime. You will get more juice from these citrus fruits if they're at room temperature. If they're cold, microwave either one for about 7 to 10 seconds to get the most amount of juice. So, don't forget to add that splash of citrus juice at the very end of your dish.
Also, garnishing with fresh herbs will not only add a pop of color to your dishes, but it can also brighten up a dish without overpowering it in any way.
There are many different types of fresh herbs that are used in many types of recipes including salad dressing and marinades. When you're making your next weeknight dinner, experiment with different fresh herbs to brighten up your dish.