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.
Types of protein
Center your weekly meals around various proteins or proteins that can be easily incorporated into one pot meals.
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, and breast)
- Beef (ribeye, porter house or New York steaks, flanken, flank steak)
- Fish (fresh or frozen salmon, arctic char, cod, fresh cat fish)
- Ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken)
When I have different proteins in the fridge or freezer to choose from, I feel confident that I can whip something up that we will all enjoy in a reasonable amount of time and feel good.
Here are a few quick and easy recipes to get you inspired:
- 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
Incorporating more vegetables
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, Fresh Garlic Cloves, sometime chopped onion, celery, carrot (aka Holy Trinity). If you like zucchini and squash those are good to have on hand as well.
Sauteed Greens: To a hot skillet add olive oil, power greens and saute over medium high heat for just a few minutes. Feel free to toss in some fresh minced garlic and season with kosher salt, granulated garlic powder and onion powder to taste.
Add some power greens to a skillet of pasta and toss until the greens begin to wilt or simply add the power greens to a stir fry for extra veggies.
Here's another idea: To a large plate or platter, add a bed of super greens and top with sliced seared chicken or steak and top with all the fixings. You might like this Fresh Spring Mix Salad it's a simple salad that's delicious and will not disappoint.
Zucchini or squash: Cut the zucchini or squash into large chunks and saute along with chopped onions or shallots and minced garlic. Season with kosher salt and lots of black pepper. Pro tip: Only saute zucchini for a few minutes. It can get really soft and mushy fast. I recommend a few minutes then taste. Your sauteed zucchini should have a little bite.
Sugar Snap peas/Snow peas/green beans: Sugar snap peas or snow peas are super delicious when they are sauteed just for a few minutes... literally. The only "drawback" is that you must remove the string. It seems tedious but once you start and get your rhythm going, it goes really fast. After the strings are removed, all you need to do is place a skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil and saute. Season with kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and lemon pepper. Check out my 7 Minute Grilled Sugar Snap Pea Recipe and these Sauteed Green Beans. You may also enjoy Crispy Oven Roasted Broccolini. It's definitely worth sharing these Stuffed Mini Peppers.
As you can see, incorporating fresh veggies into your weeknight cooking is easy to do. With that being said, I hope this ultimate guide to easy weeknight cooking has provided you with helpful tips for incorporating those veggies.
Adding other seasonings to enhance flavor
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, add these seasoning 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
Have you tried this Easy Cajun Panko Fried Shrimp recipe to make these Fried Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Crema. This Cajun Spatchcock Chicken Recipe is rich in flavor and is perfect for weeknight cooking as well.
Experiment with different seasoning combinations and create an all-purpose seasoning blend that you love and can incorporate into your weeknight cooking.
Making a creamy sauce without using 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.
Three ingredients you can use as a base for sauces
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.
Two ingredients to bring your dish together
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.
As a tip, 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 not, microwave either one for a few 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.
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.