Cooking Dinner on a Busy Schedule | Reader's Digest

Cooking Dinner on a Busy Schedule

How to make supper healthy and stress-free

from Stealth Health

6. Stock your freezer with homemade meals. Stews, soups, chili, and gumbo all freeze wonderfully. Figure out how much of a one-pot meal you need to feed your family for one dinner, and then buy plastic containers of that size. Make a pot of your family favorites on the weekend and you’ll have four or five meals tucked in the freezer. A smart freezer is filled with plastic containers of several different homemade meals, each labeled with the contents and the date it was made.

7. Go the next step with freezer food. Side dishes also freeze well, particularly rices, pastas, and breads. For space, put the right portion amount in freezer bags and squeeze out the air before sealing.

8. Go the next step with soup stock. We are big advocates of soup for dinner. It’s healthy, filling, delicious, and easy to make. If you keep homemade chicken stock in the freezer, or cans of low-salt broth in the pantry, it often takes just a few minutes to whip together an impromptu vegetable soup. Use a quart of stock or low-sodium chicken broth as the base. Then just toss in a variety of chopped veggies such as spinach, carrots, corn, lima beans, green beans, and zucchini. Make sure to include chickpeas and other beans. They provide excellent protein, lots of fiber, an array of micronutrients, and are filling and satisfying at a relatively low cost in calories. To round out the meal, have some whole grain bread (dip it in olive oil rather than spreading it with butter) and a salad.

9. Or, make a pot of broth-based soup on Sundays, then start each meal during the week with a cup. Studies show watery foods such as soup tend to fill up the stomach, making you feel full quicker, despite being relatively low in calories. Having a healthy soup to start a meal also makes cooking the rest of the meal a little less demanding.

10. Include three old standbys on your weekly menu. No one expects you to come up with a new meal every night. Pick three low-fuss, nutritious recipes that you and the family enjoy, and, most important, that you can almost cook in your sleep. For example, you might designate Monday as pasta or casserole night, Tuesday as grilled fish night, and Wednesday as roasted chicken night. Include similar vegetable and grain side dishes as well. This eases the headache of grocery shopping — you’ll need many of the same groceries from one week to the next.

11. Plan which night you will eat out — and stick to it. Rather than eating out whenever you lack the inspiration — or groceries — to cook at home, eat out on a designated night. This makes eating out what it should be — a treat. You’ll enjoy your restaurant meals more and eat more healthfully throughout the week.

12. Try new recipes on weekends, when you have more time to cook. You’ll enjoy the cooking process more when your mind feels rested and unfettered. Once you get the hang of the new recipe, incorporate it into your weeknight repertoire.