A Squared: 10 Tips for Making Dinner at Home Easier

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

10 Tips for Making Dinner at Home Easier

While a lot of A Squared's content is dedicated to great Chicago restaurants, interesting travels, and showcasing fun products, the core of it is really all about recipes. And cooking at home is something that I grew up appreciating and has become even more important to me in my adulthood: it helps me budget, keeps me eating healthy, and provides a perfect opportunity for connecting with friends and my growing family. I also have fun and feel most creative in my kitchen, which is why I love sharing recipe posts with you.

Orzo Salad with Corn, Arugula & Tomatoes

All that said, I know that cooking at home is not always a fun and relaxing experience for everyone out there. And frankly, I have started to feel some of that myself during my pregnancy too-- and over the past few months we've ordered takeout considerably more often than I would care to admit! I'm trying my best to make sure that we make dinner at home most nights of the week, but it's not always easy. So I've been trying to practice a few key rules to make cooking at home as painless as possible. And by following these 10 tips, I'm hopeful that you'll find making dinner at home a little easier, a little more fun, and a little less intimidating!

Prosciutto, Provolone & Basil Stuffed Chicken

1. Meal planning. This is one of my favorite ways to take the stress out of making dinner during the week. Knowing what I'm buying when we go to the store and knowing what I'm making when I get home from work really takes the guess work out of cooking-- especially at a time of the day when I'm at my most hungry and tired. And it's a great way to save money by avoiding impulse shopping and takeout ordering!

2. Prep ahead of time. Taking a little time to meal prep on the weekends can save you a ton of time making dinner later in the week. Whether it's assembling a full meal on Sunday so all you have to do is bake it on Tuesday or doing small things like trimming and marinating chicken breasts or pre-chopping your vegetables, you'll thank yourself later when you have less to do to get dinner on the table.

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Baked Potatoes

3. Use your slow cooker. The slow cooker was sometimes the only thing that guaranteed Alex and I would be eating a homemade dinner during my exhausting first few months of pregnancy. Coming home to find dinner completely made-- or very close-- was such a sigh of relief. I try to use mine at least once a week. I prep the ingredients the night before (usually on a night when I've made an easier dinner) and set it and go before work in the morning.

4. Utilize (healthy) prepared foods. There is no shame in using prepared foods to get the job done faster-- as long they're not filled with preservatives and weird ingredients! I love a rotisserie chicken breast for making easy dinners like salads or wraps. I also love using the grocery store salad bar to pick and choose cleaned cut vegetables to roast or stir fry. All the hard work is done!

Caprese Pasta with Honey Roasted Balsamic Tomatoes

5. Go meatless at least one night per week. This is good for your wallet, good for your body, but will typically save you some time too. I love making vegetarian quesadillas, cheesy pasta bakes, or fancy grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner at least one night/week. Without having to prep and cook meat (and then clean it up when you're done), the dinner making process becomes much more simplified. Give it a try!
6. Stretch one major ingredient through multiple meals. This tip works especially well with protein. Roast several chicken breasts and use them throughout the week in pastas, sandwiches, or on salads. Saute ground beef or turkey and do the same-- fold it into a pasta sauce or barbecue for sandwiches or season it and fill tortillas on taco night. You could even cook a large batch of pasta and use in a salad one night and in a hot pasta dinner another. It's a great way to eliminate cleanup, but also to cut your cooking time down for any of the subsequent nights you're using this pre-cooked ingredient.

Beef & Spinach Lasagna

7. Double the recipe on freezer-friendly meals. This is an awesome trick-- especially if you're a smaller family like us. Recipes for meals like lasagna or enchiladas are often difficult to make for just 2-- or even 3-- people. I split the recipe up into two smaller pans-- one for now and one to wrap and freeze for later. If your family is larger, just double the recipe and do the same! It's the same amount of work, but will yield two separate dinner-- including one that you can have on hand for a night when there's no time to do anything but pop a pan in the oven.

8. Limit the number of ingredients you're using. A tasty dinner doesn't need to be complicated-- an some of the best dinners are the least complicated ones. Limiting the number of ingredients you're using makes cooking feel more approachable, limits your cleanup time, and can even take the thought and stress out of planning your meal.
9. Embrace one-pan recipes. Whether it's a casserole or a skillet dinner, cooking your entire meal in one pan is a fantastic way to cut down on cleaning multiple pots and pans post-dinner.

10. When all else fails, order dinner and don't beat yourself up about it. Seriously, sometimes it's just too hard to come home and cook dinner from scratch. I've been there-- and more than once lately!

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