A little weekend prep time can make weeknight dinners healthier – and easy!
Being a weekend kitchen warrior – even for an hour or two – can make a big difference toward streamlining healthier homemade dinners during the week. Whether you’re batch cooking on a small scale by prepping just a few items or you fully embrace the batch concept and make dinners ahead for every night of the week, these ideas will show you how a little effort can make a big difference in eating better.
Double up on your usual weekend cooking
If you’re grilling steak, salmon or shrimp, making a beef or pork roast, or roasting a chicken, double up on the amount you prepare. During the week, use your weekend windfall to make quick salads, sandwiches, burritos, tacos or a breakfast-for-dinner hash.
Stir up some sturdy salads
Make a salad or two that will stay fresh-tasting in the refrigerator for several days. Bean, lentil and edamame salads, grain salads and long-lasting veggie salads (think kale, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, cucumbers and zucchini) are all delicious options. Before serving a made-ahead salad, taste to see if a splash of lemon juice or vinegar or a sprinkle of salt is needed to brighten the flavor. These salads make great packable lunches, too.
Go for the grain
To make it effortless to eat more whole grains during the week, cook a pot of wheat berries, farro, brown rice, quinoa or barley on Sunday. Or try some of Raley’s quick cook grain varieties to save even more time. For a simple side dish, reheat grains in the microwave, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh herbs or grated lemon zest. Serve cooked grains with a stir-fry or add them to soup. Use with canned beans to fill burritos or toss with your favorite roasted veggies and vinaigrette to make a salad.
Make veggies in abundance
Make a big batch of grilled or roasted vegetables on the weekend. During the week, use them on their own as a wholesome side dish or toss with a vinaigrette to turn into a salad. Mix with canned beans and use as a stuffing for burritos or pitas or chop them and add to soups. You can also use them as a topping for pre-baked pizza crust, creamy polenta or whole wheat pasta.
It’s obvious, but still fantastic – make a big batch of a couple dishes that keep well and refrigerate or freeze them. Soups, stews, chilis, Bolognese sauce, meatballs with marinara sauce, tagines and gumbos all taste even better after they have been refrigerated for a few days. If you need to keep them longer, they still taste terrific when re-heated from the freezer.
A sauce can make the meal
If ordinary steak, chicken or fish become ho-hum during the week, make a sauce or two on the weekend to liven up your typical go-to main dishes. Make a chimichurri sauce to serve with steaks, chops or chicken. Tzatziki sauce goes great with chicken or seafood. Romesco sauce pairs well with any meat, chicken, seafood or pasta. Other sauces to stash: pesto, marinara, Asian peanut or salsa verde.
Dress with success
A homemade salad dressing can make even a boring bagged green salad taste special! You’d be surprised how easy it is. Keep a few varieties on hand so a nutritious green salad is something you look forward to. If you prep your own greens, do this on the weekend, too. Store washed and dried salad greens in a resealable bag with a paper towel to absorb extra moisture and they’ll last almost a week.
Small things make a big impact
Having foods like caramelized onions, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers or tapenade on hand can make a simple meal special. Add caramelized onions to pasta dishes, cooked grains, soups or salads. Use roasted garlic as a sandwich spread, toss with cooked pasta or rice or jazz up your mashed potatoes. Layer roasted red peppers onto sandwiches, toss into salads or pasta dishes, or puree to make a sauce for pasta or chicken. Use tapenade to top grilled tuna, salmon, chicken or vegetables, or make sandwiches, pasta or pizza more exciting! If you like to experiment, try making your own hummus, chutneys, quick pickled vegetables or guacamole to accompany your weeknight meals.
Make your own burgers and freeze them with wax paper between each patty so they’ll separate easily for cooking. When you make your own, you can use healthy ingredients and choose recipes with flavors you and your family will enjoy. Choose a variety of meat or veggie options, then sprinkle in fresh herbs or your favorite cheese to the patty mix.
Keep cooked foods refrigerated in airtight containers for up to four days and, for best quality, use frozen foods within three months.