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8 Fast Get-Ahead Strategies for Weeknight Dinners

Unscramble your weeknight dinner routine with these helpful tips and ideas.
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Photo: Monkey Business Images/iStock

Ditch the Dinner Doldrums

Yes, you can feed yourself (and your family) fresh, healthy meals without breaking the bank — or resorting to the Tuesday-must-be-meatballs syndrome. The secret: incorporating a few simple prep-ahead strategies into your routine. (Ordering takeout isn't one of them, though we'll cop to doing that on occasion too.) Try one or two of the following ideas to unscramble your weeknight dinner routine, starting now.

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Go with the Grains

They're infinitely adaptable, full of fiber and easy to make in advance. Cook up a double (or triple) batch of quinoa, farro or barley on a Sunday night, then use it throughout the week as a side dish, fried "rice" base, burrito filling, Buddha bowl component or salad mix-in. Find easy instructions on cooking 16 of the tastiest whole grains here.

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Avoid Menu Planning

Not the type to plot every meal in advance? Stock your fridge strategically and you can still cook just what you are in the mood for without resorting to last-minute shopping trips. On the weekend, buy five proteins (think chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, tofu, shrimp, ground beef) and five vegetables (sweet potatoes, broccoli, collards, zucchini, peppers). Freeze the proteins you won't be eating in the next two days, then mix and match as you are in the mood. Monday can be chicken stir-fry, Tuesday stuffed peppers, Wednesday grilled pork kebabs with sweet potato fries — you get the picture.

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Prewash Greens

You can buy them bagged or wash them yourself — either way, having a big salad spinner full of prepped greens helps turn a simple chop into a meal. If you've got an extra five minutes, prep two types; use tender Bibb leaves as lettuce cups for a Monday stir-fry, and saute sturdy kale on Thursday to serve with, say, polenta and sausages.

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