Many of my readers have reported to me that they enjoy my postings on cooking and they see how it can save some serious cash, but that most nights after a long day of work, they’re just too beat to cook a stellar meal.
I can sympathize. After a long day at work and with a toddler running amok when I get home, neither my wife nor I want to cook some nights. Here are our five best tricks for putting a warm, healthy, home-prepared meal on the table without much effort in the evenings.
Prepare meals in advance. Spend a weekend preparing a bunch of meals for you and/or your family that you can just pop in the oven after a long day at work. This works well if you have a large freezer, as you can stack covered baking dishes in there with the meals already prepared in them so you can literally start preheating the oven, pull one of these out of the freezer, toss it in the oven, wait for forty five minutes or so, and then have a delicious homecooked meal.
Discover the crockpot. Rather regularly, I’ll prepare a meal before I even leave for work for the day. I’ll just put all the ingredients in a crock pot, turn it on low, and when I get home a delicious meal is waiting for me and my family. If there is interest, I’d be glad to post a compendium of ten or so of our favorite recipes – basically, just toss this list of things into the crock pot, turn it on low, and leave.
Have regular “leftover” nights. If you work hard to prepare a meal one night, have it as leftovers a few nights later. Change the preparation a bit, add some more (or different) spices to change up the flavor a bit, and you’re good to go. My favorite trick is to take leftover spaghetti, pour it in a pan, put the sauce on top of it, put some mozzarella on top of that, toss a few herbs and spices on top, and bake it for twenty minutes. It’s delicious and quite a bit different than plain old spaghetti.
Use lots of items that require minimal preparation. There are lots of ways to do this. Get frozen vegetables that can be steamed in the bag. Eat high-quality whole grain bread with a meal to get your whole grains and cut down on preparation time. Serve whole fruits, such as grapes or oranges, along with the meal. If you use these suggestions, you can easily prepare something like a chicken breast in just a few minutes and have that be your only real task.
Eat extremely simple meals. When I was working almost full time and also a full-time college student, I used to prepare extremely simple meals for myself. One common one I liked was “poor man quesadillas” (a tortilla on a plate, some cheese on top of that, another tortilla on top of that, microwave for a minute, pour some salsa and a bit of sour cream on top – you can also use small pieces of chicken in there, too), a cup of yogurt, and a big glass of milk. It doesn’t have to be exquisite, just something that hits the major food groups.