3 Tips and Tricks For Small Family Weeknight Dinners

I've had way more than usual successful weeknight dinners for the last couple of months. I am attributing my success to a renewed desire to prep for the upcoming week...I think I'm more committed because I love all things berry and 'tis the season for berries.  Some of the prepper things I do are just plain common sense to me now, but there was a time not so long ago that none of these ideas came naturally.  I had to learn by trial and error, making lots and lots of  mistakes along the way in planning meals weekly and common sense shopping .  You see, my sweet Mama didn't like to pre plan anything in the kitchen, she preferred to wing it.  Like become inspired on the day of cooking...or of what she took out of the freezer that day.  There wasn't any pre chopping going on and I didn't learn about freezer meals until I was at least in my thirties. {I'm pretty positive cooking was always more of a chore for her rather than any creative expression :) }  Say what?  I was floored to find out that other people actually did this like every week and in doing so saved lots of money.  Now, I'm not saying we didn't eat well...because we did.  She cooked a meat and three with a salad just about every night. She always makes individual salads and only adds what the person eating it likes. Me, never...that is too tedious for words in my honest opinion, but when I go to her house and she makes me my very own individual salad, remembering not to sprinkle seasoning on mine, just 'cause I don't like it...well that folks, in my mind, that's love.  Thanks Mom.

A couple of things have really been a lifesaver and kept me on the "eat at home" track these past couple months.  The first is my vigilance in keeping ahead of my intake of fruits and vegetables by chopping something up every time I purchase any new produce.  The second has been exercising will power.  I have refused to allow myself permission to order out or drive through for dinner.

End of story.

Here are my ideas that keep things moving in the right direction for me:

1.  Buy some containers, and process your fruits and veggies when you get home from the store.
 I like these wide mouth mason jars with screw on lids. They keep everything fresh for days and simplify my evening  prep stuff.  I can get dinner done and on the table by 5:30 pm easy peasy.  Having all the vegetables and fruits already chopped make it so simple to assemble and serve an elaborate dinner salad, casserole, or pasta dish in less than thirty minutes.  If I ordered or drove through it would only make me feel like a complete slug throwing aside all of my weekend chopping hard work.

2.  Pre roast your vegetables on the weekend.
A simple trick or tip I've been using is the art of pre roasting vegetables so that the hassle that is dinner is reduced significantly. Green beans, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, and asparagus are all delicious using this pre cook method. {Season and roast the vegetables as you normally would but for only half of the time.  Remove from the oven and allow them to cool, store in an air tight container in the frig for up to three days. Immediately prior to serving, place the vegetables on a roasting pan and return to a preheated oven, cooking until desired tenderness. Voila, freshly roasted vegetables in half the time....and NO chopping after being at work all day}  I also made a slightly lighter version of Pioneer Woman's stuffed potatoes{used plain greek yogurt, half the cheese and bacon} stowing them in the freezer for those nights that I didn't want to make anything. {Typically, I warm the potatoes in the oven but you could absolutely warm them in the microwave}  At least three times in the past month alone, having those little beauties in the freezer kept me on track and out of the drive through. Adding a side salad with a simple homemade vinaigrette makes stuffed potatoes a complete meal that I am eager to come home to eat.  That meal is my absolute favorite right now.

3.  Pre cook some proteins. {I don't cook all of my meats for the week, just a jump start to top salads,etc}
Another time saver has been to have chicken cooked and seasoned simply and stored in the frig to add to my dishes for protein.  I'm enamored with Springer Mountain Farms chicken tenders.  They come individually frozen in two pound packages and are easy to defrost and cook quickly.  Jessica over at Good Cheap Eats swears by Trader Joe's brand {which is cheaper)....but there isn't one of those stores close enough for me to rely on shopping there consistently.  Usually, I wait for a BOGO on the Springer Farms brand and load up my freezer. {let's hope that sale hurries up!}

Two salads that took about three minutes to throw together...I spend a little more on the lettuce, the organic baby kind.  I think the flavor is way better {maybe in my mind} and combined with the convenience it's totally worth the extra cash.  The organic kind also stays fresher for longer in the frig.
If you didn't notice, I prefer my salad to have loads of fruit in the mix, but my pre chopping/cooking methods easily works with all fruits and vegetables. 
In addition to making salads, I find having fruit chopped and ready to go allows me to make individual servings of yogurt and chia puddings for work lunches without any fuss.