Dinners, especially on busy weeknights, don’t have to be complicated and can be prepared as easily as lunches. The trick is to simplify the process by keeping easy foods on hand to make mealtime easier.
Try a Baked Potato Bar
Any build-your-own dinner experience is a fun way to set up mealtime and allows everyone to customize food to his or her own taste. Consider filling a slow cooker with baked potatoes for an easy weeknight dinner. Wash and dry potatoes, then prick with a fork and rub with a little olive oil and kosher salt. Wrap potatoes in foil and place in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours. Prepare a toppings bar with meats, veggies, cheeses, sour cream and butter. Everyone can make a potato, and you can serve with a side salad and fruit to round out the meal.
On grocery shopping days, I purchase a variety of lunch meat, cheeses and loaves of French bread to make sub sandwiches for the whole family. Visit or call your favorite sub shop and ask if it offers day-old bread to purchase at a discount. If so, stock up on bread and keep it in the freezer for busy weeknights when you need a fast meal. Allow everyone to customize his or her subs with a variety of sandwich toppings.
Grilling is one of my favorite ways to prepare dinner on busy nights because it’s ready in no time, and cleanup is minimal. Devote one afternoon to prepping marinades and meats for the grill, and store them in your freezer for grabbing ease. Many marinades contain similar ingredients, so prepping them all at once saves on cleanup and the hassle of getting ingredients out each time.
When known busy weeknights are coming up, put the meat in the fridge in the morning to thaw so it’s grill-ready by dinnertime. Serve with simple sides, many of which can be prepared on the grill too! Grill vegetables like peppers, mushrooms and onions in a cast iron skillet or foil packet right on the grates with the meat to save time and cut down on the kitchen cleanup.
Prepare a DIY Salad Bar
Visiting the salad bar at the local grocery store with your whole family can get expensive. After grocery shopping, chop and prep ingredients to create your own salad bar at home. Pull the ingredients out of the fridge when a quick weeknight meal or easy side with grilled meats is needed.
My favorite items to keep on hand are chopped lettuce, spinach, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, carrots and broccoli. Roast and dice chicken or keep tuna and canned cannellini beans on hand to boost protein content in salads. Other items like dressings, cheese and croutons are probably already in the fridge and pantry, so add them to the salad bar in no time flat!
Truly, the best strategy in our home has always been to double batch anything and everything we make. Soups and stews, taco meat, waffles or pancakes, grilled burgers, roasted chicken — all of these are always double batched to help save time on busy weeknights. It’s meals like these that truly save money on our family grocery budget and keep our family on track with healthy eating!