Many people I speak to have the of dream cooking their own meals, but many of them have such busy schedules that cooking remains just a dream. Other people I talk to like to cook but just don’t see the point because it takes so long to do each night. I’m sure that you will fall somewhere in the middle of this range, and I used to be just like you. When I did cook on a Wednesday night it took me 3 hours to get dinner on the table and I used to get frustrated at the lack of time I had to spend other things. As you can imagine, I didn’t value my cooking time as much as I should have and there were plenty of nights where we still ordered takeaway because I just wasn’t organised enough or energetic enough to take 3 hours over a meal.
The secret to mid-week cooking
But those days are long gone. I have learnt how to get smart about cooking my own meals during the week and I’ll let you in on my secret to achieving this. The secret is very simple, so you won’t be blown away, but you will feel the difference in your attitude once you hear it.
The secret is that you don’t have to cook fancy, complicated meals each time you cook, especially during the week. Simple, vibrant and basic meals actually take less time to cook and are just as nutritious, or often more nutritious, than their complicated counterparts. Once you realise this the pressure is lifted from your shoulders and you immediately begin to feel happy because there’s no need to stress over dinner.
It took me a long time to realise that I didn’t need to live up to Masterchef standard meals during the week. I’m not a professional chef, nor do I aspire to be one, but I just want to get a healthy meal on the table each night – a meal that doesn’t come out of a packet and can be reheated in minutes. I value my time but I also value my health and know that I can do more each week if I eat fresh healthy meals that give me the energy I need to make it through a week of chaos and stress (otherwise known as full time work, a commute i’m usually running late for, the gym, blogging preparation and writing, house cleaning and chores and anything else I might try to cram into my week).
What does mid-week cooking really look like?
A midweek dinner in the past might have been toast, but now you can eat fancy toast instead.
What? Did she really just say I can have toast for dinner?
Yep, you can have toast for dinner, because didn’t I say that midweek meals can be simple but that they still need to be nutritious? And didn’t I say they could be simple? So instead of having peanut butter toast, tweak it a notch and create mushroom bruschetta with goats cheese and peas, or eggs on toast scrambled with chorizo and capsicum, layered on sourdough with smashed avocado and a drizzle of balsamic? Doesn’t that sound like a much more exciting dinner even though it’s simple and essentially still toast?
The point is, you can have any dinner you want, you just need to up your veggie intake and use quick cooking methods so you can save time for the things you really want or need to be doing. So it’s not about spending 3 hours in the kitchen and using every fry pan and oven proof dish you own. It’s not about creating a beautiful dish that belongs in a magazine.
It’s about cooking a meal that you want to eat no matter if the presentation is a little off. And trust me, if the presentation isn’t great now you can make it better in future (there are a few simple tips you can learn). It’s about cooking a meal that you know is good for you and that you’re glad you made yourself.
Take a look at the below list of tips and tricks that I’ve tried and tested and have implemented in my own kitchen. They are guaranteed to get mid-week meals on the table faster.
Tips for faster mid-week meals
- Choose your meat carefully: pulled pork or beef takes 2-3 hours to cook, but beef mince or stir-fry strips take minutes. Chicken is always a fast cooker as well. Better cuts of meat cook faster whereas the cheaper ones need longer cooking and should be made on the weekends instead. Fish is fast mid-week too.
- Choose quick cooking methods like grilling in a pan on the stove, stir-fries and use a pressure cooker (it’s a life saver! See my pressure cooker post for some simple ways to use a pressure cooker). You can also cook omelettes and frittatas pretty fast too.
- Or find recipes that can be cooked in the microwave, like these recipes. Microwaves are good for more than just reheating and defrosting. You can also pick up an inexpensive Women’s Weekly cookbook from the newsagent with other microwave meals too.
- Slice food smaller so it cooks faster. Get a mandoline or use the slicing attachment on your food processor to make things even faster.
- Learn to eat more raw foods so you don’t need to spend time cooking everything. Salads are great here but also eat fresh carrots with dinner, or grate beetroot into your salad and have a salad made of grated Brussel sprout – ingredients you thought you might have had to cook.
- Prepare some meals ahead, like on Sundays make roasts, soups or casseroles. Use the leftovers at the beginning of the week, or freeze them for later in the week. Leftover roasted meat can be turned into sandwiches and wraps for work, or added to salads too.
- Use tins of food where you need to – but only those that are basically a natural ingredient. For example it’s okay to use sliced pineapple, tinned corn, tinned tomatoes, tinned beans, lentils or chickpeas. Any of these products are great added to other dishes and save you prep time while not being an ingredient full of preservatives. (Make sure you rinse anything tinned in brine – salted water – so that your meals aren’t too salty).
- Use packets where you need to (but don’t make it highly processed packet). For instance stock cubes or liquid stocks are okay, as are pre-cooked rice, couscous or fresh pasta too (like fresh lasagna sheets). Don’t buy packets of pre-made sauces, spice mixes or things like potato flakes because they are too highly processed.
So, are you going to slave over a hot stove for 3 hours every night? Are you going to throw the beef back in the freezer and run out and grab some noodles or a burger? Are you going to reach for the cereal again because it’s Tuesday and you just can’t be bothered? Now that you know mid-week cooking can be quick you should be able to make something tasty and filling in less time than grabbing a takeaway.
Seriously, it’s too cold to go out tonight, so just make a quick pot of soup in the pressure cooker or have eggs and mushrooms on toast and you’ll be happier for it. Guaranteed.
Well, what’d you end up making?