As busy women at the end of a long day, we don’t have time for elaborate, 6-course meals on a random weeknight. But that doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice the quality of what we make, eat & feed our families. I truly believe we ALL have the time to make meals that are healthy, vibrant and delicious… but we just might need to reframe the way we think about the prep.
Because, I get it. You look at those beautiful cookbooks on your coffee table or bookshelf and start flipping through all these gorgeous recipes, and what do the time estimates say? 45 minutes. 1 hour 30 minutes. Even sometimes the 30 minute ones aren’t feasible (plus, let’s all agree that 30 minutes in a cookbook really means 45+ for most of us regular homecooks). 😉
Let’s be real, we don’t have a lot of extra time— and what extra time we DO have in the day, we don’t really want to spend in the kitchen. We want to spend it with our families, taking care of ourselves, getting outside, enjoying nature or a long walk… but I firmly believe you can still nourish yourself and your family with whole, real foods on the reg, amidst busy days and full schedules. And I’m gonna show you how!
Let’s talk about the 7 things that are making dinner over-complicated and take WAY too long to prepare… and what to do about them.
7 reasons it’s taking too long to get dinner on the table
If you struggle with perfectionism or with thinking family meals “should” look a certain way, I feel you BIG time because I’ve been there, too. Let me help you simplify your meals and still serve family-friendly, nutritious meals that don’t take over your evening any longer.
#1. You’re making it overly complicated: We often think we need all these sides, or too elaborate of a recipe for a weeknight, or we overly cater to picky eaters. And that ends up making SO much extra work and time for the person making the meal. Pick meals that are simple, vegetable-forward and pack in most of what you need nutritionally into the main entree (so you don’t need 17 sides).
#2. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself: Let me first say that I’ve BEEN. THERE. I’ve felt the pressure to always come up with new ideas, or that it has to look Instagram-perfect or be pretty to look at, or that it has to be separate components for a “proper” meal (vs. a one-pot meal that covers all the bases). Honestly, who cares about those things? My baseline requirements now are that it must: cover all my nutritional needs, taste good & be quick to throw together. If I make the same things again and again with a slight adaptation, who cares? As long as my family and I are getting what we need, then great! Leave those unrealistic expectations at the kitchen sink.
#3. You’re trying to start from scratch every night: I can’t tell you how freeing it was to learn how to turn one night’s meal into something different entirely. Roast up a big batch of veggies at the beginning of the week to use in omelettes, soups, tacos, etc. the rest of the week. Make life easier by reusing and recycling ingredients that you already have prepped.
#4. You’re not using or utilizing the power of pantry staples: You’d be surprised how many amazing and quick meals you can make JUST with regular pantry items you probably already have (or should) on hand. Grab my list of my favorite must-have things here.
#5. You don’t have a small list of “fallback” recipes: If you haven’t come up with your top 3 to 5 go-to meals when you have less than 20 minutes to get something on the table, you MUST! It’s the best way to have a quick and easy fallback when life gets crazy and you don’t have the mental capacity to come up with something new to create. One of mine is: curry (curry paste + coconut milk + broth with whatever veggies and rice I have lying around in the IP). My exact recipe and measurements are here in the Cooking Club if you’re in!
#6. You don’t plan ahead: Listen, I’m the queen of not wanting to feel pinned down by a set meal plan, but when life is busy, I at least have to have a loose plan— 2 to 3 meal ideas for the week so I can order my groceries to have the stuff on hand. Or have my pantry staples re-stocked so I can whip up one of my 4 go-to meals. 🙂 This is why we created the Cooking Club, because you can do the planning process however loose or intensely you want, change serving sizes, sort and filter recipes by what you have on hand, and always get new ideas floated to the top of your list each week to keep things fun.
#7. Your mentality about cooking dinner = it’s a chore: If you see it as something you “have” to do, vs. something you can enjoy, play around with and have fun with… it’s going to make this daily responsibility feel a whole lot heavier. You don’t have to be a great cook to adopt a more relaxed mentality around it, and it can make all the difference in the world. Drop the talk about you not being good at it, or it being stressful, and do some things to help you get inspired, encouraged and remember not to take it (or yourself, or life) too seriously. Try! Test! Play! Experiment! Use it as a time to let the creative side of your brain play and get some air (the side we often deem as less important than all the task-oriented/doing side).
My biggest suggestion? Invest in a few— very few— but good-quality tools that help speed things up infinitely. A great powerful blender (for smoothies, pureed soups, marinades and dressings in minutes). A instantpot or crockpot (IP more so if you aren’t great about planning ahead by at least 6 hours). A great paring knife and a great chef’s knife (I don’t think you need a full set of fancy, expensive knives, just 2 high quality ones). This makes cutting veggies sooooo much faster, easier and way more enjoyable— trust me! Or if you have ones you love, get them sharpened more often than you think.