1. Cook Once, Eat Twice
Think one-pot meals. This is where the slow cooker or big cast-iron Le Creuset Dutch oven come in handy. Just make a double batch of that Bolognese, beef stew, or even lamb pot pie one night, and you will have two nights worth of nutritious meals.
2. Prep in Advance
You spend Saturday mornings at the farmers market, purchasing whatever fruits and vegetables catch your eye. Instead of letting those greens and vibrant root vegetables lose their luster come Thursday, take a couple of hours over the weekend to clean, chop, and even cook.
3. Love Soup
Making soup from scratch doesn't take a lot of effort, allows you to use up all sorts of odds and ends (chopped vegetables, pasta, beans, and perhaps some sautéed sausage), fills you up, and it's easy to make multiple batches.
4. Make Breakfast for Dinner
When you're too tired to cook an entire meal from scratch, pull out a case of eggs, some cheese, and some chopped vegetables (peppers, mushrooms, or even that leftover roasted zucchini) and make up omelettes or scrambled eggs to order.
5. Stock Your Pantry
When you've got a cupboard stocked with dried pasta, tomato sauce, pesto, and cans of prepared vegetables, and some frozen chicken sausages in the freezer, all you need is 30 minutes to set up a make-your-own pasta bar.
6. Convenience Foods Are OK
Making dinner at home doesn't mean that every part of the meal has to be made from scratch — shortcuts are OK! Pick up a rotisserie chicken from Boston Market, and then supplement it with a side of mac and cheese and green beans almondine from the freezer.
7. Share Responsibility with Friends
Many hands make light work — the same is true when it comes to cooking for the family. Instead of making seven different meals for your family over the week, team up with friends so everyone cooks one or two meals.
8. Have the Kids Help "Cook"
When kids help prepare a meal, they're more apt to enjoy whatever they make. One great way to get the kids in the kitchen (without lifting a knife) is to set up a self-serve bar. Perhaps it's a baked potato station, with toppings like sautéed ground beef, sour cream, chopped vegetables.
Credit: Veer/Danny Hooks
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Cooking something for family dinner every night instead of ordering takeout can not only save money, but it will also likely encourage more nutritious choices, as it puts you in control of exactly what goes into each dish you serve up.
But inevitably there come the nights when the kids have after-school activities, or you're trapped at the office, only to get home late, with an empty fridge, and many hungry stomachs that are screaming to be fed. With some easy planning, and little extra effort on your part, however, takeout doesn't have to be your only option.
There are four simple tactics to fighting the call of the takeout menu. One is to prep in advance. Spend a weekend day roasting off a variety of vegetables from the farmers market to inspire a week of meals (throw all that remains into a curry or omelette come Friday). Cook once, eat twice is another tactic of smart parents. Take a simple Bolognese sauce as an example — make a double portion on Sunday for dinner, then freeze the extras for a dinner later in the week (or keep it in the freezer for a later date).
Dinner at home doesn't mean it all has to be from scratch. Instead of that mid-week Chinese food takeout night, pick up a still-warm roasted chicken from the store and supplement it with some frozen vegetables and baked sweet potato fries made fresh in the oven. And our favorite? Share the responsibility of cooking for the family with friends. Host a soup exchange with friends where everyone makes a quart of soup to share. All you have to do is dirty one pot, then you're a third of the way to multiple nutritious dinners (simply supplement the soup with a loaf of fresh bread and a hearty salad) that everyone will enjoy. And don't underestimate the power of a stocked pantry — with some pasta, tomato sauce, and ingredients from your market's antipasto bar, making pita pizzas or putting together a top-your-own pasta night take merely minutes to pull off!