How to Make Making Dinner Easier

As many of you know I’m a big proponent of making a weekly menu. In fact, I used to have a whole category here on this very website devoted to my Menu of the Week.

I stopped posting my Menu of the Week for some reason. I couldn’t really tell you why, other than I didn’t think people enjoyed it all that much. Although there was no reason at all for me to think that.  No one said they didn’t like it.  In fact, many of you said you did like it.   Basically I made the thought up in my head with no proof at all.

It’s the very same gene in me that makes me dislike television shows before I’ve even seen them.  Oh really?  Polar bears on a tropical island?  Um.  No.  Not for me, thanks. Fast forward several years to me curled up on the couch in the fetal position,  convulsing, crying and  screaming through the entire final 3 hour episode of Lost.  It got pretty wild.   I lost a toenail that night.

I still do my Menu of the Week, I just don’t share it with you. For the (non)reasons stated above.

The reason I write out a menu of what we’re eating every week is to make my life easier. It’s one of those things that just makes getting a meal on the table and therefore food in my stomach easier.  When these 2 things are done quickly it leaves me more time for watching all those shows I think I’ll hate.  It also provides ample time for not giving myself a manicure and complaining about my dry feet.

In keeping with the  theme of making dinner less of a “thing”, I’ve put together a list of 5 little tips.

I apologize if some of these tips seem rudimentary and totally obvious. But sometimes even when something is really obvious we still can’t see it unless it’s pointed out to us. Case in point, this picture of my kitchen countertop:

Even though they’re perfectly obvious, you probably didn’t notice the beets until I pointed them out to you. I know. It’s amazing.

5 tips to Make Making Dinner Easier

1. I’m obviously going to have to start with making a weekly menu and writing it down where you can see it.  Just doing this saves you time because you aren’t fumbling around every night wondering what to eat.  You make the menu, you buy the appropriate groceries, you look at your meal for the night and make it.  It also helps to remind you whether or not  you should make double of something.  More on that later.

2. Cook all your vegetable side dishes in advance! (beets, carrots, roasted potatoes, broccoli etc, etc. ) Just make 2 things and rotate them for the week.  Try to undercook everything a little bit.  That way when you reheat it won’t all turn to mush.  This may seem like a lot of work but it really isn’t and once you start doing it you’ll SWEAR by it.  You know how much easier life seems after you have Thanksgiving dinner and you have enough leftover side dishes for a week? Life can be like that always!

3. Double the amount of something that you’re making and use it in a different way the next night. Extra mashed potatoes = potato pancakes next night.  Buy an extra large roast so you can make stew out of the leftover cooked meat the next night.  Or hot roast beef sandwiches with chips!  Who doesn’t like a hot roast beef sandwich with chips?  People who never had the pleasure of eating at a Kresge’s lunch counter, that’s who.

4. Double the amount and freeze half of it.  This works with more things than you would imagine.  Beef & Broccoli, Quesadillas, Chili, Macaroni and Cheese and even rice.  Then when something goes wrong, and you have zero time to make dinner, all you have to do is defrost.  And set the table, of course.  I mean we’re not animals.

5. Once a week do a crock pot meal. Now most people would tell you do to this meal for the night you’re busiest. I’m the opposite. I figure if you’re busy and rushed, you’re busy and rushed. Like that smart guy once said, a body in motion stays in motion. For the layman who isn’t familiar with this phrase, basically it means if you’re already in  “Chihuahua on speed” mode, you’re likely to keep it up w/out even really thinking about it. So keep it up and whip together dinner. I’d save the crock pot meal to make an already relaxing night at home, even more relaxing. My sloth-like tendencies are showing here. I lean towards extremes.

Now you’re probably wondering if I do all these things.  You’re probably assuming I do.  I don’t.  I do a few of them every week.  I’m not a machine.   And neither are you. I don’t think.  Are you?  It’d be really cool if you were.  Florence and the Machine is a band I love, but even her Machine isn’t a real machine.  It’s just a bunch of guys.  I’m getting off track aren’t I?  I do that.  Which is why I need things like this top 5 tip list to keep me on track on a weekly basis.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go start preparing tonight’s dinner.  T-Bone steaks, hand cut, thick chips, red leaf lettuce salad with red peppers and goat’s cheese and the rest of the beets you see at the top of the post, which I cooked a couple of nights ago.  After dinner I’m gonna sit down and watch the first episode of the latest season of Survivor.  There’s an island, a bunch of people acting strangely and one by one they go missing.  It’s not my favourite show, but season in and season out I keep watching it.  It’s the closest thing I can get to Lost.

Have a tip?  Leave a comment and let everyone know!


63 Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    These are great tips — I used to do weekly menus, then got out of the habit … thanks for the reminder! I’ve found that ‘double the amount’ works great for grilling, too. I always throw a couple extra chicken breasts on the grill to add to stir fry, tortilla soup, salads, etc. later that week.

    • Karen says:

      Jennifer – Yes, m’am! I’ll sometimes grill an extra steak in the summer so we can have a “cold steak” salad later in the week. And you’re right. You really have to get yourself into the habit of doing these things and sticking with it! ~ karen

  2. BCBev says:

    I keep trying to cook doubles but the man keeps eating as fast as I cook…

    • Karen says:

      BCBev ~ Hah! You bring up a really good point. I should have mentioned that. You need to threaten anyone who goes near the “leftover” food. Generally I just say it’s off limits. Sometimes I even hide it. If I forget to I tell my boyfriend I’m making double and if he goes for seconds he has to make sure there’ll still be enough leftover for another meal. He usually complies because well … I scare him. ~ karen!

  3. cred says:

    Great tip about freezing rice- I didn’t know you could. I always think that I will make rice pudding but have yet to find one using cooked rice that I like. This sounds better.

    A quick dinner idea is to give yourself a break (ha! really not intended) and make breakfast for dinner once a week. A veggie & cheddar omelette with a green salad or a full-on english breakfast with toast, fried eggs, homefries, beans, and breakfast meat of choice (we often skip the meat- it is already pretty protein packed) or a Spanish potato omelette on baguette.

    And if you have pancake lovers, I suppose that works too. I am not a fan of syrupy breakfast and definitely dislike sweet stuff for dinner. But breakfast dinners are a quick and easy choice.

  4. christina says:

    I have a groovy tip that will make dinner prep way MORE time consuming but oh-so-charming! Make a couple cuts in those beets so that when you slice them they will be heart shaped… mmm-hmm. :0) (I like mine perfect so I waste more time by making necessary adjustments w/ scissors.)
    I LOVE your precooked veggie tip, I’m trying that one first!

  5. Antonia says:

    Love all these ideas!!! Thanks, Karen!

  6. Amy Schmucker says:

    Usually when I cook a extra portion, I am able to bring it to a sick friend. Or it goes into the freezer and waits until someone is sick…like me.

    Have you tried Potsticker soup? Its very tasty. I have to go to the asian grocery to get potstickers but I have to go there to buy other staples so I don’t mind so much. course you will come up with “making your own potstickers” but I will stick to buying them.
    Have a great Wednesday.

  7. KarenB says:

    OMG!! Kresge’s!! I haven’t heard that in forever! What a great memory, kind of like finding an old year book. Now I have a yen to call my sister, ergo I will waste as just as much time as if I did find an old yearbook. (Was Kresge’s the Canadian version of Kmart?)

    • Karen says:

      KarenB! I’m not sure if Kresges was the Canadian version of KMart. I think it maybe was. I was really young when the Kresges around here shut down, but I do remember the lunch counter and the bubbling orange and grape pop in those big clear cases on the counter. I remember thinking even then it seemed “old fashioned”. πŸ™‚ ~ karen

    • Larraine says:

      Kresge was the pre-KMart. KMart was an attempt to modernize the old classic “5-and-dime” (notice how your keyboard doesn’t even have a cent sign!) and expand it from a long, narrow, jammed space in the middle of town to a super-store for the car-and-shopping-centre world.

      • Karen says:

        Larraine – Ah HA! Thanks. I barely remember Kresge’s but from what I remember it was both dusty and narrow. πŸ™‚ ~ karen

  8. Melody Madden says:

    Just recently started making quadruple the amount of pasta sauce and freezing it in individual containers…yeah I’m sure I didn’t invent this but I guess I just came to it late in the game. Last night being a busy one, I just grabbed the container, dumped the hulking icy pasta ball into a pan, boiled some pasta and voila….dinner is served.

  9. Sheila says:

    Great tip regarding undercooking the vegetables – I’ll be trying that tonight.

    I love making weekly menus. I have “Thursday flyer night” when I circle the specials, take a quick inventory of my fridge/freezer/cupboards and then sit and write my menu. It saves so much money plus it puts my obsessive planning skills to good use.

    I also like having a menu so that if I’m preparing food I can see what veggies I’ll need to cut the next night and I can do it all in one shot. Cuz who likes washing a cutting board two days in a row…energenic people, that’s who.

  10. maggie says:

    Karen
    I remember those hot beef sandwiches at Kresges. I worked there when I was in High school. They tasted good albeit the canned peas left a lot to be desired and although the gravy was sort of reddish looking it tasted alright. The chips were my favourite with lots of ketchup. Oh ya we were talking make ahead meals were we not? See you are not the only one who gets side tracked Hee Hee

  11. LoriD says:

    Kresge’s lunch counter! We used to go with my Grandma in Kirkland Lake and we’d always get the chocolate sundaes in the old tulip glasses with long spoons. Sigh.

    We do crock-pot meals every Tuesday (busy night for kid activities) – usually soup, chili or stew. I love it because I then have thermos meals for the kids lunches for the rest of the week!

  12. Adrienne Audrey says:

    Rice is a good side dish to cook extra ahead of time. Especially brown rice since it takes so long to cook. Never thought of prepping veggies in advance. Good tip!

    • Karen says:

      Adrienne – The one thing about rice is you have to freeze it right away. Because rice has so many exposed surface areas (like ground beef or instance) it needs to get chucked into the freezer right away. You shouldn’t keep rice hanging around in the fridge for several days and then eat it. Freeze, freeze, freeze. πŸ™‚ ~ karen

  13. Brinda says:

    Great advice! We actually just started doing this a few months ago and it truly makes life easier. One of the advantages I particularly like is fewer trips to the grocery store!

  14. Christina says:

    Love the ideas. But what I need is advice on how to cook well for one. Cooking up an elaborate meal is so much less satisfying when you don’t have a loved one to share it with. But I do love cooking. I think all I need are the right recipes and portions.

    • Karen says:

      Christina! I lived in my house alone for years before I met my boyfriend and I also had to cook for one. I loved it. I like cooking and I like eating. So I cooked. πŸ™‚ You’re right, it is a bit more difficult because even one head of broccoli is enough for a whole week for one person! But it definitely can be done. I just got used to either halving recipes or giving portions away! If I made a pan of lasagna I’d freeze the rest of it to have for later. Don’t worry that you’re only cooking for one. And don’t avoid cooking recipes because you think it’s too much work or will create too much food for one. If, like me, you love cooking and you love eating … just do it! Half it, freeze or give away any leftover portions! ~ karen

  15. Bee-Naz says:

    I should really get my act together and plan a weekly menu. In our house it gets even tougher though because I’m a vegetarian living with an omnivore. Makes for double the cooking on some nights which is not fun.

    One thing that we do every night when we make dinner is make extra. Not to freeze but to take to work for lunch the next day. It means a LOT less money spent on eating out but also healthier lunches since we’re not left scrambling for something to stuff our faces with come noon when our bellies are screaming at us.

  16. Heather says:

    Great tips, I could use some dinner planning help. RV life makes cooking much more difficult than I had ever imagined. With a small fridge, no oven and five of us, sheeesh!

    • Karen says:

      Heather – I don’t know how you do it! Really, I don’t! We (just the two of us) went on a houseboat vacation for the weekend a couple of years ago and I nearly died from claustrophobia. Teeny tiny fridges are worrisome! No oven is even more worrisome! If you have a microwave I guess you’re golden, but no oven sucks. ~ karen

  17. Jeff says:

    My wife and I notice a significant drop in our food bill when you shop with a plan. Less junk is purchased and 6 months later you don’t find yourself wondering why you have a dusty can of Palm Hearts in the cupboard.

    • Karen says:

      Jeff – That’s exactly why I started doing my weekly menu! Only one trip to the grocery store a week (usually) and no dusty cans of Palm Hearts leftover. LOL. Thx.! ~ karen

  18. Jenn says:

    Tip #6: when you serve up the dinners, make up tomorrow’s lunch at the same time. I do this every night. Since my husband and I are religiously measuring & weighing our portions as part of our New Year’s Resolution I mete out the lunch at the same time so that we know what we’re getting for the next day. It saves time, money, and calories.

  19. Valerie says:

    Those who grew up in central and eastern Canada love hot sandwiches. Many who reside west of Regina, Saskatchewan do not know what hot sandwiches are. Am I the only one living in the west that has noticed this?

    • Karen says:

      Valerie – LOL. I had no idea. I’m from Ontario and our family definitely had “hot roast beef” or “hot turkey” sandwiches. We could be an exception though! We also ate sandwiches with Sandwich Spread so … ~ karen

    • Melissa says:

      I’m from B.C. and we ate hot sandwiches a lot – but since I moved to Ontario I find no one knows what I’m talking about…

      Perhaps we are just old. Or old fashioned.

      Or cooler than most.

      • Karen says:

        Melissa – I think it’s definitely old fashioned. A tradition that I’ve continued but most people wouldn’t probably. LOL. ~ karen!

  20. Shari says:

    What a blast from the past! I too have fond memories of Kresge’s. My sister and I went there one boxing day and I distinctly remember buying ‘feather’ earings! There were all the rage back then – or maybe not so much by the time we bought them if we were buying them in Kresge’s! Oh well, we never professed to be trend setters back then:)

    Thanks for the tips; I’m going to make a concerted effort to give some of them a go!

  21. Liz S. says:

    I work full time, my husband works 2 jobs, and we have an 18 month old. The best way for me to provide good food for all of us is for me to do the majority of the cooking on Saturday or Sunday. I may just make 3 dishes, but I make a lot of it so we can easily mix and match meals during the week. It makes life so much easier. It also helps me because I’m not sitting in my car during rush our traffic trying to decide what I’m going to cook when I get home. Another bonus is with the meals already made, if my husband gets home first he can go ahead and heat things up and set the table. That way when I get home with my son, we’re ready to eat. Now if only the dishes magically washed and put themselves away.

  22. Kathy says:

    I so agree with your ideas about making life easier! Cooking dinners is a big one!
    I already do all of the things you suggest, except making side dishes and veggies for the whole week. That is a great idea!
    In the winter, Tuesdays are “Soup and Sandwich nights”, and on Tuesdays in the summer, we have some kind of a main dish salad (Taco salad, Chicken Caesar, Chef salad, etc). A little bit of planning ahead eliminates the 5:00 “What am I going to cook for dinner?”.

  23. marilyn says:

    hahahaha loved the line about not being animals…too funny, i always try to cook extra just for lunches the next day. my husband takes a thermos with a hot lunch every day and it is usually leftovers. yummy! and i love steak salad!

  24. danielle says:

    I just started doing a weekly menu accompanied by weekly grocery trips a few weeks ago. I LOVE it!!! Not only am I trying new things, I’m saving money and I don’t get so overwhelmed at the grocery store. I used to go and get the same staples every time, and make the same dishes every week. I’d spend a couple hours in the grocery lamenting what I would need just get home and realize I’m missing things. Now I’m in and out. And I’m eating healthier. It’s changed my life!

  25. Erin says:

    I have heard of writing a menu and even see the virtue in doing so but I dont because I dont like having to just do whats written. I feel caged in by a menu. Like I have to make chicken tonight even though I dont want it and would rather buy burgers. Instead I just buy whats on sale that week and if I dont use it before expiration I freeze it and use it for another week. So I usually have freezer options as well as fresh.

  26. Sharon Woo says:

    I remember your menus of yore Karen and I miss them! I used to have menu envy. Maybe if you bring the menu back, I can copy it weekly. πŸ™‚ Then we will be dinner buddies. Um, this is starting to get creepy. Like Single White Female (Eats Dinner) creepy!

  27. Patrice says:

    Love Florence and the Machine…she’s as gorgeous as her voice!

  28. Alisha says:

    It was just last night that I was brushing my pearly (not as white as I’d like them to be) whites, thinking about how amazing the Szechuan Carrot Soup was for dinner (thx Karen!) and I says to my reflection … I wonder what happened to the weekly menu?

    And here you are mentioning it and maybe bringing it back to life? I vote bring it back. (could we vote? would that convince you?)

    Ponderous.

    • Sharon Woo says:

      Yes! Let’s vote! I vote ‘yes’ as well!! Do it Karen, do it! πŸ˜‰

      • Karen says:

        Well … I’ll think about it. I’d have to give up a “real” post a week. If everyone is willing to trade a “real” post on how to do or make something in exchange for a Menu of the Week, I’ll consider doing it. That is all. ~ karen

        • Emily says:

          You’ve got my vote.

        • Alisha says:

          Would you consider including a recipe for one item on your weekly menu? That would make it a “real” post as you would be showing us how to do something!

          But I’d be totally satisfied with just a weekly menu post. Or none at all. I’ll still like you.

        • Karen says:

          Alisha – Mmm … no it’s weekly menu or recipe I’m afraid. You see a recipe post takes around … oh dear … 8 hours or so to do, by the time I get the ingredients, photograph them, make the recipe, photograph finished product, upload the photos, write the post etc. etc. And the weekly menu post takes a surprisingly long time to do. I have NO idea why! LOL. I think it’s because I tell little stories about each menu item, so that’s 7 little stories I have to write for every Weekly Menu post. Which now that I think of it … is probably the reason I stopped doing them! Mmm . I’ll think about it. πŸ™‚ ~ karen

  29. O.K., I just found your blog a couple of days ago and ended up linking to it today (your roses post) – glad I spent a few extra minutes on here because you are hilarious! I’ve been laughing the whole time! And I can tell that you have lots of good ideas, so I’m definitely signing up for a subscription. =)

  30. Theresa says:

    going try the menu planning first.

    • Karen says:

      Theresa – Menu planning is GREAT. Sit down on a Friday or Saturday, get your fliers out … see what’s on sale and base what you’re going to eat depending on what looks good or what’s on sale. You can always flip things around if you’re worried you won’t want “potato soup” on Wednesday. Just so long as you have 6 or 7 meals and the ingredients for all of them! Good luck. ~ karen

  31. Theresa says:

    my favorite cooking shortcut is to buy a bag of frozen chopped onions and a bag of sliced peppers so you can just take out the amount that you need! no chopping required and i’m not constantly throwing away bad onions or peppers.

  32. Shauna says:

    We do menu planning too (I too had put some on my blog and then stopped for no apparent reason). One of my tips/tricks is to menu plan by protein. For example, buy a whole bone-in chicken rather than the more expensive breasts and plan your first three meals using chicken…buy bulk beef, next few meals around that protein and so forth and so on. This can also help with the freezing aspect – you could make all your chicken dishes one not so busy day and freeze them. Anywho, that helped us cut down our grocery bill a bit.

  33. Jacqui says:

    Great tips – except I am running out of freezer space…I think I forget to eat the frozen meals!

    If you want to make your weekly menu ‘official’ try these gorgeous meal planners:
    http://mikio.bigcartel.com/product/meal-planner-a5-notepad (prices are in Australian dollars) – they are designed by a friend of mine and she has also included a shopping list section so you won’t forget anything!

    • Karen says:

      Jacqui – That’s a really cute shopping list! I working up the energy to post my weekly menus again. This little pad would come in handy! I usually write my shopping list on one side of a piece of paper and what I’m having every night on the other so I don’t forget anything! Thx. ~ karen

  34. Meg says:

    Karen- question, do you just plan your dinners? Or do you plan a different menu entirely for your breakfasts/lunches? I like the planning idea, and want to get into it, but should I just start with dinners and progress from there? Eeek!?

    • Karen says:

      Meg – I only plan my dinners. And usually make enough extra that I end up having that for lunch the next day. Breakfast is only coffee, unless it’s the weekend in which case it’s eggs and bacon usually. Maybe a pancake or two if we’re feeling wild. Dinner’s are the pain so that’s the only meal I plan. It also helps because if you plan everything you’re eating, you go to the grocery store once and get everything you need, then you’re done with it. ~ karen!

  35. Carol says:

    You are absolutely right that making a weekly menu makes life so much easier. It’s just that I hate making it. I’ve tried keeping past menus and just rotating through them. I still hate it. Please go back to sharing yours πŸ™‚

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