Enjoying a meal together on a weeknight is a goal for many families. But adults often find themselves pressed for time on weeknights and that time crunch can make it difficult to enjoy a home cooked meal.
Time is not the only thing getting in the way of family meals: school activities, long commutes or late hours at the office, etc., can make it difficult for a family to sit down together. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse notes that family dinners are one of the most effective ways for parents to engage in the lives of their children. Studies have also shown that families who eat together tend to eat healthier, as parents can effectively monitor their kids’ diets, including whether or not their youngsters are getting enough fruits and vegetables, when they are dining together.
While it may not be feasible for parents and kids to scale back their busy schedules, there are steps parents can take to make weeknight meal preparation quicker. By shortening the time it takes to make meals on weeknights, families might be able to sit down to dinner together more often.
* Plan ahead. The most effective way to make more time for family meals is to plan ahead. Planning meals on the fly encourages everyone to fend for themselves, making it difficult for families to enjoy nutritious meals they can eat together. Plan for the coming week’s meals on the weekend, when you can survey your pantry and make a trip to the grocery store, if needed. Planning ahead also allows you to prepare certain parts of a meal in advance, which will save you time on busy weeknights.
* Make cold meals. Dinner does not have be served hot and cold meals often take less time to prepare. Consider serving salad or sandwiches on those nights when you are especially pressed for time. When serving sandwiches, serve them on whole grain bread to add nutritional value to the meal.
* Turn breakfast into dinner. There are no laws regarding what qualifies as dinner and what does not, so families without much time on their hands on a weeknight can turn breakfast into dinner. Eggs are both quick and easy to prepare and they can be served alongside toast and grapefruit. When making omelets for dinner, add some spinach or another vegetable to make the meal more nutritious.
* Lean on seafood more often. Seafood can be healthy and delicious, but that’s not the only reason it’s an ally to time strapped families. Seafood doesn’t take much time to cook, even dishes that take more time than simpler dishes, like sauteed shrimp, will still take less than 30 minutes to complete. That’s significantly less time than meals where beef, pork or poultry is the main entree.
* Leftovers aren’t just for lunch. Leftovers are often relegated to lunch, but extras from a meal cooked over the weekend can be used as a quick go to meal on a hectic weeknight. If the family enjoyed the meal the first time around, there’s no reason they won’t enjoy it again.
*Have a collection of quick recipes you can fall back on. See recipes below for a place to start.
*To save on time, take a closer look at your family’s favorite recipes and consider what can be made ahead — whether in the stages of slicing and dicing, or cooking a step in advance, or making smart choices by stocking your freezer or pantry with useful ingredients. The combination of helpful hands and a few simple organizational shortcuts will shift your dinners from hectic to manageable.
*Many recipes can be prepared through certain stages and refrigerated. Dishes with multiple components like a sauce or topping, such as a stir-fry or pasta dish, can often be partially made, reserving the final stages of assembly and cooking for the last minute to ensure freshness. The majority of casseroles can be made completely in advance and refrigerated in their baking dishes.
*Keep a stock of canned beans, grains and dried pastas in your pantry and fill the freezer with boxes of pre-cut or partially cooked vegetables, like frozen spinach or chopped broccoli. Look for items with packages that have short lists of ingredients and ones that you recognize, keeping preservatives and additives low.
Even families with hectic schedules can employ a few tricks to make dining together more convenient.
Grilled Eggplant and Tomatoes with Parmesan Crumbs
I like to grill Italian sausage, prior to putting the eggplant on the grill, to round out this delicious Italian meal.
- 2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped basil
- 1/2 cup freshly grated
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 3 pounds eggplant, sliced lengthwise 1/2 inch thick
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 10 tomatoes, sliced 1 inch thick
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Spread the bread crumbs on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil; toss well. Bake for 8 minutes, until the bread crumbs are crisp and golden brown.
Transfer the bread crumbs to a medium bowl and toss with the basil and cheese.
Light a grill. Brush the eggplant slices with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat until charred and tender, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the eggplant to a platter, fanning them out.
Brush the tomatoes with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat until charred and hot, about 1 minute per side.
Arrange the tomato slices over the eggplant and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top and serve right away.
Grilled Salmon with Preserved Lemon and Green Olives
Preserved lemons are a Middle Eastern ingredient made from lemons that have been cured in lemon juice and salt. Look for them at specialty-food shops. Serve the salmon with broccoli rabe.
- 1/4 of a preserved lemon, pulp discarded and peel minced
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- One 2-pound, center-cut salmon fillet with skin
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- 8 large green olives, such as Cerignola, halved and pitted
Light a grill or heat a grill pan. In a bowl, mix the preserved lemon with the shallot, parsley and 1 tablespoon each of the oil and lemon juice. Using a knife, make 1-inch-deep slits in the salmon skin, 1 inch apart. Rub the preserved lemon mixture into the slits. Rub the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil all over the salmon, then drizzle the fish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice; season with salt and white pepper.
Grill the salmon, skin side down, over moderate heat until the skin is lightly charred and crisp, 5 minutes. Turn the salmon and grill until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer the fish to a platter, skin side up. Scatter the olives over the fish. Cut the salmon crosswise into 6 pieces and serve.
MAKE AHEAD The seasoned salmon can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours.
Quick Chickpea and Summer Vegetable Stew
This light, simple stew is a great way to use a bounty of fresh summer vegetables in an easy one-pan meal. Serve with good Italian bread.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 small carrots, cut into coins
- 1 quart reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed
- 2 small zucchini, cut into coins
- 1 small yellow squash, cut into coins
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 bunch (6 oz.) thin asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-in. pieces
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook onion until translucent but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add carrots and cook until slightly softened, 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in broth, chickpeas, squashes, corn, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes, then stir in tomatoes and asparagus and cook until squashes are tender but not mushy, about 3 minutes more. Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil.
Hanger Steak with Garlic Onion Sauce
Serve slices of steak with a fresh green salad and your favorite summer vegetable.
Serves 4 to 6
- 2 hanger steaks (1 1/2 lbs. total)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 cup chopped green onions
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Sprinkle steaks with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add steaks and cook, turning once, until medium-rare, 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; tent with foil.
Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Add green onions and garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Pour in broth, wine and vinegar and cook, stirring to release browned bits, until reduced by two-thirds. Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter. Season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and serve with sliced steak.
Cheesy sandwiches get a kick from a bit of cayenne. If you prefer an even more robust flavor, spread the rolls with a mixture of Dijon mustard and chili paste instead of butter. Serve with pickles and sliced fresh vegetables, such as carrot and celery sticks.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 boned, skinned chicken breast halves ( total 1 lb.) sliced
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1 cup sliced onion
- 1 cup sliced green bell pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 4 submarine or French bread rolls, split
- 4 romaine lettuce leaves
- 1 cup shredded jack cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add chicken, mushrooms, onion, bell pepper and seasonings and cook until chicken is browned and no longer pink inside, 6 minutes.
Spread 1/2 teaspoon butter inside each roll and toast rolls, opened up, in the oven on a baking sheet for about 4 minutes. Lay 1 lettuce leaf in each roll. Sprinkle cheese over lettuce, then divide chicken mixture among rolls.
- Weeknight Dinner Idea: 5 Can’t-Miss Summer Meal Ideas (thenest.com)
- Most Special Occasion: Family Dinner (ireport.cnn.com)