By Jennifer Tveitnes, RD, LD
Finding motivation to cook dinner during weeknights can be tough for many people. Many of us expend a lot of mental and/or physical energy all day at work, and arrive home with an empty tank. If you add one (or more) children into that scenario, especially if they are participating in evening activities, the challenge to cook a meal at home can seem unachievable at times.
I always encourage meal planning to help reduce some of this stress, but some weeks our schedules are so off-kilter that even meal planning doesn’t get accomplished. How, then, can we still manage to get a home cooked meal on the table with little energy and virtually no planning? With a little creativity, resourcefulness, and a strong willpower to avoid fast food on your drive home, it can be done.
When I am faced with these type of evenings, my first step is to always get out of my kitchen and unwind, even if it’s just for a minute or two. If I rush home in a frenzy and immediately enter the kitchen, I often feel overwhelmed, and find it difficult to focus and execute meal preparation. By going upstairs and taking a minute, I come back into the kitchen in a more calm and collected state, making it easier to focus on the task at hand.
Once I get into my kitchen, my first thought always goes to my refrigerator:
“What foods do I have that need to be used quickly, before they spoil?”
The answer to that question always helps me get started in deciding what to prepare.
My next thought always is:
“How can I prepare these foods in the quickest and easiest way possible?”
If I have a lot of fresh vegetables, my best bet is to come up with an idea that uses them in their fresh state. I save on time and dishes when I avoid cooking them.
The next step?
“How can I combine these foods in an appropriate way?”
This is where the creativity comes in. Let me walk you through a real life example!
I come home. It’s Thursday. I have no meat thawed in the refrigerator. Items I do have available:
- Lettuce: still good, but probably needs to be used soon
- Onions: still good, but I have a lot of them, so I should start using them before they go bad
- Tomatoes: still good, but need to be used ASAP before they spoil
- Mushrooms: need to be used in the next day or two
- Carrots: starting to look sad
- Black olives: need to be used in the next day or two
- ½ jar curry sauce: needs to be used ASAP
- Shredded cheese
- Taco shells, and soft tortillas
The only thing I had missing from this potential meal was a protein source. I knew I had some ground turkey in the freezer, which is easy to thaw and cook.
How did I put all of these foods together? I decided to make curry tacos. I thawed and cooked the ground turkey, drained it, and put it back into the pan and let it simmer with the curry sauce. While that was cooking, I diced the lettuce, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, black olives, and shredded the carrots. I even grabbed some fresh mint from my garden and sliced it to use as a garnish. As soon as the meat was done, we were ready to serve.
From start to finish, the meal was ready in the time it took my two kids to watch one Bubble Guppies episode (in case you are not aware of the length of a Bubble Guppies episode: 22 minutes). Weeknight meal accomplished.
Easy Curry Tacos
- 1.25 pounds ground turkey
- 2 cups premade curry sauce
- 1.5 cups shredded lettuce
- ½ cup shredded carrots
- ¼ cup sliced black olives
- ¼ cup diced mushrooms
- ½ cup diced onion
- Pineapple salsa (or whatever you have on hand), as needed, for garnish
- Shredded cheese, as needed, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves, for garnish
- Hard shell tacos or soft tortillas
- Cook the ground turkey over medium heat. Drain. Add back to pan along with curry sauce. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
- Serve meat with vegetables, cheese, salsa, tortillas and mint.
Tip: chop, slice and dice the vegetables while the meat is cooking to prepare the meal in less time.