We’ve all been there—5pm rolls around, work is done for the day, tummies are starting to grumble but you have no idea what to make for dinner. Stress levels rise, everyone is getting ‘hangry’ so you make a quick decision to order in food or perhaps pull out an ultraprocessed frozen meal. Although this is absolutely essential sometimes, if it happens frequently it shifts the balance of our overall eating to be less healthy, as most take-out or restaurant foods are short on vegetables, fibre and other key nutrients and often heavy on ones like sodium, sugar and less healthy fats.
By planning and prepping ahead, you can save the stress and head into the dinner hour with enthusiasm for making a quick meal to nourish yourself and your family. Here are some tips to make this a success:
- Make a meal plan before going grocery shopping. Aim for 5 out of the 7 dinners of the week—it’s tough to come up with more than that at once. Check the fridge and freezer to see what needs to be used up as there may be vegetables or proteins to base a meal around. We often base meals around proteins so think about at least one fish dish, one poultry and the rest plant-based with legumes or tofu, nuts or seeds.
- When planning, consider which meals could support each other and save you some time on busier days. For example, if you roast a chicken on Sunday when you have more time, you can use leftovers for a meal, like chicken Caesar salad or wraps, in the next day or two afterwards. Same with cooking up a big pot of legumes or whole grains—they can be used in two or three different recipes.
- Wash and prepare your vegetables when you have more time, like on the weekends. While you’re waiting for your roast chicken to finish, consider cutting up or preparing vegetables for that night’s dinner as well as for a recipe later in the week. You can also roast extra vegetables to have as a side later in the week or to turn into a delicious soup.
Here’s what a 5-day dinner plan could look like with more prep happening on Day 1 and the rest of the week’s meals ready in under 30 minutes:
Day 1—Roast Chicken with Roasted Vegetables and Barley Pilaf (serve only half the chicken e.g. the breasts and save the thighs/legs or vice versa; make extra barley and extra roast veggies). To save time on day 5, make refried beans and brown rice and freeze.
Day 2—Roasted Vegetable Soup with Smoked Tofu sandwiches on Wholegrain Bread (use the extra roasted veggies from day 1 to make a simple soup—combine with stock, heat, puree if desired)
Day 3—Chicken Caesar Wraps (use leftover chicken from day 1)
Day 4—Warm Walnut & Barley Salad with Salmon on Papillote on a bed of greens (use the barley made on day 1 which can be turned into a new dish while the salmon is cooking; buy pre-washed greens so you can simply put them directly on the plate)
Day 5—Beans & Rice with Coleslaw (if desired, make the beans & rice on day 1 and freeze, pull out on day 4 to thaw in the refrigerator. While reheating, make the coleslaw.)
Then it’ll be Friday night and a fun treat to order pizza or one of your other family favourites! You can feel great about the treat dinner after eating so well all week long.