One of the things I struggle with as a working mom is how to keep things interesting at meal time and not spend my life in the kitchen. I love to cook, I just don't want to miss out on the precious few hours with my children each evening.
I have found that by planning out my menu each weekend for the coming week that I can save time and plan an efficient group of meals. When possible, I like to multipurpose what I am cooking. If I am grilling chicken on one night, why not throw on a couple of extra pieces to incorporate into a meal the next night. In some ways, it is like creative leftover-ing (not a word, but it describes it well) - using something from a previous dinner in a new way. As example, this week, we had Turkey on Saturday for my daughter's birthday party. Then, on Monday for dinner, we used some of the nice white pieces in place of chicken breast in a recipe. It worked well, allowed us to use up leftovers without feeling like we were eating leftovers again and cut the meal prep time. The balance of the turkey, I cut up and froze in 2 cup portions for use later in Leftover Pot Pie which can be assembled with frozen ingredients and placed in the oven - almost no prep time needed.
The other benefit of menu planning is making sure that you have the ingredients you need on-hand. I plan my menu and then my grocery list. Some weeks, like this one, I only needed two ingredients for meals I was planning - I added in a couple of deals but I was able to keep my shopping trip quick and cheap. Having the ingredients on-hand also can include prepping the night before. If I am making something that needs diced peppers, I can dice it the night before after the kids are in bed. The alternative is to buy prepped ingredients - this can be convenient, but for some things the price isn't worth the convenience. My goal is to be prepared, so that I can minimize the amount of time it takes to get something delicious on the table for my family.
Another benefit of menu planning is ensuring you don't eat the same thing every week. When I don't menu plan, because we were traveling or something, and I don't have time on the weekend to hit the store, it seems like we fall back on the same 3 or 4 meals - which can quickly get boring and make meal prep something that I dread. When I plan my menu, I fill in a few days based on on-hand food in the freezer/pantry and any deals that there are at the store. Then, I usually ask my husband what we haven't had in a while that he would like to have this week. It helps me because it is one less meal that I have to choose and it ensures that he gets to have some of his favorites as well.
I also rely on leftovers for my lunch, so keeping dinner diverse can help keep my lunch from getting boring. I have found that boring lunches lead me to eating out for variety, which can get expensive and unhealthy. A few weeks ago, an article was shared with me about how to rework leftovers into a tasty lunch (or dinner depending on how much you have). You can read that article here. Some of the ideas like the pulled pork will work well with beef roast or chicken as well. I like to make chicken salad for lunch sometimes. Just grill/bake/broil an extra chicken breast when you make dinner. Take the chicken and either shred it or cube it, add mayo, sour cream, diced onions/celery, add in some cut grapes and a little salt and pepper. It makes a tasty treat for lunch and keeps leftover boredom from setting in.
For other tips and tricks, check out Works For Me Wednesday over at Rocks in my Dryer.