We know getting weeknight dinners prepped, cooked, and ready can be as daunting as confronting a difficult client or meeting a tough deadline at work. At Blue Apron, we help busy people get dinner on the table by delivering recipes and ingredients to their homes, and in the process, we’ve heard about every manner of dinner dilemma.
So in this column, we’ll be sharing the solutions we’ve cooked up to all your meal predicaments. You can submit your questions about weeknight dinners, leftover-based lunches, and any other mealtime crises to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t wait to hear from you!
Dear Blue Apron,
I plan to cook, and I even go shopping on the weekends in an effort to make that weeknight meal thing happen. But when I get home at night, I'm just too tired and end up ordering in. What can I do to motivate myself to cook and make it feel like less of an undertaking?
Everyone has his or her own relaxing activity. For us, it’s cooking. But we know that for most of our peers, it’s more likely going to the gym, hanging out with friends, or catching up on the new episodes of Arrested Development. So we thought we’d share the ways we taught ourselves to think of cooking as a pleasure, not a chore—making it easier to do even when we’re tired at the end of the day.
Here are a few effective habits to help you conquer your pre-dinner motivation rut.
1. Do Your Prepwork in Advance
It sounds like you already purchase ingredients on the weekend—so take that one step further, and get them all ready to be cooked. Mise en place is the fancy French chef term for washing, drying, and chopping your produce ahead of time. By doing all this in advance, you’ll find yourself more than halfway to dinner when 7 PM rolls around on a weekday. Cubed eggplant on Sunday becomes 10-minute Rigatoni alla Norma on Monday. Sliced chicken and prepped peanut sauce become almost instant Chicken Sate for Tuesday. You get the idea—you do the tough work ahead of time, the fun stuff on the weeknights.
Just be sure to cover any prepped fresh produce with slightly damp paper towels. Fragrant vegetables, like onion and garlic, should be stored in sealable plastic bags or containers and will keep for two to three days in the fridge.
2. Cut Your Ingredient List in Half
This tip comes from advice we once got about packing for a trip. The idea is that you never need nearly as much as you think you do to pack a suitcase—or make a great meal. Rather, keep it simple, and keep your ingredient lists to a minimum.
For example, the knowledge that spaghetti sauce turns out just as well with just garlic as it does with garlic and onion will spare you an onion’s worth of prep time. Likewise, in a sesame chicken stir-fry, throw in just two vegetables—sugar snaps and carrots—rather than the big mix often added to stir-fries. Knowing that you’re keeping things easy will help turn those thoughts of “This feels overwhelming” into “Easy—I’m just going to throw something simple together!”
3. Double Your Recipe
You’ll save tons of time—and conserve energy— if you make big batches of a meal over the weekend and reheat the leftovers as soon as you get home. This is a great option if you’re willing to dine on the same chili or chickpea stew a few nights in a row, as most recipes keep in the fridge for at least five days.
Or, if you’re down with the idea of cooking a big batch but less so with eating the same meal night after night, freeze single-serving portions in heavy-duty plastic bags to eat in weeks to come. Lay the bags flat in the freezer so they stack easily and label them with the contents and the date, so you know what to expect when you defrost.
4. Choose Simple Recipes With a High ROI
When you’re making weeknight dinners, you want to balance the return on investment of a homemade dinner with the time and energy spent cooking—you’ll like your weeknight meals more if you don’t make a huge mess or spend a lot of time cooking. In other words, Wednesdays are probably not the days to experiment with new recipes or homemade bread.
But, if you make a super simple dinner with just a few ingredients and 15 minutes or so of cooking time, you’re more likely to be satisfied with the results. Next time you’re too tired to cook, try spreading good toast with goat cheese, avocado, and herbs and pairing the resulting tartines with a simple salad. Seven minutes after you start, you’ll be eating a low-key, healthful meal. By investing a little bit of time and energy, you’ll get a pretty good dinner in return.
5. Find Your Zen
Remember, stirring a pot of browning onions for curry can be soothing. Really. All day, you sit in front of a computer, surrounded by colleagues or running to meetings—but in the kitchen, you get to stand up, stretch your arms out over your stove, and zone out for a quarter of an hour all by yourself. Embrace it!
And if you’re still not convinced of the calming power of chopping and stirring, pair cooking with an activity you already love. Rock out to your favorite playlist, chat on the phone with your best friend, or simply reflect on the day while you make your delicious meal.