5 Tips for Easier Dinners

Four pulled pork sandwiches on a sheet tray

5 Tips for Easier Dinners

Like you (probably), making dinner day after day (after day after day) can feel overwhelming for me sometimes. These 5 tips for easier dinners are things I’ve learned over the years that have made supper run more smoothly in my household; hopefully one or more of these tips will help you too!

1. Make one meal for everyone, but make it flexible. If you have babies, toddlers, or any choosy eater at the table, embrace meals that can be deconstructed, or separated into various components. Tacos are perfect for this, but really anything you can top, such as salads, pizza, pasta, baked sweet potatoes work, or sandwiches (like these Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches from Bare Minimum Dinners. As a corollary to this, if you have learning eaters at the table, make sure there’s at least one accepted food available at every meal. As parents, it’s our job to introduce a wide variety of foods, but having at least one well-liked food on the table makes a child feel welcome and takes the pressure off everyone. Whether that’s apple slices, rice, meatballs, or plain old sliced bread, you’ll be assured that your child won’t go to bed hungry, and your child will have the space and freedom to be adventurous when they’re ready.

2. Pre-prep vegetables. In my house, there are only three rules when it comes to dinner (you can read more about them in Bare Minimum Dinnersavailable now!); one of them is that there needs to be a vegetable involved somehow. Here, that’s often a bowl of garlicky broccoli or a quick side salad, and very occasionally I’ll even let a shower of herbs count. The easiest way to make any of this veggie magic happen is to have the produce washed and cut in the fridge well before dinnertime. Sometimes I prep (but not cook) them right when I come home from the store; other times I’ll use a pocket of time during the day. If properly stored, most veggies will stay fresh for at least 3-5 days. Having them ready to cook increases the odds exponentially that I’ll actually get them on the table.

3. Find at least two pantry/freezer meals that you love. These are the dinners that you can make with your eyes closed, where virtually all of the ingredients can be stocked in your pantry or stashed in the freezer. One meal like this for me is a chickpea stew made with tomato paste and frozen spinach. Another is salmon burgers made with canned salmon. Yes, these are often my last-resort dishes, but they’re still deliciously satisfying.

4. Lower the bar. It may sound strange to hear a food editor and cookbook writer telling you not to work so hard at dinner, but I really believe if you take the pressure off yourself, you’re more likely to cook on a regular basis. It’s all too easy to plan a multi-step meal, but then as time gets tight or you get tired at the end of the day, just throw up your hands and order in or go out (trust me, I know). So this is me telling you that it’s okay to use supermarket shortcuts, to skip the garnish, or even to leave out components of recipes that would elevate it, but that require too much effort.

5. Find recipes that get it. Who else has started to cook a “30-minute meal” only to find it took twice the amount of time once you factored in ingredient prep? Or bookmarked a “7-ingredient” recipe, only to discover that the ingredient count didn’t include pantry staples? The truth is, dinner can be both really, truly easy, and really, truly tasty. I wrote Bare Minimum Dinners because it was a book I craved, a book that I knew my friends would come to rely on in their hectic lives, a book that would make your life less stressful. And these recipes are the real deal–bare minimum in the best possible way.

Bare Minimum Dinners cookbook cover

Jenna Helwig