How To Plan Dinners That Practically Make Themselves

Weeknights can be hectic; between special projects for work, after-school activities for the kids, and errands that need to be run we all have plenty to do. Cooking a delicious and wholesome meal from scratch on nights like these can seem like an impossible task. But, what if I told you it's possible to cook very little on weeknights and still eat five delicious meals? With a little bit of planning, and a few hours of cooking on the weekend, you can prep five dinners that will require very little effort on the weeknights.

Click here to see the How to Plan Weeknight Dinners That Practically Make Themselves (Slideshow)

If you're only going to do major cooking once all week, proper planning is essential. You've got to make sure you can devote a few hours to cooking (usually a portion of the day during the weekend is best), you'll need to make sure you own plenty of storage containers, and you'll need to plan meals that use similar ingredients in different ways. For example, if you want to make a dish with chicken breast, consider roasting an entire chicken instead: you can use the breast meat as planned, shred the rest if the meat for tacos and use the bones to make a chicken soup for later in the week.

The other important factor in planning a full week's worth super-easy of dinners is being creative. To avoid monotony you'll need to spice the meals differently, vary the produce and grains used, and try a variety of cooking techniques. In the case of the roast chicken, you can season the chicken breast with a lemon pepper marinade and serve it with quinoa and steamed vegetables, you can flavor the chicken tacos with smoky cumin and fresh cilantro and lime, and you can make a curry-infused chicken stew with potatoes and cauliflower with the bones — three distinct meals from just one roast chicken (or two roast chickens if you're cooking for a family).

Whether you already prep weeknight meals over the weekend or are looking to give it a try for the first time, we have a few tips that can help you spend less time in the kitchen Monday through Friday.

Think Outside the Lettuce Salad

(Credit: Shutterstock)
Salads don't have to be served cold and they don't have to be based around leafy greens. Lots of wholesome and filling grains like quinoa or barley can be cooked ahead on the weekend and tossed (warm or cold) with vegetables, meat, nuts, cheese, or dried fruit. The same quinoa you had for dinner on Monday night can quickly be tossed with shredded pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, almonds, and dried cherries for a super-easy one-bowl meal. Click here for our best salad recipes.

Make a Casserole

(Credit: Shutterstock)
If you're already cooking on the weekend, why not make a casserole and put it away in your freezer. That way, all you have to do on a busy weeknight is pop it in the oven and wait for it to cook. Click here for our best casserole recipes.

Click here for more tips on how to plan easy weeknight dinners

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.