Take the scramble out of preparing workday dinners


It’s 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. You walk in the door after a long day at work, put your bags down, start to unwind and realize you have no idea what’s for dinner.

A quick survey of what’s in the fridge yeilds no inspiration — a variety of opened and partially eaten cheeses, milk, ketchup and a half-full drawer of wilted and browning vegetables. Nor does a trip to the pantry offer help.

Other options include ordering a pizza, going out for dinner or a run to the grocery store, but you’re trying to eat more healthfully and save money

What’s a person to do?

It’s an age-old question: What’s for dinner? My solution is plan ahead. With a little pre-planning and stocking up, the question will no longer be “Do we have anything to eat?” Rather, it will be “What, of all these delicious options, should we eat tonight!”

I recently joined forces with the Moms’ Network of Walla Walla to offer a family weeknight dinner cooking class. We discussed the importance of sitting down and eating dinner as a family and easy ways to make it healthful and fun.

Studies show eating together with family and friends not only helps children do better in school and develop language skills, it also makes for happier people with more optimistic outlook on life. Families who eat together are healthier and tend to consume more fruits and vegetables, which most Americans are dangerously short on. Giving the whole family a chance to talk and reconnect after a long day apart is good for everyone.

After discussing the importance of family mealtime, we got into the details of planning.

First, stocking your fridge and pantry for the week provides all the necessary elements, so all that’s left is preparation of the meal. If you have kids or picky eaters in the family, sit down and discuss the menu together, each person picking out one meal for the week. Once the menu is decided, make a list of supplies you will need, post the menu on the fridge for all to see, then go shopping.

In addition to the supplies needed for the week, I like to stock up on the following foods to always have in the pantry for an unexpected meal:

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Assorted beans
  • Rice
  • Assorted pasta
  • Chicken broth
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Coconut milk
  • Peanut butter
  • Soy sauce
  • In the freezer, I like to always have a few things to complete the meal, such as:
  • Assorted veggies
  • Chicken breast
  • Fish
  • Ground meat

From these basic supplies we can make a multitude of healthful, delicious and interesting meals. Some of my personal favorites include:

Soba noodles with peanut sauce and spinach — Sauce: 1 can coconut milk, ½ cup peanut butter, ¼ cup soy sauce. Boil noodles, add warmed sauce and fresh spinach.

Baked chicken teriyaki with rice and simple stir-fry — Sauce: ½ cup soy sauce, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon each of fresh ginger and garlic. Cover chicken pieces with sauce and bake. For stir-fry: sauté frozen bagged stir-fry mix with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic.

Braised white fish with tomato and onion — Braise fresh fish with a can of tomatoes and a sliced onion, adding vegetables if desired. Fennel, zucchini, peppers, capers, or olives are great additions.

Salmon cakes with quinoa — Mix canned salmon with one egg, breadcrumbs, salt/pepper and herbs (dill, parsley, etc). Form into patties and fry in a little oil until crispy brown. Cook quinoa following instructions on box. Only takes 15 minutes.

Pasta with tuna red sauce —Sauce made with tuna, canned diced tomato, herbs (think basil, chili flakes, parsley, oregano).

Easy layered enchiladas — Layer tortillas with cheese and/or meat, and sauce, topping off with cheese. The canned enchilada sauce comes in handy here.

Braised chicken breast with mushrooms and easy baked polenta — Braise chicken with mushroom, white wine and 1 cup of broth. For polenta, combine ¾ cup course corn meal with 3 cups water in covered dish. Bake 30 minutes. Add splash of milk, salt/pepper, Parmesan cheese.

Crock pot soup/stews — Pull out that old pot and search for recipes online. The possibilities are endless. Start it in the morning and have dinner ready when you get home.

After a long day away from home, evening should be a time to look forward to and enjoy with your family, not a stressful hectic one. Do yourself, and your family a favor and make mealtimes a cinch with a little forethought. And don’t forget to include all the wonderful fall fruits and vegetables that are coming into season: Apples, pears, plums, winter squash, root vegetables, and delicious and so-good-for-you winter greens.


Melissa Davis, a local chef with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, specializes in natural foods. She can be reached at jadenluna@gmail.com. More of her writing is at www.melissadavisfood.com


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