3 Cooking Tips for Easier Weeknight Meals

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This latest reader request is from Cathy Stonefelt, who was just telling me that she and her colleagues have noticed a decline in health class attendance. To compensate, she wants more materials to help her learn to interview people interactively and give great handouts so that people can educate themselves at home.

Today is the first installment of a new series to help educators reach those goals. Each post in this series will feature a printable handout and some homework for participants.

I'm going to call it Take-Home 1-2-3 because the materials lend themselves well to use at home, and each post will feature 3 strategies to address key health topics.

So, without further ado, here's the first post!

Getting a healthful, tasty, and simple dinner on the table during weeknights can take some doing. In fact, many people say that the difficulty of getting meals on the table on busy weeknights is one of their major stumbling blocks on the road to good health.

Luckily, there are a few simple things that you can do to streamline the process and make it easier to prepare weeknight meals.

Strategy #1: Tune Up Your Pantry

If you can't find the food you've stocked, it won't be useful for your weeknight dinners. Overcrowded and messy pantries can make it harder to find what you need as you set out the ingredients for a meal you'd like to cook, and they also create a vicious cycle where you can't find an ingredient that you actually have (hidden wayyyy back in the pantry) so you buy it again and add to the clutter that blocked you from seeing the ingredient you needed in the first place.

To give your pantry a deep cleaning, work shelf-by-shelf.

Pull everything off of one shelf, dust away any trash and give the empty shelf a good scrub. Then look at everything you took off that shelf, toss anything that's expired, and donate anything that's not perishable but which you won't use. Organize the rest into categories that make sense to you and put them back in the pantry. I shared some organization and display tips in this kitchen hack, but the most important thing is that you find an approach that works for you.

Repeat this process with the remaining shelves.

Strategy #2: Check Your Herbs and Spices

When I recently cleaned out my spice rack (and the cabinets that held all the overflow) I found 5 different half-used bottles of cinnamon taking up space. I consolidated them into 2 jars and was able to reduce the clutter in my kitchen in a single step.

Make sure that the herbs and spices you use most regularly are easily accessible -- eliminating the search for key ingredients will make weeknight cooking a little easier, and every little bit helps.

Also, herbs and spices can lose flavor over time, so check your expiration dates and give each jar a sniff to make sure that everything is still aromatic and fresh. Replace any stale spices -- this will help you prepare more flavorful meals that are more likely to be accepted by your whole family, picky eaters and all. Dull spices can ruin a recipe!

Strategy #3: Stock Your Freezer

Stocked freezers make weeknight cooking a breeze!

When you make a recipe, consider doubling it and freezing the rest for another night when all that you have the energy for is removing and reheating. After a few doubled recipes, you'll be well on your way to a stocked freezer that you can rely on in a pinch.

Soups lend themselves especially well to this approach, and Cheryle Jones Syracuse recently put a whole turkey to work in a series of freezer-friendly meals.  What favorite meals can you make ahead and freeze?

Handout and Homework:

Have your clients apply each of these these tips at home and take before and after photos of their pantries, spice racks, and freezers. Then have them write down their thoughts about the project. Which approach worked the best? Why?

And here's a free handout to go with this post!

Remember, the best way to prepare healthful meals that your whole family will love is by making sure that the flavors of what you cook are appealing and bright. If you'd like to learn more strategies for working with flavor, don't miss this speedy online class: The Science of Flavor.

Plus, here's a brand-new resource collection to help make your life easier...

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