After grinding all day at work, rushing to lunch meetings, dealing with commuting, squeezing in a workout, and walking the dog (and basically double this if you’ve got kids), sometimes life demands that you get dinner on the table in a flash. This can be a tough realization if you love to cook, because for many of us, being in the kitchen is a healthy way to unwind and de-stress. It can feel like even more of a challenge if you don’t want to sacrifice flavor and nutrition just because you’re short on time.
With a little creativity and cleverness, you can absolutely prepare delicious, elevated and quick meals on those mad-hustle kinds of days. Like so many kitchen skills, it just requires equal parts of thinking ahead and thinking on your feet. Here are our top 4 hacks for getting dinner on the table, ASAP.
1. Work With Your Weekends
A leisurely weekend afternoon is the perfect opportunity to set yourself up for dinners on-the-fly for the week ahead. Use your time chillin at home to make a substantial protein, like a roast chicken, pork shoulder, or crispy baked tofu, that will enhance salads, bowls, and sandwiches in the days ahead. While the oven is on, why not throw in a sheet pan of veggies for an instant side dish!
The more items you can pre-prep when you do have time, the more dinners you’ll be able to compile throughout the week. One chicken can be added protein for a Vietnamese pasta salad on Monday, chicken salad on Tuesday, and chicken tacos on Wednesday.
For more ZENB-approved ways to “cook ahead,” head over to this blog post!
2. Look for Lightning-Fast Ingredients
Some ingredients are just meant for quick weeknight dinners. Instead of waiting 45 minutes for brown rice to cook, choose a grain or main ingredient that is ready in a flash. For instance, ZENB’s Pasta Agile cooks in just three minutes! Couscous, bulgur wheat, and quinoa are great alternatives, too.
Other quick ingredient swaps to try:
- Kale or collard greens → spinach, arugula, Swiss chard
- Sauteed/roasted tuna or salmon → canned tuna or smoked salmon
- Dry beans → canned beans
- Homemade broth → boxed bone broth
- Sauce from scratch → plant-fueled ZENB Gourmet Pasta Sauce
3. Pay a Little Extra for Prep
Most markets offer a wide variety of pre-cut produce, and lots of other ways to get ahead in the kitchen on busy days. They usually cost a bit more, but these items can really make all the difference and help you choose more nutrient-dense options when you're in a hurry. Some of our favs include: pre-cut Brussels sprouts, peeled-and-cubed sweet potatoes, broccoli florets, pre-chopped greens, roasted and marinated beets, shredded cabbage and pre-made cauliflower rice.
High-quality bottled dressings and marinades, bottled curries, pre-spiced beans, marinated peppers, olives, and artichokes, chopped nuts, and shredded/crumbled cheese are also ready-to-rock ingredients that can elevate your meals in seconds.
4. Track Down Specialty Kitchen Tools
We firmly believe that you don’t need a million kitchen gadgets to be a great home cook (for more on our thoughts on that, see here and here). That being said, there are a couple of specialty tools that can help shave tons of time off your cooking sessions.
A pressure cooker can cut down cooking time for soups, stews, beans, braises, and so much more, almost like magic! Modern appliances, like Instant Pots, use the same analogue pressure technology with intuitive, user-friendly interfaces. Mandolins can slice vegetables way, way faster, and more evenly, than most of us can chop by hand — just be sure to follow the safety instructions because those babies are sharp! A blender or food processor is also a great time saver. Even a properly sharpened knife and vegetable peeler can make prepping so much more efficient.
Our ZENB recipe library is packed with weeknight-friendly recipes to explore! Take a look through the library to find your new favorite plant-fueled dinner. Follow ZENB on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for even more tips and tricks on elevating your meals and living a balanced life.