There is nothing better than a calm afternoon or evening where you can leisurely shop for groceries and head home for your culinary adventures. Then, once you’ve created your masterpiece, you sit down at the table and calmly savor each delectable bite. While this may be an ideal way to prepare and enjoy your meals, this scenario is often only a distant dream or extremely rare occurrence in the life of the average person. When you’ve come home from a long work day, the last thing you want to think about is what you are going to prepare for dinner that evening. Let’s be real here, there are those days where you are lucky to grab an apple before plopping down on the couch or collapsing into bed for the evening. We all know how important nutrition is to our health and well being, but what if we just don’t have time to prepare our meals each night? Well put your car keys down for just a minute before you head out the door to a fast food joint, because I may have a solution for you! In order to eat healthy and delicious at-home prepared meals every night of the week, all you have to do is plan ahead.

I love to have a plan of attack for any task I face. Food preparation is no different. Pick a day during the week that you can spare a few hours for meal planning and food prep. For me, Sunday afternoons are reserved for my cooking expeditions. I will do my meal planning, cook my meals and prepare my snacks for the entire week so that when it’s crunch time, I know all I have to do is grab a container out of the fridge and go. I’ll spend about 10-15 minutes flipping through recipes for my weekly meal plan, and then I’ll take my list to the grocery store to pick up what I need. This not only takes the guesswork out of cooking during the week, but also saves me time while shopping since I already know what I need! I will often squeeze my grocery shopping trip somewhere into my schedule and then do my food prep on a separate day, which means you don’t have to reserve an entire day for your shopping and food prep. In fact, if you prepare simple enough recipes, you may only need a couple of hours to cook and then you are set for an entire week! Talk about efficiency!

Once you’re home with your groceries, review your weekly meal plan to devise a cooking plan of action. If I know I have a dish or two that will be cooking on the stove or in the oven for an extended period of time, I’ll get those started so I can do smaller tasks, like chopping and organizing, while the food is cooking. If you prefer to eat a meal fresh out of the oven instead of re-heating it during the week, then the very least you can do is have all the ingredients washed, chopped and measured out so they are ready to go! That way you will greatly expedite the cooking process. It will be as if you have your very own sous chef at home. For weeks that you just didn’t get to plan ahead, have some staple items that you commonly use stored away in the freezer and the pantry for easy accessibility. All you have to do is get creative with your seasonings and what you have on-hand. Frozen meat and steamable veggies can turn into a fast, healthy and delicious dinner when you need it.

With a little planning ahead and a few hours of labor on the weekend, you will be able to make your dinner dreams of relaxation and enjoyment a reality. Not only will you save yourself from unnecessary calories while eating out, you will also save some money and, most importantly, time. Nothing can replace those moments when you get to sit down at a meal with your family, so ditch the stress and plan ahead so you can spend more time with the ones you love. For those days when the kids have a million after school activities and you’re running late because of a deadline at work, relax! Dinner is in the fridge.

Happy cooking!