April 17, 2013 at 11:15 AM ET
As parents, there are no shortage of things to beat ourselves up about. Hovering near the top of the list (for most of us, anyway): weeknight dinners, and the number of times they involve pizza and chicken nuggets. But give the guilt trip—and the delivery guy—a rest and get weeknight dinners under control with these five easy tips:
Organize your pantry. Roll up your sleeves and get your pantry(or your kitchen cabinets—not too many of us have a full walk-in pantry!) in order. Arrange all of the foods into categories for easy access (pastas next to rice, all of the tomato products together, baking products on one shelf, etc.), and have a pen and paper handy to jot down the items you're running low on.
Create two shopping lists. Having two master grocery lists to refer to can reduce those irritating last-minute runs to the market. One list should contain the items that you always want on hand and that have long shelf lives (think canned beans, tomato sauce, pasta, chicken broth). The other list should contain the items that you buy on a weekly basis (think milk, eggs, bananas, yogurt). Use these two lists to start your weekly grocery list, including all the items you need, and then add new items that you'll need for that week's meals.
Meal plan before you're wandering the grocery store aisles. We've all been there—roaming the store, trying to think of meals to make based on what we see on the shelves. But do yourself a favor and think ahead: Choose a few recipes you plan to make over the week and make sure to add any ingredients you don't have to your shopping list. And let one ingredient inspire you towards another, and use the opportunity to minimize waste: for instance, if you are planning a dish that calls for half of a bell pepper or 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil, look for other recipes that call for the same ingredient.
Prep your week. On Sunday (or whenever you have a free 30 minutes), pull out the food processor, or a cutting board and a sharp knife, and get to work prepping some of the ingredients you use most often all week long. Chop onions, peel carrots, mince garlic (and cover it with a bit of oil), grate ginger, juice and zest some lemons—in essence, act as your very own sous chef, getting a bunch of ingredients ready to go ahead of time so that weeknight cooking goes much faster. Tuck these into the fridge and you'll thank yourself all week long.
Make a big, simple dinner with lots of leftovers. Over the weekend, cook up a couple of lightly seasoned roast chickens or a turkey breast, a big pot of rice and a hefty tray of roasted broccoli or other vegetables to give yourself extra ingredients to play with later in the week. Leftover roasted chicken can become quesadillas, turkey becomes soup, leftover cooked rice become stir-fried rice, or perhaps a rice salad mixed with some chopped roasted vegetables and a simple vinaigrette, and the roasted vegetables can make a new appearance in a wrap or a frittata.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.