10 great dinner hacks

Busy weeknights call for dinner shortcuts. These time-saving hacks will help you serve up wholesome and delicious meals in as little time as delivery or takeout. 

By Yuki Hayashi

10 great dinner hacks
Photography by Micahel Alberstat, Styling by Andrea Karr
1. Whip up single-serve salad bowls.
If eating in the car is a sports-night strategy, keep a batch of single-serve salads ready to grab on the go. Just whip up a batch of pasta salad (sans mayo), quinoa salad or chunky vegetable salad on Sunday night, and dole it into small canning jars or containers for midweek meals on the run.

2. Hard-boil a carton of eggs.
"I boil six to 12 at a time and store them in the fridge to grab as a quick protein source, or to chop with celery, onion and bell peppers for speedy egg salad sandwiches or wraps," says Patricia Chuey, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian, cookbook author and mom to an active nine-year-old son.

3. Make your own frozen pasta dinner.
Pair the convenience of frozen dinners with the healthy goodness of homemade. Make a big batch of tomato-based pasta sauce one night, then freeze dinner-size portions in freezer bags. Thaw the sauce while boiling pasta—they'll be ready around the same time, says Chuey.

4. Ditto for chili and stews.
While they thaw, make a fast side dish, like steamed veggies or salad.

5. Use your grill for big-batch cooking.

Apply a big-batch cooking approach to your grill.
• Grill seasoned chicken breast, flank steak or extra-firm tofu, and freeze it so it can be thawed and added to salads, stir-fries, wraps and burritos.
• Slow-cook a pork shoulder and freeze preportioned leftovers for weeknight pulled-pork sandwiches and tacos.
• Grill a big batch of your family's favourite fresh veggies in a selection of colours—think eggplant, zucchini, asparagus and sweet potatoes—and store them in the fridge. Change up their flavour profile by alternating between pesto, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice dressings.

6. Keep a stash of grain in the freezer.
Pare at least a half hour from dinner prep by making a batch of rice and quinoa on the weekend, then placing portions in reusable freezer bags. "Combine them with leftover bits of chopped meat or chickpeas, along with tomatoes, peppers and a little feta and vinaigrette for a quick meal salad. Or make quick fried rice by adding chopped onion, celery, peas, whisked egg and tofu. Flavour it with soy sauce," says Chuey.

7. Use that slow cooker year-round.
Many people think of the slow cooker as a cold-weather time-saver, perfect for hearty stick-to-your-ribs dishes. But it's great for corn chowder, slow-cooked pork and even savoury Indian or Thai-style curries. Wake up 15 minutes early to prep your ingredients, then come home to a nutritious and delicious dinner.

8. Take the edge off with an appetizer smoothie.
Keep famished kids from sneaking cookies while you make dinner by serving nutrient-dense appetizer smoothies that take just moments to create. Blend unsweetened fruit and milk (dairy or non) with a healthful green like spinach or kale. Serve in juice glasses so kids save their appetites for the main course.

9. Save time by pre-grating your cheese.

Grate cheese and put it into a freezer bag to save time on busy weeknight meals like taco or homemade pizza night. "It's amazing how much of a time- and mess-saver pregrated cheese is," says Chuey. By freezing it, you extend its shelf life without affecting flavour or texture.

10. Consider convenience.
On crazy-busy nights, hit the supermarket for a rotisserie chicken—but don't load up on the accompanying fatty, super-salty side dishes. Buy prewashed salad mix and whole wheat wraps or a multigrain country loaf, instead. At home, toss the salad in light Caesar dressing, and make kid-pleasing wraps or sandwiches with salad on the side.

Get your kids involved in dinner prep with our list of age-appropriate tasks.


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