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8 tips to make weeknight dinner more doable in 2020

Like any New Year's resolution, an "all or nothing" attitude isn't going to work. Here's how to get better at making dinner.
Image: Preparing meal
Studies have shown that home cooking is almost always better than take-out, even when you're including some indulgent ingredients. PeopleImages / Getty Images

The last prime rib has been roasted, the last potato pancake fried up, the last eggnog quaffed. At least for now. It’s officially 2020, and with it come the best of intentions.

Case in point: weeknight cooking. We all want to make weeknight dinners more doable. But sometimes we set all-or-nothing resolutions that set us up for failure. Doing better doesn't have to mean cooking a perfect full course meal every day, a blue plate special every day, a meat and three in some parts of the country. No, we need to set reasonable goals that encourage successes, and those successes keep us going forward.

There are some brass tacks things you can think about, like creating an organized pantry and meal planning — those are important. But let’s take a step back, and think about the things that might stop us from getting those dinners on the table, and make the task feel daunting or burdensome. And let’s think about ways to take away those obstacles, and encourage success and pleasure in the doing.

1. Set manageable “resolutions”

Take some real time in deciding what those are for you. Is it reasonable to say you are going to cook three times a week? Only do take out twice a week? Make leftovers so that you bring lunch to work twice a week? There are lots of ways to get a handle on more home cooking, and setting goals that you feel comfortable are within your grasp is the best way to start.

2. Or, maybe don’t think of them as resolutions?

That work is pretty weighty for a lot of us. But there are actually quite a few synonyms for — or definitions of — the word resolution. The more onerous ones are commitment, promise, pledge. More friendly ones are intent, aim, plan. Sure, we don’t want to give ourselves too much wiggle room, so that we have an immediate out if we don’t follow through. But we also don’t want to create a situation where if we don’t meet our goals, we think of it as a failed plan, and give up.

3. Allow for slip-ups

To that end, make sure you don’t create the idea that you have to abandon the plan if you mess up. Thought you would make dinner Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and you skipped Friday? Well, good for you that you made dinner twice this week, and next week is around the corner and a new opportunity to go three for three.

4. Think about the bigger goal

Is it healthier eating? Saving money? More sit-down family meals? Home cooking can and should be a part of this, but there are other ways to the adjacent objectives. For instance, if you are trying to eat healthier, but you ran out of time to make dinner, skip the fast food drive through, and hit the salad bar at the supermarket instead. Don’t pour a soft drink with your meal, choose bubbly water instead.

5. Mix and match prepared food with homemade dishes

You simply do not have to make every aspect of the meal. Maybe one night you get a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, and make a big old Greek salad. Or maybe you roast the chicken yourself, and pick up a premade salad. Both are excellent solutions, and a way to choose success instead of throwing up your hands and feeling frustrated.

6. Thinking about a lasagna or maybe a creamy Tuscan chicken dish? All is ok in moderation!

Studies have shown that home cooking is almost always better than take-out, even when you're including some indulgent ingredients. You have much more control over the salt and fat and if you avoid adding any processed ingredients you’ll be ahead of the game. Meals you make at home won’t have any hidden additives, so it will be overall healthier than most take-out by default. And hey, maybe layer a bunch of spinach into that lasagna!

7. Slow it all down

If you can start your time in the kitchen by putting on some music, maybe taking a few nice breaths and a stretch, and taking pleasure in the fact that you are making something delicious for you and yours, the process instantly becomes more enjoyable. Try and give yourself some breathing room time-wise, as well. If dinner gets on the table 15 minutes later than you planned, but you enjoyed the preparation, that’s a full-on win. (Also, bring your partner or a kid or a friend in there with you — there is something so very nice about cooking alongside another person).

8. Give yourself a break, and don’t let the pretty pictures fool you

A couple of reality checks: a) Not everyone loves or even likes cooking. This is a fact. And if you are one of those people, it’s OK. The fact that you’re trying is pretty terrific, and not everyone likes to do everything, so no cook-shaming allowed. b) Those gorgeous photos you see on Pinterest and Instagram? Many of them are taken by professional cooks and/or photographers — if you feel intimidated by what you see online, give that emotion up right away. It’s not productive, those photos often involve styling tweezers, and you probably do a whole lot of things better than other people, so you keep cooking and relishing the successes big and small.

Want some simple recipes to kick off those excellent intentions? Here are a few to get you started!

Better ways to tackle New Year's resolutions

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