We love finding the best kitchen gear, inspiring you to get your kids in the kitchen, and even making sure that you know about ALL of the best Starbucks drinks. But most of all, we love providing you with weeknight cooking help to make whipping up family dinners faster and easier.

Whether you love to cook or it’s the chore you dread most, we know that putting together well-balanced weeknight meals can be a challenge. These seven tips make that challenge a little more manageable, so that you can do a little more relaxing at the end of a long day — or at least have time to gather your energy to deal with bedtime shenanigans.

And by shenanigans, we mean whining, dilly dallying, and fielding 23,499 random questions designed to avoid sleep. Yay #parentlife.

Related: Cool Mom Eats weekly meal plans: Because we’ve got you covered.

 

1. Cook pasta ahead of time.

Did you know that you can cook pasta ahead — without it getting soggy! — as many as five days in advance? It’s true. We learned it from the head chef at a prominent pasta company and it’s the best trick ever. Whenever you have an extra 20 minutes on the weekend or are going to be in the kitchen doing something anyway (like in the morning while the kids eat and you make school lunch), cook a batch of pasta according to our make-ahead instructions. Then dinner one night that week is as easy as tossing pasta with sauce.

 

2. Freeze a few entire meals.

One weekend when you have time, whip up a double batch of a freezer-friendly meal so that you have dinner that night and for another night too. It’s easy with our tips on how to freeze meals. (We also give recipe suggestions!) Do this a couple of times in a month and you’ll be surprised at how your stash grows — and how comforting it is knowing that there are several dinners at the ready, needing nothing more than to be warmed and served.

3. Prep stir-fry freezer packs.

Jane taught us all how to put together make-ahead stir-fry freezer packs and life will never be the same. In three easy steps, you can stock your freezer with veggies, rice, and sauce that can go straight into the wok on any night that you need a super fast meal.

 

4. Use your microwave.

Used wisely, the microwave can be a busy home cook’s best friend — and not because it cooks frozen tray meals (a friend would never serve that to you!). The microwave can be a very effective way to cook fresh veggies and maybe even help them retain nutrients. Check out our tutorial on how to cook vegetables in the microwave for details on which veggies fare best in the microwave, tips on how to cook them, and recipes too.

5. Use smart cooking shortcuts.

A lot of tips geared toward making weeknight cooking faster require prep-ahead work, but another approach is to learn a few cooking shortcuts that cut down on your prep time on the night of. These brilliant cooking shortcuts help you move faster in the kitchen when you get home having not given one single thought to dinner.

 

6. Meal plan.

I know, I know. You’ve heard this one a million times and it drives you crazy because you just can’t, won’t, don’t meal plan. No worries, we’ve got you covered with our weekly meal plans.  Start with one, then be sure to dig into our meal plan archive, which has over three months worth of back-up plans. Check back every Friday for a new meal plan or, even easier, subscribe to get our weekly meal plan email every Sunday morning, just in time for food shopping.

7. Keep two things on hand for a no-cook veggie solution.

Have you ever gotten halfway through making a quick main dish only to realize that you totally forgot about a veggie side? Here’s your solution: Always keep a bag of pre-washed greens (spinach or baby kale will give you the best nutritional bang for your buck) and homemade dressing in the fridge. With our tutorial on how to make vinaigrette, you don’t even need a formal recipe. And in case you were wondering, you really don’t have to wash pre-washed greens. Put the two together, and you’ve got a no-cook veggie side in three minutes flat.

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