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How To Make Dinner Happen After A Long Day + Recent Eats

I am long overdue a post with some recent eats. I’ve gone all week without sharing any with you and there is lots of good stuff to share! I was training a client this morning and she commented that she was reading my blog and didn’t understand how I have time to put together the meals that I do. She said that after working, getting home and spending time with her son and getting him to bed, she doesn’t have time or the desire to be in the kitchen. My response to her touched on a few things.

1) A well-stocked pantry and fridge. This is CRITICAL for success. Lots of pantry staples like canned tomatoes, beans, rice, quinoa, spices, etc. and then a fridge full of a variety of fresh fruits, veggies and proteins.

2) I enjoy doing it. I get that some people just don’t like to cook. I have said this a million times before but it’s one of the most relaxing parts of my day to come home and prepare a nutritious and delicious meal at the end of the day. It’s a big part of my self-care ritual.

3) Keep it simple. If you really pay attention, you’ll see that my meals are pretty formulaic and simple. Most nights I come home, turn the oven on 400, open the fridge and take stock of what I have. I almost always roast the vegetables during the winter and I can usually cook (or at least finish) the protein in the same oven. If I’m doing something like roasted potatoes as I side, that can go in as well. Sometimes the whole dinner is in the oven! Other times I will sautee or cook elements of dinner on top of the stove. Generally, once I get everything going I can be hands off and go shower or catch up on email. There was a time when I loved trying new recipes and would menu plan a whole week’s worth of new recipes to try but I don’t have the bandwidth for that right now. You don’t need a recipe to cook the way I cook and I actually think it teaches you much more in regards to learning how to put flavors and textures together.

4) I eat late and I’m okay with it. I usually get home between 7-8 so dinner usually happens 8:30 or after. I am hungry when I get home so I usually snack on a little something while I’m cooking.

I would love for y’all to chime in if you have any tips for making dinner happen at the end of a long day. (Especially those of you with little ones!)

So, here’s what I’ve been eating this week.

Breakfast

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Whole Foods Prairie Bread toast with peanut butter, fig preserves and bananas.

1.8breakfastsmoothie

Green smoothie with a hunk of chocolate chip banana bread. I get asked sometimes if I have a banana-less green smoothie recipe and I inadvertently created one yesterday. I totally forgot to add the banana and didn’t notice til I was half way through!

Banana-less Green Smoothie

Frozen mango
Frozen pineapple
Coconut almond milk (or milk of your choice)
Spinach
A couple ice cubes
Plain Greek yogurt
Splash of orange juice

Lunch

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This is a desperation lunch on Monday before I had a chance to go to the store. Quesadilla with avocado, scrambled eggs, black beans and spinach with salsa and plain greek yogurt. Clementines on the side.

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The last of the chicken noodle soup (!!!) and a salad with toasted walnuts, avocado, goat cheese, dried cranberries, carrots, celery, artichokes and a maple balsamic vinaigrette.

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Lunch out with a friend to discuss a photography project. Bibb lettuce with poached pears, candied walnuts and grilled chicken.

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And a cup of tomato soup!

Dinners

1.7chicken

Chicken stuffed with goat cheese, asparagus and prosciutto. I did not make this…it came out of the prepared foods case at a local store. I did cook it though! The stuffed chicken was amazing and the goat cheese was melt in your mouth good!

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I served it with a mix of sauteed veggies including mushrooms, onions, squash and zucchini.

1.8cheese

I met friends out on Wednesday night for food, conversation and wine. We started with this beautiful cheese and meat board.

1.8scallops

And I had seared scallops with mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach. They were amazing…just check out that sear!

I have one more dinner to share but I’m going to do it in a separate post with the recipe. It’s a super easy and super delicious salmon that I made one night and is too good not to share with you!

Have a wonderful day!

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Michelle January 9, 2014, 12:56 pm

    Last night, I got home from work and prepared a “Jen” meal. Seasoned and roasted mixed vegetables, seasoned and browned two chicken breast in a cast iron skillet. Finished it off in the oven. Voila! Easy and delicious! All my husband could say was “MMMMMMMMMMMM!!!” Thanks for all your recipes and dinner tips.

  • 2
    Christina January 9, 2014, 12:58 pm

    I used to love trying new recipes throughout the week as well, but between working full time and raising a toddler, that’s gotten a lot harder! So, I leave new recipes to the weekend, and weeknights tend to be a lot of quesadillas, paninis, quiche, Mexican “burrito bowls”, etc. I find there is still a lot of room for creativity in these simple dishes (and I get lots of inspiration from your meals, Jen, so thanks for that!)

  • 3
    Lauren January 9, 2014, 1:00 pm

    My approach to weeknight eating is just like yours – veggie + protein cooked in a pan or in the oven, plus something else.

    To make it even easier, sometimes I will pre-chop veggies when I get home from buying them so they’re truly “grab and go” for tossing into the oven or eating raw. That prevents you from having to get out the cutting board, peeler, etc. and saves a bit of time.

  • 4
    Sarah January 9, 2014, 1:15 pm

    Great post! I agree with the comment above – do a little prep on the weekends if possible.

  • 5
    Madison January 9, 2014, 1:19 pm

    Love to see your recent eats–gives me ideas for my meals too!

  • 6
    Kat January 9, 2014, 1:32 pm

    I got similar comments from my (takeout-eating) friends when studying for the bar exams in England. I agree that the key to weekday cooking is definitely a well-stocked fridge – and freezer! Whoever invented the freezer definitely deserves a prize! Given that school was quite often a 9am-6pm routine plus homework (often til 1 to 2 am), I used to pop to the supermarket on Saturdays with my wheelie bag, the kind you see little old ladies carry around and fill it to the brim. I buy my protein from the chilled aisle or the butcher’s, divide it up in portions in ziplock bags and freeze everything so that the night before, depending on what I fancy eating, I just defreeze it, marinate before going to school and slide it in the oven or pan-fry, sautee or whatever when I return in the evenings. Fresh veggies usually last from Saturdays to Wednesdays/Thursdays, and Fridays are usually made up of frozen veg mixes that you can sautee, bake or boil and/or tinned veg. Sometimes on Saturdays I go on cooking frenzies and cook large batches of freezable stuff from scratch like chili, bolognaise, lasagna, pizzas, pasta bakes, fried rice, curries, soups, then freeze it in individual portions. Yes rice freezes rather well! I’ve experimented freezing everything which works – with the possible exception of lettuce and leafy greens lol. Homemade stuff keeps well over 4-6 weeks. All you need is some defrosting overnight and reheating in the oven. Saucy/soupy stuff can be reheated in a pan straight from the freezer.

  • 7
    Danielle@LabelsAreForTinCans January 9, 2014, 1:40 pm

    Those scallops ARE so perfectly seared! Great tips on making dinner after a long day – I agree with you… I genuinely enjoy it, keep my kitchen/pantry well-stocked, and remind myself how good a home-cooked healthy meal makes me feel (mentally and physically).

  • 8
    Brittany (Healthy Slice of Life) January 9, 2014, 1:48 pm

    Great tips! We eat late, too, because I like having the time to focus and cook once Hailey goes to bed at 7. It took me while to get comfortable eating later, but it works well right now!

  • 9
    tara January 9, 2014, 2:20 pm

    Since having to go gluten free i have had to cook almost all my food myself as i have problems with many restaurant foods and even things like rotisserie chickens have gluten in them so almost everything i eat i cook myself breakfast lunch and dinner. Like you i try to do simple things and i try to cook big so that i have leftovers like soup or baken chicken. Sometimes i will ask my boyfriend to pre chop for me as he gets home earlier than i do and we often eat late like you. He loves to chop so its a huge time saver for me. i also try to use the crockpot from time to time, especially in the winter. For me, the biggest tip i always give is to plan your meals. on fridays or saturdays i come up with a meal plan for the entire next week. then go to the store and get everything. i take the time to look at my schedule and plan easy meals on hard days, etc. I almost never deviate from the plan and have to be disciplined to stick to it so that i will have food for the next days. i have no ability to go to lunch at all where i work and the cafeteria is a gluten infested nightmare so i have to bring my lunch every day. For me, this means if i dont cook at night i will have nothing to eat for lunch the next day, so it helps me to stick to my cooking at night plan. Even when i don’t want to ! I always laugh when people tell me they don’t have time to cook meals a few times a week because i work 60+ hrs, work out almost daily, and deal with family issues and i cook almost every meal i eat. Beleive me….you think you don’t have time until the only way you can eat is if you cook it yourself ! Your blog has great ideas for meals and i love the forumula you use of veg + protein + oven = time to shower : )

  • 10
    Holly January 9, 2014, 2:20 pm

    Eating a healthy diet is so hard! You definitely have to be prepared! On Sunday, I throw in 6-8 chicken breast in my crockpot with some water and spices. When it’s done, I shred it and use it for several days for salads, burrito bowls, chicken tacos, chicken soup….the list goes on and on! I have found if I have a big container of brown rice, quinoa, chicken, veggies and salsa in my frig ready to go, then I can usually throw together a pretty healthy dinner.

  • 11
    Tanya Durant January 9, 2014, 2:45 pm

    As a mom 1 a growing 12 year old boy & a husband that works late hours & never gets home consistently, I have learned to adore my slow cooker. I know it’s not for everyone. I admit, I don’t cook as wholesomely as PBR does, but it’s tasty nevertheless.
    I would recommend writing a menu for a week, or start shorter to get the hang of it. Have staples on hand, write down what you want to eat coming up & plan around events. go to store to purchase & if or when possible, go home and pre cook some items. chicken can be put into a million miracle dishes or sandwiches all week long for b’fast, lunch or dinner! anything like that where you can get ahead it a BIG help.Also, I cook big batches of taco meat, roasts, stews, soups, etc & freeze it for later. right now I have a very nice freezer stock (i.e., I gotta stop soon – running out of space!).
    Lastly, I ADORE cooking. It’s a serious passion. I wish I could attend culinary school. I get that not everyone loves it. My neighbor laments to me constantly about it (as she’s noshing on sweet rolls I’ve just tested). GO slow, start little & work up. You can do it!

  • 12
    Mary Ann January 9, 2014, 3:26 pm

    It is so hard to cook after an 8-9 hour day at work (especially Mondays). I do somewhat have a plan as to what to cook during the week, and most of the times it involves the old trusty crockpot. I remember my mother throwing stuff in before heading to work and she always had great food at the end of the day. I have made your ‘crockpot salsa chicken’ more times than I can count. That is such a great one that involves just your pantry staples. Your meals often inspire me to be more creative and ‘mix-it-up’ more. Thanks for another great post.

  • 13
    Jordan Lynn // Life Between Lattes January 9, 2014, 4:02 pm

    I really enjoy cooking too, but sometimes after a long day, it can feel daunting. I like to have a handful of meals that can be made quickly, and I always have the ingredients for. And I always keep a few cans of Amy’s soup around just in case!

  • 14
    She Rocks Fitness January 9, 2014, 4:02 pm

    I agree with all of your tips! I’m also a big fan of making a big pot of whatever in the slow cooker over the weekend. It’s so nice to come home during the week and just take it out of the fridge and pair it with whatever I’m craving. I also like making a batch of rice or barely in my rice cooker too, so it’s a easy go to side dish.

  • 15
    Jen@PregnantDiabetic January 9, 2014, 5:17 pm

    I always love your meal ideas! You’re the only person who can make a salad look delicious 🙂

  • 16
    Hayley@healthyregardshayley January 9, 2014, 7:12 pm

    All your food looks so good! I prepare food usually the same way (: I will get home and see what fresh veggies I have and start from there, add in protein and a whole grain and I am good to go.

  • 17
    Jenn@Mark My Mile January 9, 2014, 9:15 pm

    Love these meal ideas. I try to keep a well stocked fridge as well and quick snacks to eat while I cook.

  • 18
    Holly January 9, 2014, 9:21 pm

    Love the new header. Yep, I’m still working on the whole stocked fridge and be creative in the kitchen thing but I’m making strides! My problem is when I become super hungry I just go for the carbs. I need to be more strategic with the planning.

  • 19
    Jessica A January 10, 2014, 7:33 am

    Love the quesadilla with scrambled eggs! It looks delicious!!
    I do all my food prep for the week on Saturday or Sunday when we get home from the grocery store. I put a movie on my computer and get to washing, chopping, and organizing in our little kitchen. It is nice to have a little bit of me time while I’m being productive, and its usually the only chance I get to see a good romantic comedy! It takes about 2 hours to get ready for the whole week, but then dinner each night is quick quick quick. I also put all our lunch baggies of veggies and fruit together, so we can just grab and go in the am. If I’m really busy, I keep crockpot staples in the cabinet and will throw together a meal in minutes before I leave in the morning.

  • 20
    Jennifer January 10, 2014, 8:04 am

    Crockpots changed the game for me… I use mine roughly twice a week, and coming home to a dinner where all I have to do is make some veggies is a lot less daunting than having to start from the drawing board.

    I also like to keep supplies for a couple of “quickie meals” on-hand for nights when I just wanna reach for the takeout menu. For me, it’s usually breakfast for dinner or soup/sandwich options. That’s part of the well-stocked pantry idea, like you wrote about here.

  • 21
    Amanda Bee January 10, 2014, 8:24 am

    This is a great post and I totally agree with having ingredients on hand and keeping it simple. If I”m going to play with a new recipe, I’ll leave it for the end of the week when I have more time. At the beginning of the week when I’m scrambling to get things done, it’s a lot of “throw it all in the oven and take a shower” type meals.

    Have you ever heard of the book “The No Recipe Cookbook”? I’ve heard it’s a good one for learning to cook more intuitively, thought other readers might be interested!

  • 22
    Becky @ Life Outside The BOX January 10, 2014, 9:54 am

    Meal prep is crucial for me. I also do not have a lot of time to cook at night after work and working out. Sundays I try to roast a big batch of veggies and boil sweet potatoes so i am able to use them through out the week. That way when dinner time comes around I only have to worry about cooking my protein. My freezer is stocked with frozen fish, chicken, shrimp, etc. I usually take it out of the freezer the night before to thaw out.

  • 23
    Stacey January 13, 2014, 1:04 pm

    I would love to see a post on what you keep in the house for healthy snack options and if you have sweets after dinner or only on special occasions-

  • 24
    Amanda January 28, 2014, 3:51 pm

    LOVE LOVE all your meal ideas ..finally healthy yummy meals that I actually want to eat!!! Thanks!

    • 25
      Jen January 28, 2014, 4:01 pm

      yay! glad you like!

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