The Quest for Finding the EASY Week Night Dinner

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like to cook.  What I have realized over the years is that I only LIKE to do it when I have TIME… which is NOT during the week after work!  Probably like most women, I feel like I am not doing my job if I don’t cook a “real” meal every  night.  Over the last year, I ditched that baggage and started trying some new options in quest of finding the EASY week night dinner!  My journey can be broken down into phases!

The Norm
My typical day-to-day was denial.  Forget that we needed to eat and at 5:40 panic sets!  I rummage through the refrigerator and pull out some frozen ravioli or stop by the pizza shop for a stuffed bread.  it was crazy and unhealthy!

Phase 1 – Uber Planning
Influenced by the SHiFT Challenge, I used Sunday to plan out an extensive menu of healthy meals.  I loaded up my cart with 5 meals worth of food.  The first couple of weeks I executed well, but by week three I veered off course.  The meals took a lot of time.  Expecting to cook from scratch every night was unrealistic (not to mention I wasted a lot of fresh produce!).

Verdict:  Good concept but impractical to execute.

Phase 2 – Prepared Meals Delivered
I found out that a SHiFTer, Taylor Greenberg (The Little Chef That Could) had a doorstep dinner program.  Weekly she posts a menu and delivers prepared entrees.  They are healthy (spaghetti squash mac and cheese or quinoa stuff peppers) and constantly changing.  The cost is about $40 per entree for very generous portions.

The convenience was huge, I met her at SHiFT or she offered to drop them off at my house.  There were a few times where we didn’t eat the full amount of what we ordered, but we just parceled it into freezer bags and had it the following week.

Verdict: Healthy and perhaps the easiest.

Phase 3 – Take Out
I moved to a “dinner on-demand” mode, getting take out when needed… regardless of the expense.  Of course I only went to high-end places like Bliss Gourmet in Westbrook and La Roticceria in Guilford.  The food was delicious (addicted to the spinach at La Roticceria, we eat it for breakfast!), but it still required me to pick up and is a fairly pricey ($50-70 for 2-3 meals).

Verdict: Delicious, EASY and expensive.

Phase 4 – Eating Out
This was definitely my shortest phase. My thought was that eating out wouldn’t cost much more than picking up take out… wrong.  Aside from the time commitment and the fact that my husband often doesn’t get home until 8 pm, it was expensive as suddenly you need a glass of wine, a salad  and the occasional dessert with dinner.  You get the picture.

Verdict:  Time consuming, expensive and not great for the waistline!

Phase 4 – DYI Delivered Dinner
For Christmas, my sister gave me a subscription to Plated (competitors include Blue Apron and Hello Fresh).  It is the new trend where you get a box in the mail with the ingredients to prepare an entree and side.  You pick the menu the week before from 3 – 6 options ranging from vegetarian to seafood to meat.  The box comes with a simple, graphic recipe card giving you very easy to follow steps and virtually everything measured and portioned.  The concept is awesome, it is easy as it arrives on your doorstep and you do the rest.

The recipes are very good and push me out of my cooking comfort zone.  The value is having it delivered to you home with everything you need ready to go.  The meals typically take 30 minutes to prepare.  The cost is $12- $20  per plate.  We have to order 4 plates, spending $48-80 per meal (entree and side).  Not the cheapest, but I enjoy the experimentation (and ease). By ordering several meals at once you can bypass the shipping fee.

Verdict:  Fun and easy way to prepare new things.

The Answer?
A year into the experiment I have concluded that there is no ONE perfect wayBeing realistic about time constraints and the unexpected changes in the schedule have enabled me to craft a weekly routine with built in flexibility (while meeting my goals of healthy eating and getting out of my food comfort zone occasionally).

I cook one nice dinner one night a week (often on a weekend night) and always have two easy dinners  with ingredients that won’t go bad right away ready for the normal week night. My daughter and I look forward to a Plated box, preparing it together and experimenting with new flavors and techniques.  On the nights we have activities, I pick up healthy take out meal from one of my favorite spots, eliminating stuffed bread and pizza from our diet!

My guilt about not being “Ina” every night has been replaced with a new found appreciation for the easy weeknight meal!

Written by Guest Blogger and SHiFT marketing maven, Pam Miller.