I have the best of intentions. I buy lots of delicious fresh ingredients and most nights, I manage to rustle up something half decent. But all too frequently, a lack of planning, imagination or time or a long day of work will result in the following conversation with my husband:
'Have you thought about dinner?'
'Fab, you call, I'll get the kids in the bath.'
Convenient? Yes. Tasty? Usually. Good for our health, waistlines and bank balance? Not particularly.
But there is another breed out there, Those Who Cook Their Own Dinner Every Night. How do they do it? And how can we be more like them? We asked five organised foodies for their tips.
Plan in advance
The overwhelming theme amongst our dedicated home cooks is that preparation is key, and one of the best ways to do that is meal planning.
1. "I plan what I'm going to be cooking on Sunday, and head to the markets to buy the produce for the week - fail proof," says Taline Gabrielian, founder of popular health food blog and Instagram, Hippie Lane.
2. "Before I do the grocery shopping each week, I plan what meals I can make and think through how I could re-use certain staples or vegetables in different meals so I'm not wasting food," says Jo Rossaka Healthy Eating Jo.
3. "If meal planning is something that doesn't appeal or you don't have much time, then pick one cookbook, or one recipe site, or one blog and find five dinners from that source only," advises vegetarian blogger Stacey Roberts of Veggie Mama. "Write your shopping list and you've got a week's worth of meals in minutes."
Maximise your Sunday
While you might spend your Sundays relaxing, our dinner devotees are using it to get on top of the week's meals.
4. "Sunday afternoon is a great time to prepare for the week ahead," says Carla McMillan, healthy chef, yoga instructor and co-founder of Bodypass*. "I like to roast a whole bunch of vegies to add to meals during the week – pumpkin, sweet potato, parsnips, cauliflower and broccoli. They'll keep in the fridge for up to four days, so can easily be reheated to add as a side to a piece of fish, steak or chicken, that can be grilled in minutes when you get home from a long day."
Make a big batch of soup, such as this hearty lamb shank and barley number. Photo: Marina Oliphant
5. "I pre-cut my vegies on a Sunday and store them in containers for the week in the fridge," says Melanie Lionello, the nutritionist behind Naturally Nutritious. "I spiralise lots of zucchinis and sweet potatoes so I can add them to salads, use them as noodles in soup or as a pasta replacement. Sundays are also a great time to make big batches of stews, sauces and braises and freeze portions so you can just whip them out and heat them when you're time-poor during the week."
6. "It's super handy to make marinades, dips and sauces to store in the fridge for when you need them," says Gabrielian. "I often cook up a tomato pasta sauce and a pesto on a Sunday to use during the week."
7. "Prepping a soup on the weekend can be so quick and easy to reheat on a week night," says McMillan. "Freeze it in portion sizes so you can pull out as many serves as you need to eat at a time."
Sweet potato fries. Photo: Edwina Pickles
8. "I bake sweet potatoes and pumpkin, which can be cooked and stored in the fridge for three days," says Ross. "Whole baked sweet potatoes can be cut in half and filled with toppings or served as a side, mashed or as sweet potato fries. Sliced baked pumpkin can be served in salads or thrown into curries or quinoa dishes to add flavour and depth."
9. Both Ross and McMillan also recommend preparing grains ahead of time. "I take the time on the weekend to cook up a big batch of quinoa or brown rice cooked with a little vegetable stock for flavour and then I portion it out into containers to suit my family and freeze it," says Ross. "That way I can take it out the night before or the day I need it and it's ready to heat as a side for curries and stir-fries or to mix through salads and vegetable patties, without the long wait that cooking grains normally takes."
Stock up on staples
Our foodies agree a well-stocked pantry means you'll always have dinner options even when the fridge is empty.
10. "Having good wholesome staples in my pantry that I can make a huge combination of meals out of is essential," says Melanie. "Mine are onions, garlic, olive oil, legumes and pulses, and frozen vegies."
11. "Keeping tinned tomatoes, coconut milk, chickpeas, butter beans and lentils in the pantry means you can always throw together a vegetarian dish that will be filling and nutritious, whether it be a tomato based pasta sauce to add to spiralised vegie pasta, a delicious Indian curry or even a bean and grain salad," suggests McMillan.
"I also always have a variety of nuts and seeds in my pantry which can be added to any dish for some quick healthy fats and proteins, fresh herbs to add some fresh flavouring, and eggs in my fridge. They're so easy, delicious and nutritious and so versatile, too. A quick frittata or omelette with some pre-roasted vegies takes only minutes in the oven."
Pantry pasta: Spaghetti puttanesca. Photo: Marina Oliphant
12. "Keep pasta and tomatoes or rice and frozen veg for those nights when you're really pressed," says Roberts. "You don't have to have loads of items (unless you're bordering on a doomsday prepper pantry, like me), but if you've got one or two full meals that are there 'just in case', you should always have something to get you through."
Our regular home cooks have some great ideas for keeping fresh and exciting meals coming.
13. "I'm inspired by looking at different cuisines and cultures and learning their techniques," says Lionello. "For example, I looked at Turkish culinary culture for my honours thesis and now I incorporate lots of yoghurt in savoury dishes as well as herbs and spices such as mint and sumac."
Consider a seasonal vegetable box subscription. Photo: Edwina Pickles
14. "Get a vegie box delivered - sign up for an automatic delivery, if necessary," advises Roberts. "You'll get fresh, delicious produce every week, they will spark ideas for recipes (or you can search online for the vegies you've been delivered and be inspired by the recipes that pop up), and if all else fails, have a vegie stir-fry."
15. "Following wholesome food blogs and healthy food Instagrams inspires me to cook new and different things as well," adds Lionello. "Plus reading food magazines or lift-outs in newspapers might remind me of a meal I love but haven't made in a while."
Perfect your time management skills
16. "I often start prepping the meal in the morning so that I'm ready for the hungry family in the pm," says Gabrielian. "That means rinsing, cutting, peeling and all the other basics to get the dinner happening."
17. "I make a mix of quick and easy and lengthy meals depending on my schedule," Gabrielian adds. "If I'm squeezed for time, I make quick dinner options on the days I'm time-poor, and more lengthy dinners when I have more time."
*Fairfax Media is the owner of Bodypass