5 Easy Ways to Master Your Weeknight Dinner Game Plan

If getting dinner on the table during on busy weeknights is a struggle (and it is, right?) these tips from Food52's Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs can help!

Healthy, delicious meals that make our families happy without too much work are the holy grail of home cooking. When it comes to getting weeknight dinners on the table, we turn to fresh, flavorful ingredients to do the heavy lifting. Paired with a few staples from the pantry, they make our lives easier and keep boredom at bay.

Dress Up Your Pasta

Dress up your pasta.

Sarah Shatz

Weeknight pasta doesn't have to mean a jar of red sauce and a few sad shreds of cheese. A fried egg, breadcrumbs or a healthy sprinkle of fresh herbs -- or all three -- bring bright flavors and fresh ingredients to a box of pasta, no matter how long it's been lurking in the depths of your pantry. With just one bulb of fennel from the market and a sweep of your shelves, you can have a restaurant-quality dinner. Repeat after us: canned fish is my friend.

Linguine with Sardines, Fennel & Tomato

Master Your Bird

Master your bird.

Sarah Shatz

Learn to spatchcock (that's a fancy word for butterflying, or flattening, a chicken by removing the backbone) and get dinner on the table faster -- a flattened chicken is a quick-cooking chicken. In fact, it cuts cooking time in half. That means a 3-pound bird cooks in just 30 minutes! Don't be intimidated, just grab a pair of kitchen shears and start snipping down along one side of the bird's spine, then repeat on the other side. You can truss it back together and roast it normally, or truly spatchcock it and press it down flat until you hear the breastbone pop. In our favorite recipe, your bird gets a smear of fragrant herbed garlic butter, then into the oven it goes to roast while you prepare the rest of the meal. Add a simple salad or vegetable and you're set.

Spatchcocked Roast Chicken

Don’t Forget the Herbs

Fresh herbs elevate the flavor -- and color -- of any dinner. Great ingredients, simply prepared, need little else to make them sing. Cook rice in a mixture of coconut milk, grated ginger and minced fresh cilantro for a simple dish with Asian flair. Toss together lemon zest, parsley, garlic and crumbled feta for a flavorful soup garnish. Add whole leaves of parsley, mint and tarragon to baby lettuce salads to add dimension beyond the dressing.

Here, ground lamb and lentils are cooked together before getting a shower of cilantro. The bright herbs contrast the earthiness of the lentils and lamb, and add a happy punch of color. Serve this with a little rice and yogurt, and a salad if you're feeling ambitious, and you have a very fine weeknight meal.

Crispy Lentils with Ground Lamb

Play Mix-and-Match

Play mix-and-match.

James Ransom

One way to force yourself out of a dinner rut is to buy alternatives to your regular staples (black eyed peas instead of black beans, chard instead of spinach) and use them in familiar recipes. Think about the different categories of ingredients that you normally include in meals -- protein, grains and vegetables -- and play with one new ingredient in one category at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. You'll be amazed at the way these simple changes, like swapping in broccoli rabe for broccoli, can renew your enjoyment of a familiar meal.

This soup leaves lots of room for improvisation, and draws on ingredients you likely have in your pantry.

Lentil and Sausage Soup with Kale

Turn Your Salad Into a Meal

Don't let it fool you -- salad can stand its own against a table full of hungry mouths. Look to grains to add bulk (anything from quinoa to barley to wheat berries), be sure to include a protein, and don't be afraid to experiment with nuts, dried fruit and fresh herbs to add color, flavor and texture. Salads can also be a great way to repurpose leftovers, like the extra rice you might have from last night's dinner.

In this dish, chewy grains, sweet raisins, crunchy nuts and a smooth, tangy vinaigrette make up a salad worthy of a meal -- and a winning day-after lunch. All it takes is a bit of chopping, and then you toss everything into a bowl and offer those hungry mouths a large serving spoon.

Radish and Pecan Grain Salad

Get More Easy Weeknight Dinner Recipes From Food52:
Down and Dirty Pasta e Ceci
Mexican Chicken Noodle Soup
"It's Maaaaa-gic" Spiced Moroccan Carrots

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