I’m getting ready for Week 3 of my 500-calorie dinner challenge  where I’m cooking 500-calorie dinners from new book, EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners , 5 nights a week for 5 weeks. The recipes I’ve been making for Week 2  have been going smoothly (and deliciously). I think my secret to success this week has again been planning ahead. (It’s one of the 6 secrets to weight loss  too.)
It’s been super-helpful to know what I’m going to cook for dinner and shop for the ingredients for those recipes—and also helpful to plan when I’m going to actually have time to do the cooking. That’s where thinking like a restaurant chef comes in handy.
In a restaurant, food flies out of the kitchen quickly because most of it is already prepared up through a certain point. (I started out my culinary career working as a prep cook, so I’m all too familiar with this end of things.) You can use this tactic of prepping dinners ahead of time so that when you get home on a busy weeknight, dinner can be ready even faster.
This past weekend I spent all day Saturday in the Adirondacks cross-country skiing. So I decided to stick around my house on Sunday and spend a couple of hours in the afternoon cooking. I made dinner for that night, but I also prepped the Flemish Beef Stew  and put that in the refrigerator so I could throw it in the slow cooker on Monday morning. I baked Chewy Chocolate Cookies , which were on my menu for later in the week. (Unfortunately making these cookies ahead may not have been the most brilliant idea for my husband. I left a box of them on the counter on Monday, and when I got home from work that night, he had devoured all but one of them.) Here’s the full menu for my third week .
I’m not the only one who’s realized that prepping ahead is the secret to my dinner success. Nicci, my co author on the 500-Calorie Dinners book and our deputy editor of nutrition, uses this prep-ahead tactic all the time. Instead of spending time on Sundays cooking, she does a little bit of work each night after her son goes to bed, prepping ingredients for the next night’s dinner. Alesia, another one of our editors, works four days a week. On her day off she usually cooks dinners for two nights, one that can be held and reheated the next night.
What’s the secret to your dinner success?
For Week 3 of my 500-calorie dinner challenge, here are tips for what can be done ahead of time:
- Make the Cucumber Herb Vinaigrette .
- Make Quick Strawberry Frozen Yogurt .
- Make the marinade for the pork tenderloin.
- Make the orange crisp cookies . (If you have kids, try making them together. The cookie recipe is easy and fun.)
- Combine spices and chop the vegetables for the Indian Wok-Seared Chicken .
- Make the Buttermilk Dressing .
- Steam beets for the quick pickled beets .
Here are a couple more time-saving tips to keep in mind for this week’s menu:
What are your secrets to getting dinner on the table quickly on a busy weeknight? Tell us what you think below.