11 Dinner-Making Tips Every 20-Something Should Know

We are always trying to find ways to cook more, but sometimes it's tough when work and life get in the way. Especially during the workweek. We're the first to admit that cooking all of our meals is way tougher than it sounds, so we've rounded up some of our favorite tips and tricks that will make cooking dinner for yourself easier than ever. Ahead, find 11 ideas for taking the stress out of weeknight meals, so you'll always have a simple dinner on hand.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
1. Make your own freezer meals.
The key to eating homemade meals during the week is doing as little actual cooking on weekdays as humanly possible. We know that sounds counterintuitive, but having ready-to-eat meals at home instead of being forced to grocery shop and cook after work makes all the difference. Find a few freezer-friendly meals that you love to eat, and then make a big batch over the weekend. Freeze in individual containers, and you'll have ASAP dinners you can turn to that will be so much more satisfying than an Amy's burrito.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
2. Always have ingredients on hand for a go-to dish.
We all have our fallback dish, whether it's a salad, grilled cheese, or pasta. Turning to yours in a pinch can be the best way to ensure that dinner comes from your kitchen instead of your favorite takeout restaurant. If you often don't have the time or the energy to find a new recipe to make on a weeknight, make sure to keep the ingredients around for that throw-together meal, and you'll never be forced to call in delivery (or have cereal, or other last-resort fare). If you have pasta, eggs, bacon, salt, pepper, and pecorino or parmesan cheese, you'll never be more than 20 minutes away from pasta carbonara.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
3. Only buy ingredients you can use more than once during the week.
The weekend is the perfect time to experiment with exotic ingredients, or recipes with a long list of foods that you'll only use for that one dish. During the week, stick to items that can do double or, better yet, triple duty in the kitchen. Things like tortillas, chicken breasts, and salad greens can be reused for different dishes multiple times through the week.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
4. Share the burden with friends.
Cooking meals for yourself every day can be daunting, but when you split the work with friends, everything suddenly feels more manageable. Switch off cooking dinner with your friends, or if you've got roommates add making dinner to the chore wheel. That way, you'll still get plenty of home-cooked meals, but you won't be responsible for doing the cooking every night.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
5. Don't cook for one...or two.
If you're getting home from work around dinner time, cooking for that night can seem totally impossible and not entirely worth it — especially if you're already hungry and tired. Instead of just cooking your portion for tonight, cook for the future, too. Soups, stews, and stir-fries are easy to make in big batches, and most taste even better after a few days in the fridge. Pro tip: When you opt for leftovers when you get home, cook for tomorrow night after you're done eating. That way, it's not a problem if you start cooking late.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
6. Stick to fast weekday meals that don't require extra effort.
Weekdays are not the time to experiment with a new cooking project or to try making a pot roast for the first time ever. Stick to meals that have a total cook time of 30 minutes or less, so you're not putting in hours of work in the kitchen on a Wednesday. Starting a weeknight meal Pinterest board, compiling recipes, or investing in a quick-meal focused cookbook are all easy ways to build yourself an arsenal of go-to weeknight recipes.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
7. In a pinch, make breakfast for dinner.
Whoever decided that eggs, French toast, and pancakes are breakfast and weekend brunch foods only didn't have a full-time job. If you you're panicking and need to make dinner FAST, scrambled eggs and toast is an easy go-to that comes together in a flash. Even homemade pancakes only take 15 minutes to whip up if you've got all the ingredients.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
8. Prep in advance: Do the mise en place the day you shop.
The hardest part about cooking during the week is doing the actual prep. Waiting for something to boil or bake isn't an issue, but having to chop an onion can be enough for us to turn to Seamless when we're tired and cranky after a long day. But, if you do the prep work ahead of time, you won't have to worry about spending time dicing veggies. Working on your mise en place (that means getting everything prepped and ready to cook) on the day you shop will make completing any recipe a cinch. If you shop on a Sunday, instead of putting everything away immediately, prep the things that need chopping or extra effort. When you pull these out of the fridge on Thursday, and your recipe is halfway done, you'll be so glad you did.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
9. A slow-cooker is your best friend.
We're not big on having a lot of fancy equipment (not to mention we can't afford it), but one thing we do recommend investing in is a slow-cooker. You literally just throw everything in a pot and let your slow-cooker do the work for you. You can even throw in a meal before work and have dinner ready to go when you get home. Plus, if you prep some slow-cooker meals in separate large ziplock bags, you'll make cooking dinner even easier on yourself.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
10. Dinner doesn't always have to be cooked.
Sometimes, even with an arsenal of easy-making tips, the idea of cooking is just too stressful to deal with. But who said that dinner always has to be cooked? You can throw together a salad without doing any real cooking in 10 minutes flat. Even a plate of cheese, crackers, veggies, and hummus will do in a pinch.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
11. Equipment? Less is more.
Yes, we just said you should invest in a slow-cooker, but in our book, less equipment really is more. If you can arm yourself with a bunch of easy one-pot, one baking sheet, foil, or parchment meals, you'll be able to get into a great cooking routine in no time. Plus, you'll save yourself time when it comes to clean-up. Cooking in parchment or in foil adds flavor, not to mention you can literally toss your "dishes."
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