We’d kind of gotten used to the weeknight crunch (can anyone ever get used to it?) after I went back to a full-time job last spring. Summer, of course, got a little easier, because it was light later and we ate later and if the boys were dragging a little in the morning, well, they could be a little tired for camp, right?

But school has started, and dusk comes earlier. Plus, for extra fun, soccer. It turns out that once you get to the U8 level, you don’t just muddle around on the field for an hour on the weekend. You have actual practices and games. Weeknight practices. From 5:30p.m. to 7:30p.m.(don’t tell me to complain to the coach. My husband is the coach, he knows). Yes, and dinnertime is 6 p.m., and bedtime is at 8p.m. 

But in general, here’s our weeknight crunch:

I hurry out of work at 5 p.m. to arrive home by 6 p.m.  I rush in the door, greet everyone, put on a pot of water, change. Rummage in fridge. Pull things out while calling out, “How was your day? Time to pick that stuff up! Did you guys empty your lunchboxes? Do it now, please!” Then I hear all about all kinds of things that happened today while I make dinner.

I have a ton of slow-cooker recipes and 30-minute recipes. I don’t use the slow-cooker, and I cannot make a 30-minute recipe in less than 40 minutes, but it’s usually more like 45 because I am answering questions, tripping over someone, helping someone change his pants, and feeding the cat. And reminding the boys four times that they need to set the table. Then, somehow, we are finally sitting down to dinner.

Then it’s time for baths or showers and PJs, making sure the older boy did his reading, brushing teeth, setting out clothes for the next day (if we remember), and reading to both kids before lights-out. That, my friends, is a very full two hours . . .

Here’s the trick to fast weeknight cooking: Stay in your comfort zone. We stick with a few tried-and-true favorites and save the new things for weekends.

Here are a few of our regular meals that I can throw together quickly and that we all enjoy:

  • Burritos: The kids could eat these every night. Rice, black beans, cheese, romaine lettuce, salsa, and chicken (if we have it).
  • Burgers: Maybe now that it’s fall we won’t have burgers as often, but burgers and corn and grilled zucchini has been a great summer go-to meal.
  • Pasta: With meatballs or sausage (or neither) and a salad.
  • Salmon: It is pretty quick to make, either in the oven or on the stovetop. I make broccoli and rice with it.
  • Chicken: Usually cooked in a skillet, with veggies and rice or pasta on the side.

Friday night is pizza night, and sometimes I call for the pizza when I leave work.. Then we walk to pick it up together when I get home.

I’m realizing how boring and limited our menu sounds. It really does vary more than that. We do have some meatless meals (pasta or burritos), and we eat a lot of vegetables (I always steam or sauté something, or serve something raw, usually having at least two veggies on the table).

I’d love to pick up a food magazine now and browse for some new ideas, but it’s time to set out my running gear, brush my teeth, and get to bed!