My Weeknight Dinner Template: Meatballs + Starch + Veggies

Tips from The Kitchn

I’ve got a pretty variable work schedule, and I’m sure a lot of you can relate! As a freelance writer and musician, my calendar changes week to week, based on what gigs I might be rehearsing for, what assignments are due . . . it’s an ever-changing hodgepodge. On those precious evenings when my husband and I are both home at the dinner hour, I often rely on this simple equation for a weeknight meal: Meatballs + Starch + Veggies = Dinner.

This meal is so easy to tailor to different cuisines. Here are a few combinations to get you started:

Meatballs + Starch + Veggies = Dinner Meal Ideas

Once you’ve picked your desired menu, it’s time to think through the order of operations required to get everything on the table at the same time. To simplify things considerably, I prefer to cook my meatballs in the oven. This way they’re mostly hands off, allowing me to tend to the starch and vegetable components of the meal while they’re baking.

Here are my best tips for pulling off the whole meal in 45 minutes flat:

1. Order of prep matters. Plan around the items that take the longest to cook (including prep-time). In this case, it’s the meatballs, which will require a preheated oven and around 30 minutes of cooking time. Use that oven preheating time to mix up your meatballs and get them onto the cookie sheet, and put the rice or pasta water on to boil. Then, while the meatballs are in the oven, you’ve got a half-hour to assemble the rest of the meal.

2. Multi-task. Make the main dish as hands-off as possible so you can multitask. I’ve got two cooking styles I can toggle between at will — lazy, dreamy/creative puttering is fun when I’ve got time to spare, but for a fast dinner, it’s time for Kitchen Ballet Mode. If the rice is simmering away on a back burner and the meatballs are roasting in the oven, you can bet my hands are busy chopping up a salad or prepping vegetables for the steamer basket.

3. Use time and energy-saving tools and methods. Do you have an electric kettle? Use it to boil your pasta water to speed things up and save on the energy bill, too. Making vinaigrette from scratch? Use a lidded jar or tupperware rather than whisking in a bowl to cut down on prep time — nobody’s going to notice that you didn’t get a perfect emulsion, trust me on that.

4. Shortcuts are OK. Give yourself permission to use a shortcut or two. Whether it’s a jarred pasta sauce, bottled salad dressing, bagged lettuce mix, pre-cut mirepoix . . . it really is okay to give yourself a break, especially on a weeknight!

What’s your go-to weeknight dinner M.O.? Do you have a basic template like this one, or is your method more off-the-cuff? We’d love to hear your ideas!

It's Reader Request Week at The Kitchn!
This post was requested by francefy.

(Image credits: Coco Morante)

6 Comments