How to Create Quick & Nourishing Weeknight Meals

At approximately 4:30 every weekday afternoon — coming home from work with a car full of kids and a to-do list a mile long — I start to visualize the supper I will serve that night. As I take a mental inventory of the fridge and pantry, I do my best to piece together a plan that fits the order of the (every)day: fast and nourishing. As soon as we get home, we fire up the evening machine — homework stations in every corner and me in a suppertime scramble in the kitchen.

With time of the essence, and a house full of active family to feed, I have a short list of ingredients and casual "recipes" I use to satisfy our needs for fast and nourishing eats. Monday through Friday dinners at our house are some combination of the following elements.

I have a short list of ingredients and casual "recipes" I use to satisfy our needs for fast and nourishing eats.

Quick-Cooking Proteins I keep my fridge stocked strategically by choosing lean proteins that only require a quick sear to cook. Filets of fresh fish, shrimp, boneless skinless chicken, pork chops and steak are all on-hand. I am careful to select thinner cuts of the proteins, because the thicker they are, the longer they will need to cook. In addition to their quick prep time, these proteins are also so versatile. If the family is in the mood for an Italian-inspired meal, I combine cubed chicken with mushrooms, cannellini beans and pasta for a skillet dish everyone loves.

Spaghetti Staples I was raised on pasta, so it's always where my mind goes first. I count on pasta to be filling, but I rely on my own skills to make it into quick, delicious meals. For example: Spaghetti and meatballs are a family favorite, but I also use spaghetti in a flavorful Tex-Mex dish that's ready in about 40 minutes.

Simple Salads Romaine and bibb lettuce are familiar greens, but for more flavor, I substitute arugula or radicchio for the base of a hearty dinner salad. Topped with shredded chicken breast, thinly sliced steak, or a couple handfuls of garbanzo beans, it becomes a filling one-bowl supper. If I'm looking for a light warm-weather dish, I serve a three-bean salad on butter lettuce.

Blender Beauties My blender gets a solid workout almost every night of the week. In minutes — truly — it makes some of my family's all-time favorite recipes. I use it for the homemade hummus, quick marinades and simple sauces that really make our meals.

My personal favorite blender recipe is the black bean soup I make at least once a week: low-sodium chicken broth and a can of drained black beans, a teaspoon of cumin, squeeze of lime and pinch of salt blended until creamy. I'll add a scoop of Greek yogurt or a forkful of shredded pork from time to time, but it's delicious all on its own.

The fact is, with these tips and tricks in mind, fast and nourishing need not be mutually exclusive descriptors of dinner. Even in the craziness of everyday life, I know that I've filled the bellies of my family with substantive suppers that will fuel them through the rest of the day... and the final wave of sports-scout-school activities, too!