How to Cook at Night When You Work 12-Hour Days

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Photo: Courtesy of Dane Deaner

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in your day? From work and school to kids and a mountain of other adult responsibilities, it’s hard to believe we’re able to check anything off our to-do list. Once we’ve shut down our laptops and sent our last e-mails, we often return home to more work — one of the biggest projects being dinner. Especially when you’re working 12-hour days, the thought of coming home and slaving over a stove sounds less than appealing. However, all hope is not lost.

There are plenty of tips and tricks that can help make dinner prep more bearable, even after a 12-hour work day. While you may be tempted to pick up some frozen dinners from the store or call Deliveroo to the rescue, taking the time to cook up a homemade meal from time to time will be beneficial in the long run, whether that’s because you’ll save money or be in control of the quality of your ingredients. 

Meet Your New Best Friend: The Crock Pot

Generations of women before you favored the one-pot cooking method. Indeed, you might remember from your childhood the Crock Pot that sat on your countertop all day long as your family went about its day. Coming home in the evening meant being welcomed by the smell of a hearty meal, and not long after freshening up, dinner was on the table. Whether your mom cooked with a Crock Pot, a great big stock pot, or even a pressure cooker, it was practically effortless for her to whip up some delicious dinner after work.

If you’re not sure where to start, Genius Kitchen’s cabbage-roll casserole recipe or Goodness’ roundup of four minimal-effort slow-cooker meals can help give you some inspiration as you begin planning your meals for the week. 

As Robert Lloyd once said, “Slow and steady wins the race.” In other words, be sure to turn your Crock Pot’s temperature on a very low heat setting. If you’re unsure how to gauge this, refer to your recipe as most will provide the optimal temperature to cook your meal. Regarding meat, it should generally be seared or browned before you add it to the main pot. Searing your meat will prevent it from becoming rubbery in texture and unappetizing to taste. Your meat’s salt and acid content — as well as its cooking time — all affect its searing time, or whether it will need to be seared at all.

Because cooking with a Crock Pot or stock pot will create steam and pressure, it is very important that you lightly season your food. As water evaporates from the dish, the flavors will become more concentrated. To take your meal to the next level, consider adding some herbs like cayenne, paprika, and oregano.

Prep Now, Enjoy Later

When working long days, meal prepping is a must. Not only does it save you time, but it also provides you with some peace of mind as you look ahead to the next week. Easy, fast, and convenient, meal prepping is a great way to minimize the headache of cooking after a long day of work. If you’re new to meal prepping, here is a step-by-step process to get you started.


Set Aside Some Prep Time

Once a week, take an hour or two to peel, chop, and steam your veggies so you can freeze them for later. If you plan to cook a meal the next day, put a portion of the food in the fridge so you can save on thawing time. If your free time is nonexistent, stock up on some organic frozen veggies from the store that you can quickly steam once it’s time to cook your meal.

After you’ve prepped your veggies, clean, cut, and pound your meat so that it’s ready to go the next day. To save time, consider asking your butcher to prepare the meat for you. Before you put the meat in the fridge or freezer, add a marinade so it can soak in some seasoning overnight and be flavorful by the morning.


Prepare Your Veggies

The next day, give yourself about 30 minutes to season and cook your veggies. When you first wake up, preheat your oven, season your vegetables, and pop them in to cook while you get ready for the day. Then, before you head out the door, take them out of the oven and put them back in the fridge. Not only will they just need to be reheated for a few minutes once you get home, but they’ll most likely be more flavorful after having absorbed the seasoning throughout the day.


Complete the Meal

The last step is very simple — just pull out your meat and cook it. Whether you have a patty, steak, or chicken breast, you should be able to cook your protein in about 15 to 20 minutes since it will already be seasoned and ready to go. During this time, you can also take out your veggies from the fridge and either sauté or roast them to give them a bit more flavor.

Grocery Shopping Tips

When grocery shopping, stock up on veggies, meats, and sides so that you have plenty of ingredients to last you throughout the week. Before taking off for the store, consider which recipes you’ll be following so you don’t miss out on an important ingredient or end up buying things that you don’t need. If you’re low on inspiration, consider checking out some recipes on Pinterest before writing your grocery list for the week.