Tuesday, June 9, 2015

9 Ways to Scale Back Your Time In The Kitchen

If you are like me, your family is glad that summer has arrived!  We’ve got lots of fun things planned in the weeks ahead. We look forward to a lot of time hanging out.  However, we have 7 people to feed for most of our meals this summer!  We are glad to have our sons home and glad to have their girlfriends visiting, but imagine the effort that goes into feeding that many on a regular basis!

Let’s look at 9 tips we use regularly to save time in the kitchen.

1. Plan your meals a week at a time.  This is one of the most important time saving tips for meals. Knowing what you are going to eat throughout the week means less chance that you will stop off at the closest fast food joint for a convenient, but unhealthy meal. Decide on the last day of the previous week (let’s say Friday or Saturday) what the menu will be for the following week. Create your shopping list from the list of ingredients to save time in the grocery store.
2. Go big on grocery runs. Once you have your plan nailed down, go on big grocery runs and stock up on the items you will need for the next week or two. Going to the grocery store once versus several times during the week will save time and money and lessen the chance of impulse buying. 
3. Cook your meals ahead of time. Choose a day when the entire family can help, like Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, and cook as many meals as you can.. Each person can take one meal and fix it for the following week or assist with the prep. Once everything has cooled, store it in sealed containers or casserole dishes to be frozen until the night it is needed.
4.  Cook once, eat twice (or more).  One of the easiest ways to save time in the kitchen is to prepare enough food for your family to eat off of it two or even three times.  Take leftovers and turn them into an easy new meal, such as using left over baked chicken in a Tetrazzini.
5. Do prep work in advance.  Some foods just taste better freshly prepared. For those meals, do as much prep work in advance as you can. Enlist your kids to help chop vegetables, dice cooked meat and mix together dry ingredients. On the night of the meal, all that is needed is to add the wet ingredients and bake.
6. Keep ingredients on hand for easy meals.  If you don’t feel like taking a lot of time to cook a meal, keep ingredients on hand to make a quick meal. For example, meat sauce and spaghetti is an easy meal to make when you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Keeping a container or two of spaghetti sauce, noodles, and frozen ground beef or turkey on hand can save you a trip to the store. You can even use leftover spaghetti and sauce to make lasagna later in the week.
7. Use the microwave more. The microwave is a real time saver for the faster cooking of foods.   Search for ideas on the internet, especially here: http://allrecipes.com/recipes/everyday-cooking/cookware-and-equipment/microwave/ .  For certain things that take a long time to cook in the oven, I’ve found that I can start cooking them in the microwave and finish them in the oven.  Baking large potatoes, for example, can be done a lot faster if you partially cook them in the microwave and then finish them in the oven. 
8. Have a leftover night. After preparing meals for five or six days, there is bound to be some food left over. Designate one night to be leftover night (we call it a “Smorgasbord Meal” and let everyone mix and match for dinner. It also saves you from having to throw away any food.
9.  Have a “YOYO Night” – “You are On Your Own” - Once the kids are old enough, let everyone get their own meals once in a while.   If you’ve got “no cook” and “easy-to-cook” foods on hand, they can take pride in preparing their own food.

Meal planning and prep doesn’t have to be all on Mom or Dad. The entire family can help with meals to carve out more time for family relaxation and fun!