Who doesn’t wish they had a couple more hours in the day, or a kitchen fairy to come to our aid at dinnertime, or even kids who were more eager or able to pitch in around the house? While we continue to fantasize about ways to get more done in days that too often make us feel squeezed to our limit, here are some practical tips we’ve developed to shave some time off our meal efforts:
1. Plan ahead, make a grocery list, and stick to it. This will keep you from standing in front of the fridge or pantry at 5:30 or 6 pm in a panic about what to serve for dinner.
2. Keep a grocery list updated. When you use up an ingredient that you consider a staple, write it on your grocery list right away so you’ll be fully stocked after your next grocery trip, and won’t have to squeeze in any emergency trips to the store. Teach your family to do this too and you’ll have all your essentials on hand when you need them.
3. Make sure you have good quality knives and keep them sharpened (check out The Scramble Store for some of our favorites). A good pair of kitchen scissors can also make easier work of cutting herbs, scallions, and other foods.
4. Keep a well-stocked freezer with some veggies, prepared side dishes, and even a healthy frozen meal for those days that don’t go as planned.
5. Don’t be afraid to use convenience items or “short cuts” if time is a higher priority for you than money. If buying pre-chopped vegetables or minced garlic helps you to get that pot of soup on the table rather than ordering that less-than-healthy soup from the take out place down the street, then go for it.
6. Have a system for your kitchen. If you know where the vegetables are in your refrigerator (I keep one drawer for fruit and one for veggies), and can quickly lay your hands on the black beans and bowtie noodles, dinner prep will go a lot faster.
7. Before you begin to cook, clear off the kitchen counters, empty the dishwasher (or delegate this task to another family member), and pull out all of the ingredients you need. These steps make dinner preparation a lot less chaotic and help it go faster.
8. Double your recipes. If you cook twice what you need for one meal, you can freeze half of the meal and warm it up on another night.
9. As you’re cooking, collect all your “trash” in a small container by the sink rather than going back and forth to the kitchen trash can. You can empty it out when you’re done cooking (preferably into a compost bin!).
10. Do food prep in advance for meals and lunches. Before you clean up from Tuesday evening’s dinner, chop up the onion and the peppers that you’ll need for Wednesday’s dinner and when you’re cutting up carrots for tomorrow’s lunch, cut up enough for the whole week. You’ll want to kiss yourself tomorrow!
I’d love to hear about your favorite kitchen time savers. Please share your ideas.