You work long hours, drive your kids around to a bagillion activities, are involved in activities with your church or social group. You feel like you don’t have the time or energy to do one more thing…certainly not cook from scratch. I know what you’re thinking.
REAL FOOD?! AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT!
I can certainly relate. I don’t work outside the home, but I do run this blog, take care of two small children, homeschool my kids, Sunday school director at my church, heavily involved in our youth ministry at church, in the choir and praise team, and do try to have a social life from time to time. Time is precious to me and my family, as I’m sure it is to yours. I do love to cook and be creative in the kitchen, but most of the time, I don’t have time for gourmet meals or creativity. I have to have dinner on the table and fast! Eating out isn’t an option for me, because we are on a budget. I can’t afford to get take out frequently and more importantly, I know it is not providing good nutrition for my family. For those of you who are time crunched like me, here are my best tips to save time in the kitchen.
Plan ahead of time
I’ve said this so many times, I’m sure you are thinking I’m sounding like a broken record. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan. You know the nights you are going to be extremely busy. Plan for it! I love something I heard Joel Salatin, author of Folks, This Ain’t Normal, say. Someone has to put a lot of thought into the food preparation. If you don’t have a plan, places like Taco Bell, McDonalds, etc. do. On nights you won’t have time to cook, plan a slow cooker meal, leftovers, no cook dishes, or a dish that you have already cooked ahead of time.
Slow cook it
The slow cooker is such a great tool for getting home cooked meals on the table with very little time and effort involved. Soups, chilis, roasts, chicken, casseroles, stews all work well in the slow cooker. If you don’t have time in the morning to put the items in the slow cooker, do it the night before. Put the insert in the fridge and then the next morning take it out of the fridge and turn it on. I’ve also seen ingenious ideas around the web for slow cooker freezer meals. They put raw ingredients in a freezer bag and put them in the freezer. On the day they want to cook them, they put the frozen meal into the slow cooker or thaw the night before and put it in the crockpot the next morning. How easy is that? Love those ideas! Google “slow cooker freezer meals” for loads of info on this method. For slow cooker inspiration, you can browse my slow cooker recipes.
Double and freeze
This is a very simple way to build up a great stash of freezer meals that takes no extra time. While you are making chili or lasagna for example, double the recipe and freeze half of it for a later date. Over time, you will have a bunch of meals already made for you. You can just reheat them or bake them, no “cooking” involved. This also works well with staples like tortillas, beans, breads, muffins, pancakes, waffles, etc. Make a large batch of whatever you are already making and freeze the rest for later use.
Pre-cook and ration meat and beans
If it’s too much time for you to cook a meat or main dish on the night you are needing your dinner, you can always pre-cook and put individual sized portions in the freezer for later use. You can cook a chicken and divide the meat in 4 portions for the freezer. They can be used for quick salads, stir fry, quesadillas, soups, etc. for a night when you need something fast. You can do the same with ground meat, beans of all kinds, or roasts. Beans work awesome like this. Soak a pound of beans overnight. The next day cook them according to the package. When they are soft, drain and put in the freezer in 1 1/2 cup portions. Now you have frugal dry beans, ready for any recipe that you would use with canned beans.
Chop and prep ahead of time
After you shop for your food, you can come home and wash and prep your ingredients ahead of time. It should only take about 30 minutes to an hour to wash the veg, chop it up and put in bags, bowls, or pyrex to use throughout the week.
Try cooking for the week or month
This method doesn’t work for me, but I know a lot of people that do this with great success. Many people have a big cooking day on the weekend and cook and freeze all their meals. It is a huge time saver, but I prefer fresh meals and never have that big of a chunk of time on a weekend. Our weekends fill up fast. A great resource for this method, is Once a Month Mom. If you google “Once a Month Cooking” or “Freezer Cooking” you will find a TON of helpful information.
Build a list of go-to quick cooking meals
This is my preferred method. I just like to cook fast and simple meals. I like fresh food and I don’t have the freezer space for lots of batch cooking. I have a large list of quick go-to meals that can be made in minutes. These include oatmeal, scrambled eggs, stir fry, quesadillas, egg drop soup, fried rice with vegetables, salad topped with whatever protein I have on hand, paninis, breakfast food, frittata, salmon patties, smoothies and sandwiches, broiled fish and vegetables in the same dish, baked chicken and vegetables in the same dish, beef and broccoli, tacos, spaghetti, and fettuccine alfredo. It’s a good idea to gather a list of you family’s favorite super quick meals and have the ingredients on hand just in case. Remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Don’t be afraid of just throwing some random stuff together.
Cook simple sides
Vegetables are so quick and easy to make. My favorite way to cook tasty veggies is to roast them. Chop up some veggies, put them on a baking sheet or pyrex, toss some coconut oil, olive oil, or butter on them with some seasonings, and roast at 400 until veggies are crisp tender. This works well with asparagus, potatoes, onions, broccoli, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, yellow squash and so many others. We love roasted veggies. Other simple sides are potatoes, rice, quinoa, sauteed veggies, and sweet potato fries. Here’s a list of 30 simple side dishes.
Have No Cook sides on hand
No cook sides are also great to have on hand when you really don’t have time to cook something or you need something to fill in the gaps. I like to keep on hand applesauce, cheese, fermented veggies, cut up raw vegetables, avocados, salsa, chopped up salad ingredients, cottage cheese, hummus and veggies, sandwich ingredients, bread, and cut up fruit.
This tip has been talked about in my money saving post, but it also works here because it is a huge time saver. Turn leftovers into something new. The ingredients are already cooked. You now just turn it into something new. You have leftover rice? Make fried rice or put it in a quick soup. You have leftover beans? Put them in a soup, salad, or quesadillas for a quick dinner. It just takes a little creativity to use what you have leftover and turn it into something new, saving you time and money.
Buy clean pre-packaged food
Sometimes you just have to give yourself a break and not cook everything from scratch. There are many “clean” items in the grocery store or online that have very few ingredients that we rely on from time to time. Things I buy sometimes instead of making from scratch: sprouted bread, sprouted corn tortillas, natural peanut/sunflower seed/almond butter, organic preserves, Bubbies pickles, full fat organic yogurt (or the best yogurt you can find), Kerrygold butter, green and red salsa, cottage cheese, organic sour cream, organic cream cheese, etc. Just look for a short ingredient list without unhealthy fats, additives, or other junk.
If all else fails, we like to follow the 80-20 rule. 80-90% of the time we eat very well. 10-20% of the time, we eat whatever and don’t worry about. At potlucks, our people’s houses, when out to dinner, etc. we eat and don’t stress . For the average person, take out every once in a while in the midst of a solid healthy diet, isn’t going to be much of a concern. Less stress is key!
Now I want to hear from you! What do you do to save time in the kitchen? Do you ever feel like you have no time to make real food? Do these tips sound helpful and doable or just plain burdensome? Let’s “Get Real” in the comments below.