Wouldn’t it be great if we all had endless time to plan and prepare meals? It would relieve so much stress and tension in our busy lives. But, the reality is that we do not have endless time. As hard working moms, we have a lot on our plates...work, kids, laundry, being a taxi driver, errands, planning and cooking meals...and so much more. I'm tired just thinking about it!
If you could implement even just one simple strategy that would save you time, would you do it? These tips will help to lighten your load so you can relax a little, and have more time to do other things. What will you do with your extra time? I suggest taking the time for yourself! I don't know about you, but I would read a book, go for a walk (by myself!) or take a bath!
Read on for my best TIPS TO SAVE YOU TIME in the kitchen.
1. The #1 BEST way to save time in the kitchen...get all hands on deck!
In my house, the rule of thumb is...
👍🏻 If you plan to eat, you should plan to help out.
Feeding a family should not be a one person job.
Even younger children can assist in mealtime tasks like collecting ingredients from the pantry, washing produce, and setting the table.
Look at your typical day and find small pockets of time (even 5-10 minutes) where family members can do some prep ahead of time. For instance, maybe your partner has a few extra minutes before work to take the meat out of the freezer for dinner and chop some veggies, or your pre-teen has a bit of time after school to saute the ground meat for your spaghetti dinner.
My dad always told us that ‘many hands makes light work' (originally said by John Heywood). This is so true! When everyone is involved, it will ease stress and reduce your workload.
BONUS: your kids will learn a valuable life skill!
2. Plan meals ahead of time.
Say goodbye to coming home after work and trying to figure out what’s for dinner!
At first this may sound daunting, but trust me…it can transform your life. It’s such a relief and feels amazing to be organized. You might not even care that you at the same things for dinner last week!
By planning your meals ahead of time, you can be sure to have all ingredients on hand which means less time running to the grocery store, or figuring out your dinner menu at the last minute! It also allows you to plan out who does what and when.
If you’d like support in developing your own personalized healthy meal plan, contact me for more information.
You can start by downloading this FREE family meal plan (if you haven't already).
3. Keep a well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer.
This is the foundation of successful meal planning and preparation, and is the key to quick, affordable and delicious meals!
Start by making a staple food item list, then come up with some simple recipes which use these ingredients. On those chaotic days (you know what I’m talking about...we all have them!) you can easily pull from this list and get a decent meal on the table. For some help with this you can download my 3-step system to generate new meal ideas (a free workbook for organizing your pantry, fridge and freezer).
Be sure to keep track of these staple foods, and when you’re running low, add it to your grocery list. This will also save you time at the store.
For a staple food meal plan, and with recipes, download your Family Meal Guide to Ease Stress.
4. Use a slow cooker or instant pot.
Leave the work up to your kitchen appliances. If you plan ahead, you can even have these meals pre-prepared (and in the freezer), so all you have to do is take your freezer bag out and dump it into the pot.
There's nothing better or more satisfying than coming home from a long day to the smell of a home cooked dinner OR knowing you can throw some frozen meat into your Instant Pot for a quick meal when you haven't planned ahead.
Find a few recipes that work for you, then play around with different seasonings and ingredients to create something totally new.
Try adding some fresh herbs, and/or a splash of vinegar, lemon, or lime juice just before eating to brighten up the flavours.
5. Bulk or batch cooking
Cooking once and eating multiple times is a classic time saver! Whether you eat it the next day or freeze it for a later day, this is one of the best ways to save yourself time in the kitchen!
If your family is not a fan of leftovers, I would suggest either freezing for another day or thinking creatively about how to upcycle your leftovers. For instance, use a tomato sauce in a lasagna or for pizza sauce; pulled pork tastes great on naan bread pizza; leftover sausage, ham or beef can be sliced thin and put on sandwiches; roast chicken can be used in macaroni and cheese, a rice bowl, or soup.
Whatever you are cooking, consider making a big batch, and how you can repurpose it for another day.
6. One pot and one pan meals.
This is a great way to save on prep time and especially clean up! These meals are the best when you’re running out the door shortly after dinner.
Be aware of the cooking times of ingredients. Some foods may take longer to cook than others, therefore you may not be able to put everything in at the same time.
Some classic one pot and pan meals include chili, soup, rice and beans, roast pork chops/veggies and potatoes, and bean burritos.
7. Adopt the habit of meal prep day.
What is meal prep day? Imaging gathering all family members on a Sunday afternoon to help with meal prep for the week ahead? Your oldest cooks the ground meat for Taco Tuesday, your youngest washes and slices peppers and carrots for lunches, and you prep a slow cooker meal for your busiest day. This is a meal prep day. It can save you so much time, and stress!
Look at your meal, and determine what can be done ahead of time. Set aside 1-2 hours to slice, dice, and pre-cook some foods to make your busy week easier.
For example, you can pre-cook chicken breasts, boil eggs, mix tuna for sandwiches, cook rice, bake muffins, and wash and chop veggies for the entire week. You can even put all ingredients into a large freezer bag for a slow cooker or Instant Pot meal, and freeze until ready to use.
Adopting this habit will save you a ton of time throughout the week.
8. Don’t be afraid to use shortcuts.
Short cuts are foods that have been pre-washed, chopped or cooked, and are ready to use. Don't be afraid to use these for a quick weeknight meal. Contrary to what you may think, many of these shortcut foods can be very healthy.
I use shortcuts all the time. Here are some of my favorites:
frozen veggies, and fruit
pre-washed veggies like lettuce, snap peas, mini carrots, coleslaw
canned beans, and tomatoes
pre-cooked, or rotisserie chicken
peeled, and de-veined shrimp
bagged salad kits
Putting in a little work ahead of time to get organized can save you so much time and stress in the long run. I know from experience, that when I am organized and have considered these things, overall, I feel more relaxed and prepared for the real life challenges that are inevitable when raising a family.
Even if you just start by getting everyone involved, I guarantee you will notice a big weight off your shoulders.
Don't wait, start today!
By Janine LaForte, RD
Real Life Nutrition