It’s a common theme, parent’s today just don’t feel that there are enough minutes in the day to do everything they need to want to do, including cooking a quick family friendly dinner. Though for some, due to budget or food allergies, it’s a necessity to cook at home instead of getting take out. Even on nights when you’re too tired to think anything other than “I have ingredients but nothing to eat”…. You can do it.
Quick family friendly, kid approved, dinners are something everyone is capable of making. With these 15 Tips to Shorten Time in the Kitchen you’ll be on the way to a family full of happy tummies in very little time.
Plan Ahead. If you’re able to, double what you’re planning to make and freeze the other half. That way on a busy day, you can just re-heat something. To make it faster, remember to defrost for a day or two in the refrigerator before you plan to re-heat.
Keep it Simple. During the middle of the week, look up recipes that are easy to cook and save you time in the kitchen. Look for things with few ingredients, little prep, and easy process for mid-week. For the weekends – when you have more time, cook up many things and freeze some for later.
Make use of pre-made shortcuts. Don’t like or have time to make pie dough but the kids like homemade pie? Buy ready made and skip a step. If you’re feeling motivated and have extra time some weekend, make crust from scratch, but make a double batch and freeze it for later.
Plan ahead – so important it’s on the list twice. For me this means planning my weekly menu and “shopping” my freezer regularly before going to the store. Thaw items out in the refrigerator the day or so before you want to use them. On the weekends, take some of that glorious free time you have and cook up some freezer meals so on busy weeknights, dinner is only a freezer away.
Know what’s in your freezer. Keep a current freezer inventory list on the freezer door or on in a nearby cupboard—label this list with the date and contents.
Use the freezer. I always keep the following in my freezer for busy night dinner assists: peas, white corn, ground turkey, chicken breasts, ravioli/tortellini, homemade soup, turkey meatballs, lasagna, homemade red sauce, homemade enchilada sauce.
Utilize Bulk Packs. I buy bulk/family packs of items like chicken breasts or ground turkey to use both immediately, and to freeze in smaller portions for later use. After looking at the cost of ready shredded cheese at the grocery store, I have even begun buying big bags of shredded cheese at the warehouse store, and packaged them up in 1 pound bags at home to freeze.
Buy zip top bags. Do you belong to a warehouse store (think Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club). Start buying zip top bags there. One they’re less expensive than at the regular grocery store, and two you’ll always have them on hand when you get ready to package up those bulk items you purchased after seeing Tip 7.
Read, read, read. There are a couple of cookbooks I’m regularly inspired by, however my cookbook library (yes it is a library – we own over 800 titles) is immense. The reason for this is simple, the more cookbooks you read, the more stored inspiration you’ll have to pull from to make fun, quick dinners for your family.
Use shortcut recipes. Using shortcut recipes enables you to make dinner fast without muss and fuss or a lot of work after you’ve already put in a long day.
Prep on the weekends Chop/prep vegetables on the weekend to use during the week. This way you’re working once but able to cook a few times during your busy week. On that same note, wash fruits & vegetables during this same time so you always have something fresh and ready for kids to snack on after school
Pre-cut veggie are your friend. While they might not be your ideal option, don’t shun ready cut vegetable packets. It’s a fast, easy way to add fresh vegetables to any meal with little effort on your part.
Be sneaky. Did you know your family won’t even know if you add extra vegetables or beans to something like spaghetti sauce or tacos? Honest, they won’t know, especially if you chop the vegetables very small. Bonus for you – your sneaky cooking is giving your family healthier meals!
Find some quality convenience foods. Pre-cut salad greens, ready cut vegetables, frozen vegetables, boil-in-the-bag instant brown rice or quinoa, canned beans – every one of these shortens the amount of time you spend in the kitchen after a long day at work.
Batch cook on the weekends. Have a hankering to make a time intensive special recipe for the family? Don’t shy away from these, but save it for the weekend when you’re more relaxed, aren’t on deadline, and have time to enjoy the cooking process. Bring in the kids, heck bring in the whole family – create memories while you’re creating something fabulous to eat. You’ll enjoy it more.
Thank you for reading my 15 Tips to Shorten Time in the Kitchen. Below are links to some fast, family friendly recipes. If you’d like a copy of my FREE Weekly Menu Planner, please sign up for my newsletter.
Heather B. Thomas, the creative mastermind behind sloCooking.net, is a wife and mother – blogger, cook, gardener, musician… What started as a project to keep this modern mom busy while her toddler (now 11) napped turned into a mission. For the past eleven years she and her husband owned & operated Two Cooks Catering in San Luis Obispo (the SLO part of sloCooking).