Everyone I know is “on-the-go” these days which leads to a lot of fast food drive thru action to make sure that everyone gets something for dinner. Cooking is the last thing on busy people’s minds. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The family dinner table is not a thing of the past and you’ll find that you CAN cook good, tasty meals, without forfeiting a great deal of family time. All it takes is a little pre-planning and a desire to get yourself out of the fast food craziness that has become your life.
Come up with a plan. I’m not much on meal planning but I do have several easy recipes in my arsenal that I make on a regular basis. When you have some recipes committed to memory, it all goes together much more quickly.
Stock it up:
Have a well stocked pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Every cook has a set of “staples”, ingredients used on a regular basis which they keep on hand at all times. These are individual to the cook making the meals so my list might not be your list. Think about what you make regularly and the ingredients that go into those meals. Make sure you always have them on hand. I can’t live without boxed chicken and beef stock, but not everyone may use those.
Clean it and Cut it:
This is the biggest time saver. Clean, cut and store properly the food that you’ve purchased at the store. A few minutes of prep work after the grocery shop will save you loads of time during the week. Don’t get stuck in the kitchen on a Tuesday night cutting carrots and onions while the family is screaming that they are starving to death! Have all that stuff done ahead of time. The grocery stores are now getting very helpful with the preparation of fresh food and offer many things pre-sliced, cut or cubed that will save you the time. You’ll pay a little more for the privilege of not having to slice it yourself, but it’s a great time saver. Don’t underestimate the power of a bag of pre-shredded lettuce!
If you’ve purchased meat, store it in portions in the freezer. I cook for a family of 3 so when I freeze meats I make sure that each bag has enough meat in it to feed 3 people. Hamburger was always the bane of my existence. The store sells it to you in one huge lump. But don’t freeze it that way unless you intend to wait an exorbitant amount of time for it to thaw and plan to use the entire lump all at once. Once meat is frozen and thawed, it can’t be re-frozen unless it’s cooked. To prevent this problem, I’ve found that taking the hamburger, making patties out of it and freezing the patties makes life much easier. The burger patties thaw faster and, if a recipe calls for 1 lb of ground beef, then you know to pull out 4 patties to thaw for the recipe. The same freezing rule applies to all ground meats.
A whole chicken, quartered, will thaw and cook faster than a whole chicken. If you can live without the stuffing going into the bird, go for the quartered chicken or cut it up yourself. This small thing will save you loads of time. Make the stuffing in a pan or baking dish and you’ll have dinner in half the time.
Quick Mashed Potatoes:
We love mashed potatoes but who has the time to peel, slice, boil and mash to get them on a dinner plate fast? I know I don’t. The microwave is your friend when it comes to mashed potatoes. The only other tool you need is called a “potato ricer”. A potato ricer looks like a garlic press on steroids, and it will make mashed potatoes a very easy side dish. Microwave the potatoes just like you would if you were going to have “baked” potatoes. When they are cooked, slice them in half and put one , cut side down, at a time through the ricer. The potato will come through the ricer holes leaving the skin behind inside the ricer. In about 4 minutes, depending on how fast your microwave is, you’ll have the makings of mashed potatoes ready to go. Once all your potatoes have been put through the ricer you’re ready to add whatever other ingredients you would normally add as if you’d taken the time to peel, slice and boil your potatoes.
Now the fun starts:
So you’ve been grocery shopping and you’ve prepped all your buys. Now it’s time to think about what you’re going to be serving your family this week. Get out the freezer bags, “toss away” aluminum pans, foil and Sharpie marker. What meat is going to need marinating? Don’t be afraid to put the meat into a freezer bag, add the marinade and seal it up for freezing. The meat will marinate as it’s thawing and when you’re ready to cook, the meat will be ready to go. You’ve just saved yourself 20 minutes of “let marinate” time. Want to stuff that flank steak? Go ahead and stuff it! Place it in an aluminum pan, cover with foil, and label it with your marker. When you’re ready to make it, just thaw it out in the refrigerator for a day or two and it’s ready to go into the oven right in the container you froze it in. There’s no clean up because you can “toss” the pan the meal was made in. (The aluminum pans can be purchased at the dollar store for a lot less than the grocery store charges.)
When you go to your meat department, take a look at the raw, prepared items they have. Whatever they are selling, you can do ahead and freeze. The key to this is to make sure you pull the item out of your freezer at least a day in advance to thaw in the refrigerator. Once thawed, all you have to do is pop it in the oven, open a can or box of veggies and tear into that bag of pre-done lettuce and you’ll have a lovely meal that the family will enjoy without having to be a slave to your stove. A few hours of preparation one day will give you hours to enjoy with your family during the week.
Many areas now have “meal assembly” stores. These are a great idea if you really don’t cook or don’t have the time to prep your own food. Although a bit pricey compared to doing it yourself at home with food purchased from the grocery store, they are still far cheaper than going out to eat and, generally, you’ll get a protein and a starch in each meal. In about 1 hour you can prepare 8 meals. The store menus change monthly and meals generally feed 4 to 6 people.
Regardless of how crazy your lifestyle, you can cook at home in a short amount of time with just a little thinking ahead, smart shopping and putting in a little extra time after your shopping adventure. You’ll reap the benefits during the week!