7 Tips for Getting Dinner on the Table in a Half-Hour or Less
Are you a working mom, single dad, a parent who works from home or stay at home parent? There is no doubt that keeping up with day to day responsibilities can be a challenge. With plans always in flux due to over-communication and over-scheduling, it’s getting more challenging to stay on top of things like dinner prep. And yet… people have to eat, and nightly take-out isn’t a healthy or cost-effective option for most of us.
Are home cooked meals a priority for you despite the pressing demands of life? If it’s your goal to feed your family, fresh food as often as possible while saving money and time, then read on for tips on how to plan, shop and prep to ensure that dinner’s on the table almost every night.
1. Keep shopping lists:
Anyone who doesn’t like shopping lists is leaving a huge time saver on the table. We all know the frustrating feeling of coming home from the grocery store to realize you failed to bring back some needed items. (“Darn it! I forgot half and half again!”). It’s worth keeping a running list in a central location like the kitchen, with a pen in easy reach. Family members can jot down items they may want, without having to send random texts at inconvenient times or make requests out loud that are soon forgotten. My kids would always write CANDY on the list; they learned to spell that word early!
Even better… categorize your list. Include the items you typically buy, such as milk, eggs, bread, meat, or lunch box favorites such as a type of juice box that your children prefer. Then, when it’s time to shop, you can print it out, check off what you need, add extras, and be on your way. I have never been good at categorizing my list, it took too much time, and I didn’t have the patience.
2. Plan ahead:
Have a general idea of what you’ll be making and serving for the 5-day work week. So if you usually grocery-shop on Monday, you might say to yourself: “Pork is on sale. I can get a roast and cook it in the crockpot. The remains become tacos for Tuesday. Mid-week we can have a vegetarian meal. Thursday is potluck. Friday, we make homemade pizza.” Then, before you leave, jot down all the items you’ll need to buy to make this happen. Some things, like veggies and sides, can be flexible. But if you have a general idea of how the week’s meals will go, you won’t flounder when it comes time to make dinner. I was always good at planning out the meals on Sunday, and they usually followed the same theme from week to week. On Potluck day we could all pick whatever we wanted, so the kids learned to plan.
3. Utilize frozen veggies:
Stock up on your favorite bagged vegetable selections from the frozen foods aisle.
4. Have one or two “heat and eat” options for a busy night:
Chicken nuggets warm up quickly in the oven. Frozen French fries can be baked in less than 20 minutes, with easy tray cleanup after. Make soup, then stash single or double servings in the freezer for use as needed. To thaw soup in a hurry, just run the frozen container under warm water. Then, place in a saucepan with the lid with a bit of water in the bottom, and turn the stove on medium, remember to stir and break up frozen chunks until it is ready.
5. Stock starches in the fridge:
Rice, pasta and whole grain sides such as brown rice noodles make easy grab-and-go selections to cut significant time from dinner prep, just remember to buy the lower sodium items.
6. Plan and shop for a cooking day:
This day can be a Sunday morning, or any other day when you know you’ll be home. You can make more complicated meals like lasagna, casseroles, meat sauce, pot roast, stew, chili, soup, or something else that would take several hours to prepare and cook. Freeze in single or double portions to thaw and eat on another night.
7. Clean as you go:
When it comes time to hustle through dinner cooking, you can do the easier work of the post-meal clean-up by tackling things as you go. Items like peelers, colanders, and boiling pots don’t require much soap to get clean. So you can quickly wipe and rinse them directly after use. After chopping vegetables, wipe the knife with a clean cloth and store back in its proper place immediately (keeps people from cutting themselves, too). Waste, not a moment in getting food out of the pan you cooked it in and put running water into the pan to rinse and wipe before things get sticky and stuck. When all’s said and done, you’ll have only dinner plates, serving bowls and utensils to wash.
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