Life gets complicated, and I’m always looking for ways to streamline my meals. Usually it feels like rowing upstream. However, I employ a few tricks that have a return on investment in the time management department. A few extra minutes here often saves an hour later. That adds up!
Cook extra. Doubling a dinner recipe not only gives me twice the amount, it provides another meal, either for lunch later in the week or a freezer meal on a night I don’t have time to cook.
Use the crockpot. When cooking for a crowd, like I do every day, I use the crockpot to make large quantities, such as carnitas, spaghetti sauce, soups, and refried bean filling. Freeze the leftovers, and you have the start to another meal.
Plan ahead. Look at the calendar for the week and see what your future holds. If it’s full, don’t plan on cooking a five-course meal. Align your meal planning with your life. Keep it fast and easy for busy days.
Clean as you go. It’s so discouraging to have a pile of dirty dishes at the end of a meal, but it’s even more depressing to wake up to a messy kitchen in the morning. Depending on the meal, you can wash pots and pans as you go. After you’ve browned the meat and put the casserole in the oven, wash all the prep dishes. Have the dishwasher empty and ready for dishes to go straight in after the meal. Better yet, if you have kids (elementary age and above), put them to work! Many hands make light work.
Double check ingredients. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have been right in the middle of a recipe only to find I’m out of an ingredient. It’s a little hard to improvise when you’re committed to something already. The convenience store on the corner appreciates my business, though.
Budget your food. It’s a scientific fact that children and men will eat as much as you put in front of them, at least if they like it. So stash what you want to save for later in the week.
Remember what you have. As a follow up to the stashing, make sure you remember what you have and where you put it. It makes me cry when I find something three weeks later and can’t even identify it.
Teach children to cook. This is one of those things that takes a lot of patience and extra time in the beginning, but pays a huge dividend later. My 13-year-old daughter is the primary baker in our family. She has several dinner recipes she can do on her own and with a little instruction can begin more complicated recipes. My 10-year-old daughter is responsible for lunch. She can heat leftovers and makes a mean sandwich. Even my 7-year-old daughter is beginning to show some aptitude, though she insists princesses don’t need to cook. Think again, sweetheart.
Have fun. While I find it annoying that my family insists on eating three meals a day, EVERY day, eating is a fact of life. It’s easy to fall into a rut, so I try to lighten it up. Plan a snack night with dips, chips, a veggie tray, crackers, cheese, etc. Have a baked potato bar. Line up all the fixins on the counter, and let them dress their own potatoes. My kids’ favorite is individual pizza night. Use mini-pizza crusts and let everyone fix their own pizza and bake it. Then, no one can complain about olives on their slice.
So, there are a few suggestions for simplifying meals. Do you have suggestions? I’m always looking for good ideas!