Look, dinner is important, and ending the day with a nice homemade meal can totally erase whatever horrors took place earlier. But sometimes you just can’t with a complicated home-cooked process — and forget about any time-consuming prep.
We get it. With a little preplanning, however, you can completely change the way your evening meal routine flows and even cut your time in the kitchen in half.
Take time to process
Your food processor can shred cheese, cut veggies, mix dough and dips faster than you can, so put this little workhorse to work! Buy a nice one to keep on your counter so it won’t be such a pain.
I know what you’re thinking. “But it’s so hard to clean those little blades!” Actually, you can cut a lot up at a time and keep for a few days (up to a week on some foods), so you can just cut it up, store it and use it, already cut, for the rest of the week. And if you soak the blades in mild soapy water while you’re eating, cleanup is a breeze, even with cheese!
Repeat after me: OAMC
OAMC, or once-a-month cooking, is a hot trend among the busy mom crowd. Basically, you spend a day or two just cooking things that freeze or store well. If you need more information on the specifics, just read up on the subject (there are plenty of dedicated blogs).
And if OAMC sounds too hard, you can always do it once a week. Spend Saturday in the kitchen with the family cooking up next week’s dinners, then go out for a night of mini golf and a nice dinner. You earned it!
Take a trip to stand mixer heaven
You know those stand mixers that have those cool attachments? A high-end one is elegant enough to leave right out on your countertop, so it’s always handy.
You might think it’s limited to what the attachments can do, but you couldn’t be more wrong. For example, you can shred chicken in seconds by just popping the boiled chicken in the bowl and using the paddle attachment. Pay less attention to what the attachment is called and more to how it works, and check blogs to see how other people use their stand mixers.
Prewash (and precut) your veggies and fruits
When you get home from the grocery store, wash all your veggies and fruits before storing them. If you know what you’ll be using them for later, you can even cut some of them (those that won’t spoil too quickly, like onions) in advance.
Use a garbage bowl
Stop making trip after trip to the trash can! Line a large bowl with an old plastic shopping bag and place all your scraps and trash in that. It’s mobile, so you can take it with you as you move around the kitchen if necessary. Then toss it all at the end of the night.
Embrace the monkey bowl
Monkey bowls are small dishes restaurants use to hold ingredients. If you want to make something for dinner one night that you know takes some time, spend a little time getting some of the ingredients prepared in advance. Place them premeasured into monkey bowls, and cover them with plastic wrap for tomorrow. When you’re ready to cook, just pull out your dishes and go! The French call this mise en place.
Always have a game plan
Before you go shopping, plan your meals for the week. It will not only save you money, but it will let you see what you’re going to be doing, so you know what foods you can prep in advance. Just learning how to write a proper shopping list will save you time during the week.
Treat restaurants like grocery stores
Be creative with your leftovers. If you’ve got some leftover ground meat or chicken and you know you have cheese, lettuce and tomatoes at home, stop by your local Tex-Mex restaurant on the way home and buy a stack of tortillas and some guacamole or queso for a fabulous Tex-Mex dinner in minutes.
Breakfast is the dinner of kings
Breakfast foods are often really fast and easy. If you’re in a crunch, whip up a quick batch of pancakes from a box mix, or toss some frozen veggies and cheese in some eggs to make an omelet.
Originally published May 2014. Updated April 2017.