This month for Eat Well, Spend Less we’re looking at saving time in the kitchen. See how I tackle the family dinner debacle and win a copy of Jessica’s new book: Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook.
The time is four o’clock. Children have arrived from school. Lunches need to be unpacked, backpacks checked for homework. There are things on the calendar for the evening, and sometime tonight you’d actually like to place your head on the pillow that resides in your bed, waiting for you.
All parents know that feeling that there is too much going on, and with too much going on, it can be easy to drive us towards a state of exhaustion that has us reaching towards the phone to call for take-out. Still, there are ways we can make our job of feeding those small people and ourselves easier.
5 Ways to Save Time on Family Dinners
- A Menu: Yes. Again with the menu. Having food in the house goes a long way to getting dinner on the table, and it’s easiest to have the ingredients for meals if you plan them out. It can be difficult and no fun, but there it is. Make a plan, go shopping, and then enjoy the fruits of all your hard work.
- A Day of Work: Sundays tend to be our day of work around here. This doesn’t happen every week, but there are weekends when we’ll go shopping all morning Sunday – to the farmers market, Costco, the grocery store – and when we come home and unload, I’ll go through the trouble of doing some of the prep ahead of time. I’ll mix up batches of dough for pizzas and tuck them into the back of the refrigerator. I grate cheese for other days and place it in sealed containers waiting to be used. I mix up chicken salads for lunches or make pots of rice that will be stir fried later in the week. Doing these things ahead gives me a few minutes advantage every day during the busy week.
- Meals that Bleed Into Each Other: When I’m planning the menu and shopping I try to have meals where the process of making one automatically preps for another. For example, we’ll roast a whole chicken, and immediately following the meal, I’ll pull off leftover meat, toss the carcass into a pot with vegetable scraps and simmer a stock for use in soups or meals later in the week. Other ways to do this is making an overabundance of rice for fried rice later, planning meals that use similar produce and chopping extra as you’re going along, and bowls of leftover risotto become baked arancini balls filled with melted cheese.
- Keep it Simple: More often than not, our meals are not extravagant. We eat a chicken with simply prepared rice and vegetables more than once a month. Tacos or a simple piece of fish are served. What we focus on instead of lengthy-to-prepare elegance is quality ingredients and lots of produce. Fresh steamed broccoli with a simple vinaigrette or even just butter, salt, and pepper can be an inviting side when it’s done right. Pasta and sauce with a large salad to accompany it is simple to prepare, but satisfies the troops without complaint. Of course, eggs and toast is also a family favorite around here. Keep new recipes and lengthy processes tucked away for the days when you really have the time to enjoy them. You’ll find you enjoy the food and the act of family dinners more when you make those the focal point of the meal.
- Freezing Ahead: I don’t spend a lot of time making freezer meals, but there are a few that I am prone to. I love stuffed shells, manicotti, and lasagna, so I often make up a few batches at a time and freeze extras for easy backups. I tend to make giant pots of soup and freeze a full meal’s worth for later. I freeze bread dough to have available at my beck and call. I make a 6-month supply of pesto at a time, tucking away the tastes of summer into the freezer. I do it little by little so there is always something available for the days when I’m called away by work or when I just can’t get to the store on shopping day and need to stretch things out just a bit farther than anticipated.
Jessica has written an entire book dedicated to helping you get through family dinners in an easy fashion: Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. If you shy away from freezer cooking, however, don’t distress. Jessica takes a contemporary approach with new recipes and food your family will actually eat. She should know with six of them to her name. Recipes like raspberry jam cream scones, energy bars, and sesame chicken with snow peas will take you from breakfast and snacks all the way through dinner. Just leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of your very own.
Plus, head over to the other Eat Well, Spend Less series participants for more chances to win!
Save Time and Money on Grocery Shopping – Jessica Enter her book giveaway here.
My Morning Routine and a Cookbook Giveaway – Tammy Enter her book giveaway here.
Save Time in the Kitchen with a Little Prep Work – Mandi
5 Crazy Ways I Save Time on Prep Work – Katie Enter her book giveaway here.
How to Bake Bacon and Other Time-Saving Tips for the Kitchen – Katie Enter her book giveaway here.
9 Tips for Spending Less Time at the Kitchen Sink – Carrie Enter her book giveaway here.
Eat Well and Spend Less with Kitchen Time-Savers: The Slow Cooker: Amy Enter her book giveaway here.
On Batch Cooking – Aimee
This giveaway is provided by Harvard Common Press. It will run through Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. CDT and is open to all U.S. residents.