Amy Clark

Gettin’ Quick in the Kitchen

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had food prepared before you got home from work or if you simply had a few steps completed in the dinner-making process? Well, this can easily be done with some planning on your part. Here are a few of my own ideas and how I have saved time in the kitchen.

  • Make two of whatever you are making for dinner. This really is one of the easiest ways to save time and requires very little effort on your part. If you are making lasagna for dinner, for example, you would just prepare two of them and freeze one of them for a night where you are in need of a quick meal. These frozen meals are great for when you are having dinner guests or someone you love is in need of a meal due to an illness, a birth, or a death. Just think of this as preparation that will make you a better mother, friend, and hostess.
  • When cooking meat products always cook extra. Whenever I am cooking meat I always cook an extra pound and either store it in my freezer or fridge. This meat can be used for a casserole (which saves me a step in preparation later), can be given to my one year old son cut up for his meals, or used for sandwich meat (in the case of chicken or turkey). This has saved me lots of time on numerous occasions and also allows me to toy with the idea of making more complicated dishes because I do not have to go to the trouble of cooking the meat.
  • When cooking meat products always cook extra. Whenever I am cooking meat I always cook an extra pound and either store it in my freezer or fridge. This meat can be used for a casserole (which saves me a step in preparation later), can be given to my one year old son cut up for his meals, or used for sandwich meat (in the case of chicken or turkey). This has saved me lots of time on numerous occasions and also allows me to toy with the idea of making more complicated dishes because I do not have to go to the trouble of cooking the meat.
  • Double all of your cookie recipes. You can either freeze half the cookie dough (wrap this in plastic wrap then wrap over it with foil clearly labeling it) or you can freeze the cookies already baked in a plastic container. These are wonderful for last minute functions where you are required to bring a dish or snack. Who needs prepared cookies or cookie dough when you have a stocked freezer of it prepared by you? Just think of all the money you will save on your groceries by doing this?
  • When cutting vegetables for a meal always prepare extra and place them in baggies to be used for healthy snacks for the children or for your casserole dishes. I would suggest that you not wash the vegetables beforehand; they will last much longer in your fridge. I always label the vegetables with the date of purchase as well so that you do not end up using out-of-date and less than fresh vegetables.
  • Use your crock-pot! This is the greatest tool ever known to busy mothers. You can save even more time by preparing everything in it the night before. Then in the morning, when you are usually the busiest, you only have to plug it in for a delicious home-cooked meal. Please see my Quick and Easy Recipes section for some great recipes using your slow-cooker.
  • Try your hand at once a month cooking. I personally do not use this method cooking only once a month because on many of the dishes I prepare, I enjoy eating them freshly prepared. There are many people who are very successful at doing this and have found that by cooking for one or two days that they can eat for an entire month. There are other options for doing this type of bulk cooking, but on a smaller scale such as once a week. By doing this in more manageable fragments, you can still save yourself a lot of time in the kitchen. Some books I would recommend for learning more about this are:

    Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month
    By Deborah Taylor-Hough
    Once a Month Cooking

    Frozen Assets Lite and Easy: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month
    By Deborah Taylor-Hough

  • Always make plenty of leftovers and use them. Do not allow these to sit in your refrigerator untouched wasting both food and your precious time. Send them as lunches for your husband, reheat them for quick dinners, or use side dishes again pairing them with a new main course. You can also modify the leftovers. For example, if you have leftover mashed potatoes, you could add sour cream to them and top them with chives, roast garlic and add it to the potatoes, or make meatloaf but use the mashed potatoes for the center of the loaf. As you can see, with a little creativity you can make your side dishes something brand new with very little effort.
  • Be adventurous in the kitchen, but be realistic. Trying new recipes is great, but realize your limitations as a cook and as a mother with a limited amount of time. Many times I have attempted dishes in gourmet cooking magazines that have turned disastrous and have caused me a lot of tears. Try new things, just try them on weekends where you have more time and try to avoid trying them when you have guests coming over. Nothing is more embarrassing then serving a dish that is inedible or having no dish at all to share with your guests. Try to learn from my experiences- everyone has limitations and you know what yours are.
  • Cut your vegetables and fruits before you start on cutting meat, poultry, or fish. This will save you time because you will not need to wash the cutting board before cutting the meat.
  • Make sure your pantry is always stocked. Nothing kills the cooking moment like not having the ingredients on hand that you need. Much of this can be prevented if you do your menu-planning and grocery shopping well.
  • Wash your dishes as you prepare them will save you on clean-up time at the end. Make sure that your dishwasher is empty and ready for dirty dishes and fill as you go. By doing this, you can really relax at the end of your dinner.
  • Use an egg slicer for slicing mushrooms- it saves a lot of time.
  • Use an empty salt shaker for dusting powdered sugar on baked goods. It will dust more quickly without the clumps. You can also keep flour in a salt shaker to dust pans quickly- just store this right in the freezer.
  • Prepare “special” meals for the family on the weekends when your spouse can help you with the children. This is the perfect time to try those gourmet recipes you have been dying to try, but just haven’t had the time.
  • Enlist your helpers. I know that this can be messy, but let the kids participate in preparing the meal along with your spouse. By allowing the children to aid in the dinner-making process they will probably eat more of it and have a lot of pride in themselves because they helped you prepare it. This might not save on time, but it just might help get you that Mom of the Year Award you have been dying for.
  • Boil your pasta and steam your vegetables at the same time. If you buy a splatter guard for your skillet, you can simply rest this on top of your boiling pot of pasta and throw your vegetables on top. Tada! Perfectly steamed vegetables and pasta using one pot.

Published June 09, 2004 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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