Better meals are the result of good planning. Planning helps us include the foods we need to be healthy, to write menus and make grocery lists and even be better shoppers. Planning will also help you save time in your kitchen.
There’s no need to give up on healthful eating when time is short. Just plan to take some shortcuts to save time and energy.
- Plan for quick preparation: Choose simple-to-prepare recipes. If you need to feed your family in 30 minutes or less prepare a salad with oodles of fresh vegetables (have your spouse and older children do the chopping), add some leftover grilled or deli chicken, take out your wonderful baked potato and cheese soup from the freezer and pop it in the microwave. For dessert, rinse off some grapes and peel some oranges. Pour some glasses of fat-free milk and — ta-da! — you have a complete meal.
- Organize your kitchen for quick, efficient meal preparation: keep counter tops uncluttered; put your most-used utensils in a convenient drawer; organize your pantry, keep the most-used items within easy reach.
- Make sure you have duplicates of some equipment you frequently use, such as measuring cups and spatulas.
- Plan for pre-preparation: brown and freeze ground beef; cook, chop and freeze chicken for later use; make and freeze soup stock in ice cube trays; dice and sauté onions and peppers, and freeze in freezer bags or freezer containers and make sure they are labeled with the contents and date.
- Plan ahead: thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator a day or two before it is needed.
- Plan for double portions: prepare two, one to cook and serve and the other to freeze for using later.
- Plan for leftovers. Prepare enough for more than one meal. Cover, label and refrigerate leftovers to serve on leftover night. Use refrigerated leftovers within five days, or freeze them for serving later if that’s not possible.
- Buy prepared food that will help you save time: grated cheese, bagged salads, roasted chicken, shredded cabbage and such. These foods are more expensive, so you must balance out the savings of time versus the extra cost.
- Cook when you can. Plan to cook now, serve later. One of my friends cooks on the weekends and freezes it to eat later in the week.
- Use quick cooking methods for food preparation. Broiling, grilling, stir-frying and microwaving save time. Don’t waste time and energy overcooking foods.
- Use your slow cooker. Prepare food for cooking in the crock-pot in the morning, cook it while you’re at work or busy and it’s ready when you are. Follow your crock-pot’s directions for use.
- Limit choices. For example, avoid cooking two different meats for supper when one protein source is all that is needed.
- Stock up on foods that are quick to prepare and have many uses, such as spaghetti sauce, rice, salsa, cheese, canned fruits and vegetables, tortillas.
- Organize your recipes. It is such a waste of time spending 20 minutes searching through eight cookbooks to find your favorite squash casserole recipe. Keep a notebook with your favorite recipes written down and categorized. Also write down the name, cookbook and page number of the recipes that you use frequently. And if you are really organized file them in folders on your computer.
Adapted from: eXtension, an educational partnership of 74 universities in the United States.
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.