I have to laugh when I think of the old me, back when I didn’t care to save time cooking and I’d casually cook risotto for an hour on a week night. A glass of wine in one hand, a wooden spoon in the other, cooking a meal at the end of the day was relaxing.
Fast forward to a typical weeknight today and things look a little differently. Sub the wooden spoon for a child fork and the glass of wine for an Elmo doll and you have dinner at our house on any given night. My risotto days are long gone…
That’s what happens when you have kids. Suddenly with one or two little ones added to the mix the luxuries of flexibility (like running out to the store when you need eggs), spontaneity (blowing off dinner and just ordering take out) and taking your sweet time go right out the window. And I’ve found to keep up and eat well, the whole shop-cook-eat process has to become all about efficiency.
These five strategies are the ones I use each week to save time cooking, take the stress out of meal times and make the process go a lot more smoothly. Kids or no kids, if you do these five things you’ll save time and energy all while upping the quality of your meals.
Five Tips to Save Time Cooking
Shop then chop. After going to the store, instead of shoving your haul in the fridge, chop your veggies and store them in containers or plastic bags. With that part out of the way, most of the work is done and putting a meal together is just a matter of combining a few ingredients. Use your chopped veggies in salads, stir fries or whatever else you have planned to make for the week.
Cook once eat twice. Or even three times. Get through the week with half the work in the kitchen by always cooking more than you can eat. Whether it’s doubling a recipe so you’ll have leftovers or just throwing a few extra sweet potatoes in the oven to bake, that small extra step can save you hours later in the week.
Serve the kids the same thing. When you’re only cooking one dinner instead of two you save time, money and your sanity. Stop serving “kid food” and adult food” and try getting everyone eating the same food. If you’re dealing with picky eaters start slowly. It may take a little getting used to but you’ll get there. Start by just adding in some of what mom and dad are having for dinner. No pressure. Don’t even say anything about it. But let them see you eat and enjoy it.
Minimize messes. Clean as you go. Look for meals you can cook in a single pan. Use parchment paper to line baking sheets when you roast vegetables and pans of breads and brownies. Use precut veggies or follow No. 1 above and shop, then chop. And take advantage of leftovers so you’re not cleaning up a whole kitchen every night. Anything you can do to cut down on cleaning time will make the whole cooking process feel like less of a chore and something you’ll want to keep doing.
Multitask at meal times. If your kids are still in high chairs, use the time when your kids are eating their meals to chop and prep dinner or do anything else you need to in the kitchen. Serve them their food and then while they’re eating, get to work. Use this time to chop and get everything ready for the next meal, whether it’s your own dinner or salad ingredients for later in the week. Just like adults, kids love to watch people cook. If they reach out or ask for a piece of something go ahead and give it to them so they can feel it, taste it, throw it… It may take more time and end up being a little bit messier of a process, but getting your kids involved and interested in the kitchen makes them more curious about food and trying new things.
These tricks do more than help you save time, energy and stress – I hope they help make cooking more enjoyable, too.
When your kids see you having fun cooking and eating the food you cooked, they’ll be more interested and want to eat it, too.
It starts with you. Watching you gets them interested and wanting to try new things and they’ll be better, healthier eaters because of your example.
Do You Need a Better Routine?
Megan Adams Brown, CHC, helps families find healthy routines that work, with no more “what’s for dinner?” stress, and a lot better food. Her family meal plans help moms take charge of their kitchen and their own health, leading to more vegetables and less junk all around. Megan also shares kid-approved, allergy-friendly recipes on her blog. To learn more click here.