Life is ever turning and rolling forward in a relentless forward motion. I see it in my children’s growing faces. Baby chub turned to toddler smiles, to school year “grown-up-ness”, as my almost six-year-old considers herself. They are a constant reminder to me of how quickly time goes by, and how much I want use this time wisely.
Part of using that time well, is cooking nourishing food for their growing bodies. But I have just gone through a very busy time, and we are all ready for that short “winter break” I talked about earlier. I am putting a priority on making healthy consistent meals, but also not spending all day in the kitchen. We have about three weeks until life gets very busy again, and I don’t want to spend that whole time in the kitchen! But I also am very ready for eating well.
So, I have been putting together some ideas and menu plan goals. I thought I’d share some of them with you too! After all, most of us like to simplify when possible!
1. Have a (meal) plan
I know that this is a really basic concept, but it is one that I often can’t do with all of the recipe testing I’ve had to do recently. I think that many of us ironically tend to drop planning meals when busy–which is when we need it the most. Without a meal plan, meal times can be stressful, and we are much more likely to get dinner out.
2. Plan simple
Not everyone has this tendency, but I start gathering all of my pinterest pins, and thinking of all of these beautiful dishes I want to make, and my menu plan can quickly get either over budget or too time-consuming. So I always tell myself, “Plan simple”. I purposely hold myself in, and joint down simple meals.
3. Work once, eat twice
Many dishes are easy to make as a double recipe. It can reappear as lunch or a dinner in a couple of days. I do this especially with dishes that don’t require double the work to make double the amount. Chili, soups, and other one-pot meals fit the bill nicely.
4. Do Vegetable Prep ahead of time
For me, this is going to mean peeling carrots in preparation for juicing (perhaps during home movie time?) during the week. We don’t juice all the time, but will be this upcoming week or so. You can also prep stir-fry vegetables. My mother-in-law liked to prep large bags of various vegetables so that she could create a delicious stir-fry in a couple of minutes. It worked really well for her. You can also prep lettuce and other vegetables for making large salads.
5. Slow cook dishes
Whether you use a slow cooker, or you like to braise in the oven or stovetop, many dishes that rely on slow cooking are quick to throw together, and good dishes to come home to when you are out and about. I am planning on a couple of dinners coming out of my slow cooker.
6. Premake Breakfast
If you are wishing to avoid cold cereal, then breakfast can take a little time to make. This isn’t really a problem, but it can make breakfast stressful if you have hungry young ones when you get back from a quick jog (my brand new habit). I am thinking of pre-making large pots of oatmeal, congee (more about this soon), and other breakfast foods so I don’t have to worry about it every morning.
7. Soak and cook grains/legumes in large quantities
I like to soak all of my grains, which can mean a lot of thinking ahead. Once again, not necessarily a problem, but I want to think about meal planning the least amount possible right now. So, why not soak and cook a large amount of rice, quinoa, or whatnot, and then simply reheat as you need? Chilled grains are delicious when added to salads, yummy when added to homemade stock, and are easily fried up for a delicious side dish. I love having plenty of cooked grains and/or legumes in the refrigerator ready to simply reheat to eat.
8. Ditch baked goods
I love making muffins, breads, and others delicious treats. However, for the next week, I am going to be keeping that at a minimal. I can either buy high-quality sourdough at the store, or simply plan my menu around whole grains rather than bread. If I do make baked goods, it is going to be very purposeful, such as special project to do with my daughter, for example.
9. Re-make leftovers
Leftover pot roast can be shredded and made into beef tacos, leftover roasted chicken can be made into chicken curry, chicken salad, and a wide variety of main dishes. Leftover grains can be made into fried rice like dishes. There are endless ways to remake leftovers. It not only saves time, but done right, can save money too.
10. Use fast cooking meats and fish
If I don’t want to slow cook something, it is nice to have meat or seafood that cook quickly. Clams (for Bistro Clams), wild salmon, ground beef, and certain (grass-fed) steaks can cook really quickly, allowing you to spend less time in the kitchen. If you already have cooked grains to reheat, then you only need to steam some pre-prepped vegetables, and dinner is ready within minutes.
I hope to share in more detail how these concepts actually work out in real life in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! What are your timing-saving kitchen tips?
Photo Credit: Emily Carlin