This is Part 6 of a collection of posts written to help with my book The Family Dinner Solution
There’s no shortage of advice for getting meals on the table. Advice like cooking meals ahead and meal planning are everywhere. Most of us can recite this advice but when it comes to real life, it can be hard to follow.
I have learned that it’s better to come up with my own kitchen time savers. The following shortcuts have just kind of evolved from the development of my dinner rotation. And I find that I’m much more apt to follow them when they come from me because, well, they work.
1. Spice blends
I have three spice blends I keep stocked and am on the lookout to add more. These not only save me time but enhance my cooking. I use my Italian seasoning mix in everything from salad dressing to homemade marinara and pizza sauce. And my taco seasoning mix goes in anything Mexican, breakfast burritos and certain soups and stews. My salmon rub (courtesy of my friend Holly), is for those quick salmon meals.
Taco Seasoning Mix
- 2 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
- 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. salt
Italian Seasoning Mix
- 1 Tbsp. basil
- 1 Tbsp. oregano
- ½ Tbsp. marjoram
- ½ Tbsp. thyme
- ½ Tbsp. rosemary
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. red pepper
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder
- 1 Tbsp. coriander
- 1 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. salt
2. Prep Day
I tried incorporating a prep day months ago and it never stuck. But now that I have a growing list of staples for cooking and I realize this saves me time all week, I’ve started it back up again. If we have nothing going on Sunday, I might start it then. But I’ve been doing the bulk of it on Monday. Basically, I replenish spice mixes, sauces, make anything needed for the week (like pesto and salad dressing), one baked good for snacks (muffins or bread) and something to help with lunches for the week (like freezer bean and cheese burritos or a big pot of chili). Here’s what I made on my first prep day back in action:
The secret to making prep day a success is to listen to some music or podcasts. I’ve been into podcasts lately so it’s been perfect for me to catch up on my favorites.
3. Micro-planning the week
In addition to dinner, I like to sketch out what I’m making for breakfast, lunches, snacks, and dinner. My kids’ lunches are more predictable but I also l like to plan me and my husband’s lunches. This not only helps grocery shopping but it keeps decision fatigue in check. The fewer decisions I have to make around food, the smoother my week runs.
4. Make-ahead sides
I’ve been doing this one for a while. Basically, when making certain side dishes — Spanish rice, brown rice, mashed potatoes, and quinoa — I make a big batch to freeze for next time. Prep day is also a good time to make sides ahead of time.
5. Prep ahead for quick dinners
I have found that there are very few true 30-minute meals and I always underestimate how much preparation time is needed. The key to cutting cooking time for dinner is to prep-ahead what you can. Sunday night I had chicken stir fry on the menu so before we headed out, I cut the chicken and added the marinade, made the sauce, and chopped the veggies. When we came home, I turned on the rice cooker, and once the rice was done the rest of the meal only took about 15 minutes.
6. Clean out the fridge
I have learned the hard way the importance of cleaning out the fridge once a week. This not only saves waste but time as I maneuver around the kitchen quicker when I have a good handle on what’s in there. And I get that good feeling when I open the fridge instead of that dread feeling when it’s full. Cleaning the fridge on prep days works well.
Here’s the thing. My family meals don’t always run perfectly on schedule. I don’t always prep ahead and just last week my prep day was cut short with a sick child. But it’s all about those small improvements that add up over time. I’ve come to realize the kitchen (and food) is the center of the home and it pays to develop shortcuts that make things run smoother.
What kitchen short-cuts have you created that really work?
Posts Included in the Series:
1. 30 Meals in 30 Days Challenge
2. 30 Meals in 30 Days: The Plan
3. 7 Dinner Rules That Will Transform Your Family’s Mealtime
4. The Side Strategy that Saved My Family’s Mealtime
5. If I Had to Start From Scratch Feeding My Kids, This is What I’d do
6. 6 Kitchen Shortcuts That Really Work (And Why)
7. The Family Dinner Solution Launch Party [Next]
Want to see the final product with all the recipes and strategies? Check out Maryann’s book The Family Dinner Solution: How to Create a Rotation of Dinners Your Family Will Love.