Last time on Busy Mom Tips, I talked about menu planning. Today's topic, Cooking that Meal, is intimately linked to planning your menu. Busy nights mean that dinner either needs to be something that can be made quickly (such as the salad with bread in the photo above) or something that can be made ahead of time and just eaten. Slower nights mean that more time can be taken to make dinner. Freezer cooking or simply planning ahead can aid on any night for making cooking dinner (or any meal) quick and easy. Here are some tips that help me make dinner quickly and easily, especially on busy nights!
Learn your timing. It takes 20 minutes to cook the brand of rice we buy. So if I'm making stir fry, I start the rice and then brown the meat at the same time, then cook everything else. That way everything gets done at the same time. No time wasted waiting for certain things to cook and no overdone food with others. This does take some trial and error but just looking at the recommended cooking times can help. If you have something that doesn't have a cooking time, time it once to see how long it will take. You'll get the hang of it pretty quick!
Make things 'while'. Let your oven or stove top (or microwave!) cook things while you set the table and make a salad. Use your crock pot to cook things while you are at work or otherwise occupied. Anything that can be done while something else is happening - use it! I usually bake things in the oven while I set the table, make a salad, pour drinks, wash dishes, and that kind of thing. Busy nights it's very nice to come home, slice bread and fruit and set the table in a few minutes and be able to savor a stew, soup or roast that's been cooking in my crock pot all day while I was at work.
Chop ahead. When I freeze peppers, onions and fruit I chop them first. That's how I use them, so it's easier for me to do that than chop after I thaw. I will chop all my veggies and fruit for the night at the same time rather than going back and forth. Additionally I might chop for the next night, if, say, I'm using green peppers in a salad tonight and on a pizza tomorrow night. That saves me time later. I usually don't chop fruit ahead if it will turn brown. Things like melon I will chop the whole thing at once, rather than as we need it.
Try freezer cooking. While I don't do casseroles, I have to say I'm loving this 'freezer cooking' stuff! I totally get why everyone is hooked now. My stir fry packets are especially nice - open packet, dump in pan, cook. Add rice and fruit and we have a full and balanced meal. I pizzas and calzones in the freezer too - take out, stick in oven cook for 30 minutes while I make a salad and cut up some fruit. This is something that I could definitely get used to!
Enlist help. My kids help set the table, toss salad, mix fruit, or butter bread. They take 'drink orders' so cups can be filled before dinner starts. And they love to put things from the fridge to the table and back. We're working on slicing softer things and using the peeler to help even more. John is willing to slice bread, make dinner and set the table if needed too. That takes a load off my mind and saves me lots of time!
Keep it simple! We basically eat whole food - meat, veggie, starch and fruit at each meal. I don't use sauces or spreads or creams or anything like that. I leave the peals on potatoes when I cook them - even if I cut them up and roast them (yes, I do wash them first!). Baking 4 servings of meat and something like potatoes or asparagus or something like that takes between 30 and 45 minutes in my oven set to 375F. That's enough time to steam veggies, make rice, cut up fruit, slice bread and do whatever else I need to do. I can set the table, light the candles and have everything set and ready to eat in that time. Sometimes I even have time read my kids story while we're waiting for the oven to get done! Keeping it simple saves me so much time! I do have nights when I make pot pie or something that requires more time, but usually it's 30-40 minutes total from start to eating. Love that.
What do you do to save time when making dinner? I'd love to hear!