Ever feel like ALL you do is cook, serve, clean, repeat!?
Here are my Top 5 time-saving cooking tips to bust out of that rut, all while watching our waistlines and keeping our families happy!
1) Plan ahead – Write out your family’s meals and snacks for each day of the coming week. This saves the time normally wasted trying to put things together last-minute, saves us from expensive impulse purchases at the grocery store, and it also helps us stay on track with calorie counts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown together a less-than-healthy meal just because I didn’t plan ahead and I was too tired or ran out of time to make something good for us when lunch- or dinner-time rolled around.
*Make your weekly shopping list based on this meal plan.
2) Prep ahead – When you come home from shopping, don’t just stuff all that food in the fridge and forget about it! Think about how much precious time is wasted putting all of that away, then digging through to find what you need when you need it 2 days later, then pulling it back out to prep for the meal you’re making at that moment and cleaning up after each time – and then doing that multiple times throughout the week, sometimes each day!
*One of the biggest excuses I hear for people not eating healthier is that it takes too much time or it’s not convenient enough. We need to MAKE it convenient!
When you get home with your groceries, keep out all produce. Wash it and prep it for your meals. Cut celery into stalks and store in sealed container full of water to keep it crisp and readily available for snacks or for use in recipes. Dice bell peppers, onions. Peel and cut carrots, kiwi, mangoes, oranges, etc. Store in measured portions for each recipe (don’t forget to label the container w/ amount and recipe to be used).
Make and freeze purees for baby and/or for use in family recipes later (learn more about that here.)
This process takes a bit of time up front, but think about how much time you spend washing and cutting fruit & veggies and washing cutting boards, knives, measuring cups, etc. each day, and then consider how much time you SAVE when this process is done 1x weekly instead of several times over the course of your week!
(If you normally make more processed or prepackaged foods or opt for restaurant food, this is going to take more time than popping something onto a cookie sheet and into the oven – BUT it WILL save you money on your food budget and it’s still faster than the average amount of time you’d spend each week waiting in a drive-thru or for the delivery guy to show up.)
3) Cook ahead – Batch cooking is my VERY favorite time saver because I can make a big batch of staple foods that normally take too long to cook on any given day AND it allows us the freedom for variety. For example, instead of making and storing 7 days worth of macaroni and cheese, I keep the plain cooked pasta in the fridge and we have options – mac n’ cheese, pasta w/ marinara or meat sauce, skillet lasagne, pasta salad with tons of variations, any kind of soup that calls for cooked pasta, etc. Get more batch cooking ideas & instructions here.
*I also use this other method for cooking ahead – make large batches of single meals, then portion out and freeze leftovers. I like to do this occasionally with soups, stews, and chicken pot pie filling. I also use this to make big batches of whole grain pancakes, waffles, or fruit sweetened muffins and freeze leftovers for a quick breakfast on busy mornings or simple and nutritious afternoon snack. (I use the batch method to make an easy whole grain baking mix, and use it to make dozens of different pancake & muffin recipes AND the chicken pot pie recipe mentioned above – get all of these recipes in my new cookbook!) I serve some when I make it, then freeze the rest in labeled freezer bags.
Chicken Pot Pie
4) Portion control – Snacks! My kiddos would snack ALL day if I let them, and there are days I swear I never leave the kitchen/dining room between prepping and serving food! Besides that, the best way to eat for losing/maintaining weight and balancing blood sugars is to have several small meals throughout the day. We normally have 3 smaller meals and 2 snacks daily. An easy mistake is to include packaged snacks that are convenient but pack a lot of calories into a food that provides little nutritional value. This isn’t good for our waistlines or our family’s health! For optimal nutrition and health, we need everyone in the family eating nutrient-dense foods – those that contain the most nutrition packed into the smallest number of calories or portions of food. These are the foods that support all of our bodies’ essential functions and provide the longest-lasting sustained energy we need to get through our busy days!
*Measure out individual servings and keep them readily available in the fridge or pantry. Do this once when you get home from the grocery store, and you’ll free up precious time all week that would have been spent searching and prepping each day.
Some healthy snack ideas: fruity yogurt (fresh fruit mixed with plain nonfat yogurt – less sugar and about same price as premixed single-serving containers bought at the grocery store); carrot/celery sticks, bell pepper strips, or cucumber slices with hummus, ranch dip (mix equal parts ranch dressing and plain nonfat yogurt), or peanut butter dip (mix equal parts PB and plain nonfat yogurt); cottage cheese with berries or diced kiwi; cucumber & tomato salad (diced cucumbers & tomatoes tossed w/ small amount light vinaigrette dressing OR balsamic vinegar and pinch Italian seasoning); trail mix (mixed nuts w/ dried cranberries, diced dried apricots or apples, black or golden raisins, etc.); diced melon; black bean salsa (equal parts black beans and natural fresh salsa) and whole grain crackers, baked tortilla strips, or bell pepper wedges.
5) One-dish meals – Soups and casseroles are easy to throw together in the Crockpot in the morning and ready to serve and eat at dinner time with very little prep and no active cooking time! Most soup recipes are also fairly quick on the stovetop, or casseroles simply assembled and put into the oven to bake while you do other things, when the prep is done beforehand. Salads are great one-dish meals too. Load your pre-prepped veggies into a bowl w/ fresh spinach or chopped romaine and add beans, grilled chicken or lean beef, or hard boiled eggs for protein!
Need even MORE help with putting meal plans and shopping lists together?
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What’s your favorite tip for saving time in the kitchen? Please share it with us in the comments section below!