Is this what your dinner table looks like at 6pm? Did you just get home and find out that the kids have school activities that you need to help prepare for tomorrow? Maybe you just got home from work because your afternoon meeting ran over and you’re starved! You’re thinking that there is no chance to prepare a well balanced meal that everyone will enjoy, so you settle for ordering pizza because it’s easy and no one complains.
Has this scenario ever played out in your home? I hear it frequently from my clients, that they don’t have time to prepare nutritious meals, no matter how much they would like to. But I know it’s possible to turn this scenario around. I know there are people out there doing it right now! People who work 10 hour days, people with children and people who don’t have a home chef. What is their secret, you wonder? They’ve got a plan, Stan! Let me outline 8 sure fire shortcuts so you can get in on this,too!
1. Set an alarm at 4pm to REMIND you to think of dinner
It often comes to us as a surprise at 6pm that it’s suddenly dinner time and we don’t have a clue of what we are going to eat. We are so busy during our day, that our best intentions got away from us and we end up with no planning time. If we can prevent this by THINKING AHEAD- we can actually come up with a few more choices that we may not have available to us at 6pm. For example, at 4pm- “Ding.” Oh yeah, what’s for dinner? Think: there’s some leftover casserole, but that’s not balanced. You need to add a vegetable. Do you have one in the freezer? Frozen broccoli isn’t gourmet, but you could take 5-10 minutes to make a sauce when you walk in the door. Take 5 minutes before you leave work to look up a sauce recipe. Now leftovers will be more interesting because you’ve got a new sauce to try.
2. Pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home.
There’s no shame in getting one of these convenience items for dinner. It’s true that they are higher in sodium content, but the alternative of take-out or fast food is much worse. And it sure beats the cooking time of a fresh chicken and you can’t beat the price! There’s usually enough meat to feed a family of 4, or more, if you have small kids. Balance this with some cooked carrots or green beans for your vegetable side. It will be an additional stop on the way home from work, but it requires no prep time so the time trade off is worth it.
3. Keep a stock of easy to fix vegetables & ready to eat proteins
I’ve talked about this short cut in an earlier post. There are vegetables that will keep for long periods and can be ready to eat in less than 10 minutes. Keeping frozen broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, cabbage, bagged baby spinach or lettuce, tomatoes. For the proteins, think smoked salmon fillets, frozen turkey burgers, canned tuna, boiled eggs and cold cuts. Have you ever tried having pre-cooked chicken breasts in the fridge to use during the week? These are all proteins that can be meal-ready in 5 minutes. Combine it with a microwaved or steamed version of an easy to fix vegetable and you’re in business. These may not be the most fancy recipes, but it’s better than canned soup or a frozen dinner, right?
4. Breakfast for dinner
The once humble egg is now considered an edible super star. They are fast, nutritious, affordable and flexible. Scrambled, fried, served as an omelet or a frittata, eggs are no longer “just a breakfast item” and deserve an appearance at the dinner table. There is plenty of opportunity to serve vegetables and fruit along side of them as well. Think, sauteed onions, baby spinach and mushrooms, with a few shavings of Parmesan on top. Add some seasonal berries and you’ve got a colorful and balanced meal in 10 minutes.
5. Try out a local meal assembly service
Have you heard of these yet? They go by names such as “Dream Dinners” and “Let’s Dish.” They operate out of a community store front which allows to you come in person to prepare and assemble meals ahead of time. You choose from a pricing schedule that fits your family and budget and they supply the fresh food, recipes and meal plans. Some programs offer online ordering and “done-for-you” options for a premium price. Otherwise, with your investment of just a couple of hours of work, you will have on hand prepared meals to eat all week long. Plus, you get the social bonus of cooking camaraderie within the establishment. If you enjoy cooking, but wish you could make a mess in someone else’s kitchen and let them come up with the ideas- this option is worth checking out!
6. Check out this 15 minute meal maker tool
I love interactive tools that I can personalize with my tastes, don’t you? Real Simple has put together this recipe tool to help you mix and match a few ingredients to make a meal. It’s always nice when someone else can do the brainstorming, you get click on what you’ve got available at home and adjust according to what mood your taste buds are in.
7. Break out the slow cooker
This isn’t a new tip but it’s one that’s not often done in a time-saving manner. Usually, you research the recipe, go buy the ingredients, get them prepped anywhere from 4-10 hours before the meal is served. Then, you have to clean up the mess, store the ingredients until you’re ready to turn it on “cook” in the morning before you leave for work (after you pull everything out again.) After the meal, you put away the leftovers, clean and put up the equipment. That’s a lot of steps for a method that is supposed to save you time and energy.
How about if it went like this? When you are in the kitchen cleaning up after a regular dinner meal, you actually pull out the ingredients for the slow cooker meal for the next day. You prep some carrots, onion, chicken broth, canned tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Add your chicken, stew beef or other choice of protein (such as beans) to the slow cooker along with the other ingredients (just 5 minutes of prep) and turn it on low before you go to bed. It will cook for about 8 hours and will be ready in the morning. At this point, you can turn it to “keep warm” setting and let it chill while you head off to work. The beauty of this method is that you save several steps AND you’ve got a hot meal waiting for you when you get home, when the kids get home or ready to pack up for lunch in the morning if need be. Consider leaving leftovers on ‘keep warm” for another day to save on clean up time.
8. Call in support from your troops
How do you feel about asking for help when it comes to making dinner? Do you run a one-person show? Is there anyone available to help with the food prep process? Even if they aren’t able or willing to roll up their sleeves in the kitchen, could they turn on a crock pot? Could they put a casserole in the oven? Could they pick up the rotisserie chicken at the store for you, if you are running late? Sometimes all we have to do is ask and we’ve got someone with another set of hands or an extra hour or two who will save us from having to do all the heavy lifting on our own. I had a very savvy co-worker who would call home around 4pm every day to instruct her teenage son to turn on the oven and take the foil off the glazed chicken she had put together. This one step allowed for dinner to be ready when she got home for everyone to enjoy together.
What are some of your time saving techniques? Leave a comment below of the one tip you plan to try out this week.