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Whether you’re a working mom, single dad, parent who works from home or stay at home parent, there’s no doubt that keeping up with day to day responsibilities can be a challenge.
With plans constantly in flux due to over-communication + over-scheduling, it’s getting more difficult to stay on top of things like dinner prep. And yet… your family insists on eating dinner EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT.
Nightly take-out isn’t a healthy or cost effective option for most of us, which means you have to do something to keep up with this whole dinner thing.
Are home cooked meals a priority for you despite the pressing demands of life? If it’s your goal to feed your family fresh food as often as possible while saving money + time, then read on for tips on how to plan, shop + prep to ensure that you can be done with dinner in half an hour or less.
1. Keep Pre-Made Shopping Lists
Anyone who doesn’t like shopping lists is leaving a huge time saver on the table. We all know the frustrating feeling of coming home from the grocery store to realize you failed to bring home some needed items.
(“Darn it! I forgot half + half again!”)
It’s worth keeping a running list in a central location like the kitchen, with a pen in easy reach. Family members can jot down items they may want, without having to send random texts at inconvenient times or make requests out loud that are soon forgotten.
Even better… categorize your list. Some excellent planners take the time to type out a shopping list template that’s organized by grocery store department.
Include the items you typically buy, such as milk, eggs, bread, meat, or lunch box favorites such as a type of juice box that your children prefer. Then, when it’s time to shop, you can print it out, check off what you need, add extras + be on your way.
If you’re not a computer person, at least take a few moments to re-write the list that was posted in the kitchen, according to section, i.e. produce first, then deli, then meat + so forth, according to the physical layout of your favorite grocery store.
If you’ve never done this, it may seem excessive at first. But you really will spend a lot less time fumbling around if you get your shopping list in ship-shape.
2. Plan Ahead for Dinner in Half an Hour
Have a general idea of what you’ll be making + serving for the 5-day work week. It is one of the best ways to ensure that you can be done with dinner in half an hour or less.
So if you usually grocery-shop on Monday, you might say to yourself: “Pork is on sale. I can get a roast + cook it in the crock pot.
The leftovers become tacos for Tuesday.
Mid-week we can have a vegetarian meal. Thursday is pot luck. Friday, we make homemade pizza.
Then, before you leave, jot down all the items you’ll need to buy to make this happen. Some things, like veggies + sides, can be flexible. But if you have a general idea of how the week’s meals will go, you won’t flounder when it comes time to make dinner.
3. Utilize Frozen Sides
Frozen foods are a huge time saver + even meats come to life pretty quickly thanks to modern conveniences like the microwave. Stock up on your favorite bagged vegetable selections from the frozen foods aisle.
4. Have Heat + Eat Options for a Busy Night
Chicken nuggets warm up quickly in the toaster oven.
Frozen French fries can be baked in less than 20 minutes, with easy tray cleanup after.
Buy or make soup, then stash single or double servings in the freezer for use as needed. To thaw soup in a hurry, just run the frozen container under warm water.
Then, place in a sauce pan with lid with a bit of water in the bottom + turn the stove on medium. When the soup begins to liquefy, lower the heat + stir occasionally to break up frozen chunks + warm up the contents.
5. Stock Starches in the Fridge
Rice, pasta + whole grain sides such as brown rice noodles make easy grab-and-go selections to cut significant time from dinner prep.
For example, if you’re busy at work thinking ahead to dinner, you can mentally prep for a quick one-pot meal that involves a quick zap of some broccoli in the microwave, a sauté of chicken + the addition of pre-cooked noodles + sauce which can be added at the end.
6. Plan + Shop for a Cooking Day
This can be a Sunday morning, or any other day when you know you’ll be home. You can make more complicated meals like lasagna, casseroles, meat sauce, pot roast, stew, chili, soup, or something else that would take several hours to prepare + cook.
Freeze in single or double portions to thaw + eat on another night.
7. Clean as You Go
When it comes time to hustle through dinner cooking, you can make easier work of the post-meal clean-up by tackling things as you go.
Items like peelers, colanders + boiling pots don’t require much soap to get clean. So you can quickly wipe + rinse them directly after use.
After chopping vegetables, wipe the knife on a clean cloth + store back in its proper place immediately (keeps people from cutting themselves, too).
Waste not a moment in getting food out of the pan you cooked it in + running water into the pan to rinse + wipe before things get sticky + stuck.
When all’s said and done, you’ll have only dinner plates, serving bowls + utensils to wash.