Dinner shortcuts every parent needs to know
Do you spend so much time in the kitchen that you consider just brushing your teeth in the kitchen sink and setting up a stretcher in the corner?
Yes, it is important to feed our families fresh food, but it's also important that you get some down time to spend with them and relax. In the spirit of saving you time and energy, we're sharing our favourite kitchen shortcuts that you can use while still producing healthy, delicious meals the family will love.
1. Double trouble? Or double genius!
Batch cooking has got to be the most tried and true hack for busy parents in the kitchen, so if you haven't started yet, you're missing out.
It only takes a little bit more effort to double what you're making, and reaps a whole lot more rewards. Particularly easy to batch cook are stews, soups, casseroles and chilli. You can either keep them in the fridge for later that week or freeze them to enjoy at a later date. Some might even improve with flavour after being kept for a while.
You can also freeze ingredients for meals - make extra pizza dough and keep it in the freezer for a quick base mid-week. And when you make a pie, double the shortcrust pastry and you’ve got half the legwork done for next time.
2. Master the art of meal planning
I must admit, I'm still making life harder for myself with multiple shopping trips a week... Don’t be like me, people. Learn when I have not. Change your lives. No more 5:30pm stress when you wonder what on earth you're going to cook, and only one shop a week!
3. Bulking up
This one requires you to be on the ball with your meal planning. Once you know what you're making for the week, you can prepare everything on Sunday night (or whatever night you like). If you like to use a kitchen processor to do all your chopping it means only bringing it out and cleaning it once. Put each lot into date and meal-labelled zip-lock bags and either put in the fridge or freezer. As well as being a great time-saver, it also makes it much more likely that you’ll cook during the week (we all know that feeling of being so knackered in the evening that even the thought of picking up a vegetable peeler makes us want to curl up in a little ball and sob).
4. Use your helpers
Getting your kids involved in the kitchen not only saves you time, it teaches them valuable life skills and can be a real family bonding experience.
Give them tasks to match their capabilities – teenagers can make basic meals, side dishes and help menu-plan, school-age kids can set the table and help out with easy dishes, and even little ones can help out by carrying napkins and placemats to the table. If you have a partner, getting them to help can be a great way for you both to share the events of the day and reconnect.
5. Have breakfast and lunch for dinner
Who says dinner has to be a hot, traditional ‘dinner’ style meal. Why not plan to have a picnic-style dinner one night of cheese and crackers, cut fruit or veggie sticks, or deli-style lunch meat sandwiches.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of cold pastas and chicken or tuna salads (even better, ones made with leftover pasta or chicken). They can even be whipped up the night before after the kids are in bed and refrigerated until the next night’s dinner. Alternatively, an omelette filled with veggies and cheese, or some poached or scrambled eggs with some avocado, mushrooms, baked beans and/or some bacon on some wholegrain toast makes for a filling and satisfying supper.
6. Slow cooker sensations
Ahhh, the little metal life-saver for frantic mums everywhere. If you don't have a slow cooker, or you're not making the most of it, now's the time to start. Everything from soups to stews to roasts can be prepared in no more than 10 minutes in the morning and ready to eat by the evening (and if you've followed tip no.3 by chopping everything in advance, you won't even have any work to do in the morning!).
It’s also a great option for mums of bubs – the mid-morning nap is the perfect time to get dinner on instead of trying to grapple with preparing a meal during witching hour (and we use the word ‘hour’ loosely)… Kidspot has heaps of fantastic slow cooker recipes, check them out here.
7. Be smart with your vegetables
Don’t fear the frozen vegetable. Not only do frozen veggies save you valuable prep time, buy a mixed bag and you instantly have a huge variety of veggies on your plate without having to worry about the rest going off. Plus, they're usually picked and snap fozen at the height of ripeness, so should be full of nutrients.
Whether using frozen or fresh, if you’re pressed for time and you haven’t pre-prepared your veggies, remember that small cooks faster, so cut your veggies into smaller pieces and you’ll have dinner on the table faster. Also, save yourself time by leaving skins on – not all veg have to be peeled – sweet potato, carrots, beets all roast up well with the skin on.
8. Cook once, prepare many ways
This one is similar to batch cooking, but you get a greater variety of dishes. While you’re most likely to cook items like a roast chicken on the weekends, leftover chook can then be used to make everything from pasta bakes to chicken salads, quesadillas, chicken pies or fried rice. In fact, why not roast two chickens in your oven at the same time? Serve one, then use the other for easy week-night meals.
Use the same idea for other roasts such as lamb, beef and pork – get an extra big one or an additional one for use in other dishes or to serve with crusty rolls for a light dinner. Rice is another versatile food stuff – cook up a big batch when you next need it and use the additional for bakes,fried rice, arancini balls, casseroles or stuffed capsicums. Just make sure you let it cool down properly before putting it in the fridge and heat it thoroughly next time you use it.
9. Choose your cheats wisely
While we all love the concept of rustling up homemade meals from scratch, sometimes it’s just not humanly possible. But choose your cheats wisely and you can still produce a yummy and healthy meal that the whole family will enjoy, while still retaining your sanity.
Grab a barbecue chook for multiple meal options, opt for canned beans over dried to quarter your prep time (but look for low-salt options and give them a good rinse to further lower the sodium content).
Passata or bottled pasta sauce can help you create a delicious dinner in mere minutes, while deli-bought roasted eggplants, tomatoes and capsicum can transform a meal from mundane to magical with minimum effort.
10. Master the one-pot wonder
One-pot meals are easy to make, result in fewer dirty dishes, and usually freeze and reheat very well. Which makes them very desirable indeed.