I cook dinner every night. It’s healthier and more economical than going out, and it’s an important way I give to and connect with my family. So naturally I’ve been on the search for methods and tricks for making a nourishing meal in less time. Most of them are simple but surprisingly impactful. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Silverware on the table
Every dinnertime, I was setting the table, and it seemed awfully repetitive. Anytime I find myself doing something over and over, I look for a way to simplify. My solution was to put store silverware and napkins as a centerpiece on the table. And now everyone can help themselves!
I am a big fan of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In case you haven’t read it, essentially, Marie questions all the reasons you keep things and by the end of the book you are ready to throw away half of your stuff (or at least that’s what I did). My kitchen was no exception. I scrutinized everything in my cabinets and pantry and even my fridge and freezer and kept only those things I use. This resulted in 25% of my stuff going to friends or Good Will.
With the new found space, I wanted to be strategic about where the remaining items were organized. I thought of my workspaces like a restaurant kitchen. Display could come later but it needed to function extremely efficiently. I took my veggies out of the bottom crisper drawer and put them on a shelf at eye-level since these were the quickest to go bad and therefore I need to keep them at the forefront of my mind. My sparced-down pantry was arranged in rows so that at a glance I could see which things were running low. I moved olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, and other such pantry items that I use almost daily to the open shelves around my kitchen sink. These are just a few examples of personal tweaks I made to suit my needs. The important thing is that your kitchen is equipped with what you need and all within close reach.
At the beginning of the week I create a great big salad. Making a large salad barely takes longer than a medium salad but it will feeds us for three days. On the first evening, I add ground beef or buffalo or grilled chicken and make it our meal. On the second and third evenings, it is used as a side salad to accompany soup, chili, pasta, or pizza.
For instance, here’s what we had last week:
Day 1: Salad with Ground Beef
Day 2: Carrot Soup (from the freezer) with a side salad
Day 3: Zucchini Pasta with Pesto (from the freezer) and Grilled Chicken (also from the freezer) with a side salad
Most salad ingredients will stay fresh for three days however I do wait until serving to add nuts, cheese or dressing. In order to avoid soybean oil and canola oil, we mix our own salad dress (1 part balsamic vinegar to 5 parts olive oil plus a generous helping of fresh ground pepper and a squirt of brown mustard). This too can be mixed ahead of time in a glass bottle to last the three days.
Freezer Friendly Recipes
I know it is the oldest trick in the book but it is still a good one: find recipes that freeze well and make double batches. This is still a work in progress for me, however here are some freezer-friendly recipes I’m currently using:
- Butternut Squash Soup
- Carrot Soup
- Tomato Basil Soup
- Chili – served in an acorn squash bowl
- Pesto – used as a pasta sauce or chicken garnish
I’m still working on my Tomato Basil soup recipe. I will share when it is ready.
Frozen and Rotisserie Chicken
Nothing compares to marinated chicken fresh from the grill. However, when chicken isn’t being served as the main dish, but rather mixed in with pesto or tossed on a salad, a good frozen grilled chicken breast (or rotisserie) is a life-saver. I’m talking about the kind that are already cooked and all you are doing in the oven is essentially defrosting them.
For that matter, it is extremely helpful to have a handful of main dish options that require no defrosting for those days when it just slips your mind. On such occassions, I usually reach for frozen grilled chicken, canned tuna, or deli meat (all natural, uncured, no nitrates, of course). I’ve also found that bacon and salmon can defrost quickly in a bowl of warm water and ground buffalo and bison can defrost as I’m cooking it in the pan.
HEB Curbside and Amazon Pantry
For five extra dollars I can order my groceries on-line for curbside pick-up at my local HEB. This is a serious game-changer and must for anyone with young children. The site easily allows you to reload previous orders and make changes which makes ordering pretty quick and painless. I’ve also used Amazon Pantry for many of our dry goods and both have saved me tons of time and gas money.