3 Simple Hacks That Will Revolutionize Your Weeknight Dinners

Maximize Your Kitchen Efficiencywavebreakmedia / Shutterstock
Conundrum: you’re busy but you’re growing more and more concerned with the quality of what your family is eating. Well, you’ve got to make sacrifices, right? In this case, it comes down to a choice between nutrition or your already stretched-thin time.

Luckily, you can have your meal and eat it too (and on-time!) by maximizing your kitchen efficiency with a few simple hacks.

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Hack #1: Prep

Prepare your meals as much as possible when you’re already in the kitchen. Best time to do this prep work? When you bring home the groceries. Don’t just put them away; put them away as ready to use as possible.

  • Slice up your bell peppers, carrots, onions, broccoli, and mushrooms. Put them in well-sealed storage bags in the fridge. Squeeze the air out each time you close them up and they’ll keep up to 10 days.

  • Buy meat? Separate large packages into single meal portions. Will your meal plans require cutting? Make strips or chunks before you throw it in the freezer. Marinating it? Whip up the marinade and freeze it and the meat together. When you take the meat out in the morning it’ll marinade while it thaws.

  • Planning meals that can be frozen before or after cooking? Double or triple your recipe and freeze the extra portions for a future meal.

Don’t forget to label your storage bags. You don’t want to top next week’s rigatoni with last week’s chili.

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Hack #2: If You’ve Got a Little Extra Money

Consider two time-saving appliances: the rice cooker and the slow cooker.

  • Slow cookers may work, well, slow, but they’ll save you time. Throw a recipe into the slow cooker in the morning and come home to a ready meal. Throw it in before bed and wake to a cooked meal that you can warm up in the evening. Note: the high setting can burn food and bears watching. The low setting is your set and forget friend.

  • The best Korean or Japanese rice cookers cost hundreds of dollars. But, reasonably priced cookers are out there. Look for two features: a delay timer, and a good keep-warm function. Set it up in the morning and delay the cooking until an hour before dinner. It takes care of itself and you reap the nutritious rewards. Rice a hard sell? Try punching up the flavor by tossing in chicken bouillon or your favorite broth instead of plain water.

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Hack #3: Get Social and Go Big

The super-size version of hack #1: Once-a-week or once-a-month cooking, or another variation that works for you.

  • Set aside a day for cooking many meals ahead of time. Think savory pies (meat, shepherds or chicken-pot-), pasta sauces, or the fixings for a stir-fry. Homemade quality, pre-packaged convenience.

  • The best way to tackle this hack is with friends. A Sunday cooking fest makes work fun. Or do a food exchange with each person responsible for cooking enough of one or two meals for everyone.

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Bonus Hack

Don’t turn your back on frozen veggies. They cook up quick and often have the same or a better nutritional profile as “fresh” produce. Especially the ones that are out of season locally. Keep a variety on hand to add as a side or to throw in soups, one-dish meals and stir-frys.

Nov 25, 2014