Quick And Easy Ways to Cook and Clean Up, Part 1 – Before You Begin To Cook
Ever since the phrase “30 minute meals” came into being I have been confused. My children say I have always been confused, but that is an article in and of itself. : ) Anyway, 30 minutes is considered a quick and easy meal, but I always thought of a 30 minute meal as an average meal, which is why I’m confused.
Recently, I heard something that clears things up for me a little: The average family spends 2 hours preparing for and cleaning up after a meal. I just about had a heart attack. No wonder so many people are writing saying they don’t have time or are too worn out to cook dinner each evening. I would probably never go near the kitchen either if I spent that much time cooking and cleaning up.
Since eating at home can save you a lot of money, I came up with some tips that many fast cooks have used over the years. I hope these will help you get in and out of the kitchen quickly. Like all new things, you need to practice and make new habits, which may take time, but in the long run it will more than pay off.
Don’t worry if you can’t do it all. Just start slowly and go from there. Also don’t feel compelled to use these tips all the time. If you have the time, feel free to make more complicated menus. These tips are for everyday busy schedules.
- Plan ahead. Most of you already know this but now it is time to put it into practice. If at first you can’t plan an entire week in advance, start by planning the next day’s meal the night or morning before. Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple. If you need more tips, check out our Groceries On A Dime ebooks.
- Choose 10 meals. Once you feel comfortable planning a day ahead, sit down and pick out 10 of your family’s favorite menus. Get your family to help here. A study I read showed that most families eat the same 10 meals over and over and are happy with that.
(If you need some delicious and easy recipes that your family will love, you’ll definitely want to check out our Dining On A Dime Cookbook.)
If you eat out at least once or twice a week (fast food, going to friends’ homes for dinner, church potlucks, etc.) the 10 meals should cover 2 weeks of meals. Repeat once and you have a whole months of meals taken care of. If you’re concerned that your family will be bored eating the same thing, think of it like this: The same meal will only be served twice a month.
It doesn’t get any easier. A whole month of menus is taken care of with just 10 menus. You may have thought you would have to sit and come up with 30 new menus at the end of each month, but you don’t. Don’t make planning menus so hard.
If you find that you just have a mental block about menu planning or you just want some easy pre-made menus and recipes, you can get our Menus On A Dime e-books where we’ve done all of that for you. It’s much better to use already made menus than to give up and spend a lot more money going out to eat.
- Plan meals that only use a few ingredients and use common ingredients. The more ingredients there are in a recipe, the longer the recipe takes to prepare. Additionally, it takes longer to shop for 15 ingredients than to shop for five. If the ingredients are unusual, you usually have to spend even more time roaming the store looking for them.
- Do as much prep work ahead of time and not during the busiest part of the day – dinner time.
- Make sure you have all your ingredients.
- Clean vegetables.
- Place meat in the pan so it’s ready to pop in the oven.
- Make salads.
- For recipes like biscuits and cornbread, measure the dry ingredients into a bowl and put in the remaining ingredients when you are ready to bake. Better yet, try to bake things like cornbread and muffins early in the day, not when you are trying to make dinner.
- Make one dish meals in the morning so that they’re ready to pop in the oven right before dinner. Add a salad or bread and you are done.
- Just putting your meat in the oven early goes a long way towards starting dinner.
- Use your oven or crockpot more and the microwave less. I wrote an article about how using your oven can often be faster and how it can help relieve stress at meal time.
- Start with a clean kitchen, clear counters, empty sink and dishwasher. You might want to check out my article Dirty Dishes Cause Debt to help with this.