Quick And Easy Ways to Cook and Clean Up – Before You Begin To Cook



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Quick And Easy Ways to Cook and Clean Up

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.

Before Dinner

  • 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.

      -Jill

 

Read Part 2- Quick And Easy Ways to Cook and Clean Up – While Cooking here

 

Comments

  1. Lucy says

    Two hours? I can’t imagine how one could spend that much time! Maybe because we are pretty much exhausted by evening, but a 2 hour cooking/cleaning session is reserved for special occasions here.

    I still can’t figure out how to spend 2 hours on a simple weeknight meal!!!

    • says

      I can’t either but we hear it all the time! I have no idea what these people are making but my meals take 15-20 minutes to cook and 10 to clean up!

  2. Cindy says

    I developed the habit of “clean as you go” when preparing a meal or baking and it is so good for the morale. I think you have mentioned this before, but spraying the crockpot with cooking spray makes it very easy to clean.

  3. Dara says

    I’m a 20 minute dinner cook too. I am also a semi-homemade girl…with jarred sauces and frozen vegetables. I learned to cook the way my Mama did it. She was ecstatic when instant potatoes were invented. I don’t like them and always used fresh until my daughter asked why I couldn’t make potatoes like Granny did. :(

    Thanks Jill for all the good advice and books!

    • says

      Dara that is too funny. I always made homemade cookies for my kids and was so proud of it until the day my bubble was completely burst when my kids begged, pleaded and said can’t we please have some boughten cookies. Considering at the time I was selling cookies as a business it really hit below the belt.

  4. Tobi Adams says

    You can buy note pads at places like Target, Hobby Lobby, or Michaels in the dollar bins that have the days of the week on one side (for planning a meal) and the shopping list next to it so you know what to buy. These are great to organize your meals and keep the shopping in check so you don’t buy the same thigns over and over. As I use something up (like a spice) I just add it to the list so I know the next time I go what I need to buy. I also keep the list on the fridge so I know exactly what I’m doing.

  5. Lori Smith says

    A lot of the suggestions you have listed I already do as a working mom for years. I must have dinner on the table in 1/2 hour every nite. Doing dishes after dinner, letting air dry and putting away before work also help. Planning easier meals during the week and more complex or time consuming meals for weekends also helps. I also batch cook on Sundays so some meals are already prepared for during the week when we are busy or I am tired. Keeping some frozen entrees on hand for mom’s sick days does not hurt either when bought on sale. I always enjoy your newsletter, have picked up some great tips:)

  6. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I think people may need two hours because they lack cooking skills. But with practice one can cook quickly.

    I also cheat a lot by mixing things in the sink (in case there is a mess), making double batches and freezing some, frying 10 pounds of ground beef at once, etc.

    Lori, why bother putting away dishes if no one is there to see them in your kitchen? In Italy the put cabinets over the sink with slits in the bottom so one can put the clean dishes away immediately after washing to drip into the sink.

    It’s important to realize that your families long for relationship with us more than they want good cooking and a spic and span house. I believe its important to be clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy.

    Dara, your story was too funny. The wisdom of children…

  7. says

    that is funny, I thought 30 minutes was average as well. Although I have gotten so I cannot afford the convenience stuff, and the little prep does make stuff taste better, healthier and we like it better.

  8. Kelley says

    I just wanted to say thanks so much for all the help. Only recently I have switched from the stop and pick up dinner to the mom that cooks every night. I didn’t realize it made such a difference until my oldest daughter said “mom it is so nice to not eat dinner out of a bag!!”. I hated to cook and didn’t think I could do it. Thanks again for all the recipes and help.

  9. Tiffany Johnson says

    Loved this newsletter on cleaning while you cook. My Mom was a Home Economics teacher for years, and has always said to keep a sink full of soapy water while you cook, which saves lots of time on clean up. I’m still trying to make it my habit, but when I do it makes a big difference! Also, the idea that dirty dishes cause debt is so true! I can’t stand cooking when I have dirty dishes on the counter, but when I wake up to a clean kitchen I LOVE it! I’m more likely to do “fun” cooking when my kitchen is clean, such as baking cookies with my kids. How sad for those kids who never get to help Mom because the kitchen is never clean enough to cook in! Thanks for all the great tips. I love reading your newsletters!

  10. Sheri says

    I totally agree on how long it takes to cook and clean up! The only time it takes 2 hours is on Thanksgiving! And a lot of that can be done ahead of time! It takes me 15 minutes from the time I decide to make bread until it is in the oven. Then it bakes for about an hour.

    My spices are organized by size. My pint sized containers of very frequently used spices are in one place and those 1 ounce bottles that are rarely used are on a lazy Susan, but my kitchen work space is so small, that these are both close to all my cooking.

    I agree with how ridiculous it is to precook foods going into the crockpot. I often start with frozen meat and a cup of sauce and it cooks overnight. I bought some teriyaki sauce to pour over beef or chicken in the crock pot. Maybe I will do that for tomorrow’s dinner! Then all that needs to be done for dinner is cook some barley and make a salad. For our family, one head of lettuce makes a salad, plus whatever vegetables are on sale. This week it was tomatoes. I can see my dinner now, but I won’t be home to enjoy it… My teenage sons can take care of this! Even my younger ones can tear lettuce.

    You got me going! The best teriyaki is slow cooked!

    I’m with you on the cooler weather too! What a mild summer we have had! I am sure that this cooler weather is just teasing me. We don’t know that summer is really over until the end of October.

    Thank you for your articles!

  11. says

    I am curious. I am 55 years old so I may be an old fuddy duddy but when I was in school they had home ec class. Is this still being taught as a must have or is it available at all.
    I hated it because I already knew most of what they wanted to teach me and my meals tasted better.
    But many of the girls in the class learned things their mothers didn’t show them.
    My mother worked from home in 3 business’ my dad and she ran so I learned very early how to take over in the kitchen.
    Learning how to make grilled grapefruit just was not in my need to know list.
    With so many young women who don’t know how to cook makes me think home ec should be in the curriculum.

  12. Deborah Rawls says

    I love your newsletter. I wanted to add my tips for saving time on cooking and cleanup.
    I love to cook with onions and bell peppers, but instead of buying fresh and having to peel and chop, I buy a bag of frozen “Seasoning Blend” at Kroger for 1.00. It has onion and bell pepper in it and I can use as much as I need and put it back in the freezer for another meal.
    Also, If you are cooking several things that will require mixing in a bowl, don’t use a separate bowl for everything. Wash one bowl after use and use it again!

  13. Tammy says

    Commenting on Dara’s, when my son was about 8, he came through the kitchen while I was cooking dinner and asked what we were having. I mentioned whatever meat and etc., and also that we were having mashed potatoes. His face lit up and he said, “Are we having Idaho spuds?!!” I paused, looked at him and said, “Well honey, I don’t know if these potatoes came from Idaho or not, but that doesn’t really matter, they are good potatoes.” He sighed knowing I did not understand his question, but he just didn’t know how to ask it any differently. After asking him a couple more questions, I finally figured out that he meant Instant Mashed potatoes. (No idea where he got the name, don’t know if it’s a brand or not). But my wonderful MIL made GREAT instant mashed potatoes, and he loved them!! haha Sure made me think about why I bothered to do it the Hard way! :)

  14. says

    I have all my spices (in a cabinet close to the stove) on a lazy susan, with the most frequently used spices on the outside, of course :)(and the taller spices are laid down / using the same lazy susan)

      • says

        Just talked to Tawra on the phone and said “What do you mean having spices on a turntable is a duh moment? I have always had them on a turntable since you were little.” She then really had a duhhhh moment. I have to tease her because between us we are having a continual duh moment. We say it takes both of us to make up one brain because of our CFS. : ) Luv ya daughter of mine.

  15. says

    About 10 years ago my youngest son made me a spice rack. Two pieces of wood for the sides and 3 shelves of different heighths and leather shoe laces to hold the bottles in.
    It is perfect since my spice bottles all end up being different sizes. It is hung near enough to the stove for convenience but away from the heat.
    Best gift I have ever gotten and it will be with me no matter how many more moves we have to make.
    I have no cupboard room so on the wall saves space.

  16. Rebecca says

    I make a great beef stroganoff in the crockpot and I even make it with frozen beef. This is how I made it today, I grabbed some beef out of my freezer, threw it in the crockpot for several hours, where it cooked(and defrosted) in it’s own juices. After a couple hours, I threw in the spices (salt, basil, etc.), the broth,onions and cut the meat into bite sizes. About an hour before we wanted to eat, I added sour cream to thicken and flavor. Boiled noodles, had it over noodles but I have also had it over rice, it just depends on what I want or what I have. I sometimes make broccoli but didn’t have time this evening but we did have rolls that my mom had dropped off from work. Everyone loves it and its filling and satisfying on a chilly October evening!

  17. barb~ says

    There are some great recipes for instant “over the top” mashed potatoes out there. I use one that I make in a crockpot with cream cheese, sour cream, butter, and ranch dressing seasoning mixed in the instant potato flakes along with the water. This is now the only way I make mashed potatoes anymore and the family loves it. I also take it to pot luck dinners and others often want the recipe.

    Thanks Tawra and jill for your dedication!

    Barb~

    • says

      That sounds so yummy. For those of you who have a large family and they don’t like instant potatoes instead having to peel mounds of potatoes try doing half instant and half regular. The regular potatoes adds a real potato texture and often they think it’s all real. You could do this in a pinch too if you don’t have enough regular potatoes keep instant on hand to make up what you are short.

  18. Jen says

    I never spend that much time cooking but I have mealtime and shopping down to a science. Once a month I plan out a menu for the entire month on a calendar that is kept in the kitchen by the fridge (I give myself one night off a week for leftovers). After I get all my meals on there I write my shopping list for all the ingredients I will need minus any fresh produce of course. I then have a “master list” I keep on my computer and add to and subtract from as I need it that I go through and check all those ingredients (how much cocoa powder do we have? popcorn? flour? etc) and add them to the shopping list if they are needed. This helps save on gas because there is nothing like realizing you missed something crucial right after doing your major shopping. I then go to the store and get all the stuff I need. After I do this there is no question of whats for dinner or do I have the stuff for it. I completely cut out the whole dig through the cupboard figure out what you can make step. I get home from work, check the calendar make dinner and in half an hour we are eating.

  19. rose says

    grandma and tawra.. here in fl where i live they took out home economics many many yrs ago .. over 15 yrs if i am not mistaken along with other classes like art and sewing too ..
    sad but true ..

    • says

      rose they did the same here in Wichita. They do have a class called FACS and it is sort of a home ecc type class but they really don’t learn quite as much as we use to when I took it. Actually my grandkids and I were talking about that today. I asked my 16 year old if he could sew on a button. I have tried to teach them some basics myself. I once had a college student call when I was a telephone information operator and ask me if I knew where he was suppose to go to have a button sewn on a shirt.

  20. John C. Jones says

    Jen, thank you for your information. I am interested how you keep track of your foods in your “Master List” What kind of program do you use. I thi nk that would save a great deal of time. I will be looking forward to your reply. If anyone else reads this post, please feel free to jump in with your computer programs and experiences.

  21. Jen says

    I just use Microsoft word but you could just use your notepad. I actually used the pantry list from this website to get my start on my master list and just tweaked it to fit my family. It took a few months to make sure my personal list was perfect but now that I have it established it saves a lot of time.

  22. rose says

    its a shame too . .when i helped out at the dry cleaners where my daughter and son in law managed the seamstress there charged $4 to sew on a button .. $4! . which i thought was super high when all she had to do what get this contraption that worked (i had one a very long time ago and used it and it did work) .. called the buttoneer .. it looked sorta like a glue gun thingy and then u would “click” and the button was fastened ..
    they arent expensive .. and in fact my duaghter got one last xmas from joann’s fabrics but i think amazon sells them much cheaper ..
    and now with those “hook” needles to thread a needle .. our neighbor has those and says they are wonderful .. and the fabric “tape” or glue u can use to hem pants .. they work too bc i personally know people who have used them b4 ..
    but i still think one should learn the old fashion way (just in case these things do go out of existance or become so expensive a person cant afford them) …
    and its a shame these classes are out of the schools ..
    in the part of the county of where i live, they dont offer these types of classes but i have seen them in the past being offered in daytona beach .. thats fine but my car is not in the best shape and i just drive here in town to shop and take hubby to the dr’s .. (my tranny is slipping badly and i am conserving the usage of it..) ..

  23. rose says

    i forgot to add . .its a shame there isnt anything like those classes being offered on this side of the county .. i know i would take one or two of them and i have talked to several people that would love to have these classes .. and some of these women can sew on a machine but it would be nice to have this so we can get together adn socialize ..
    and people of all ages would benefit too ..
    just a thought here .. :D

    • says

      Rose that is interesting that you say that. I have toyed for years with the idea of having home ecc classes in my home but couldn’t decide if there would be anyone really interested in that type of thing in this day and age or if they would have time for them. I always thought that they would be fun for learning and like you say socializing.
      I remember years ago as a young mom taking different types of classes on the basics and really learned a lot and enjoyed socializing too. It was interesting because we had all different ages in the classes and I loved it.

  24. rose says

    i think you would get a nice amt of women (men, teenagers etc) who would be interested jill…
    the seamstress at the dry cleaners my duaghter used to manage she was going to hold classes weekly for $10/per person per class and i know i signed up and i think 3-4 others did .. so there would have been 5 or 6 of us .. and 2 were teenagers! ..
    she never held the classes and it was a shame .. it would have been a success too ..

  25. rose says

    i am not sure why she didnt hold those classes .. bc right b4 they were supposed to start she said she was going to start them at a later date and we all kept asking her when the date would be .. after a while, people get fed up and stopped asking ./.

  26. Susan says

    Jen,I do a similar thing. I have a master pantry list. Basicaly everything I buy for groceries and personal needs for the year divided buy category. I print it out every week and circle what I need. It has really helped me keep a well stocked pantry. I started by figuring out what meals we regularly eat for Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Thank you all for the wonderful ideas.

  27. says

    sure wish I could be as organized as others here.
    making lists of all they have in the kitchen and pantry. WOW is all I can say. Not that I haven’t tried just my poor brain has never worked that way.
    I have enough food in the house to feed about 10 people for a month at least.
    The reason I have stock up is because I can’t always get to the store for items I have forgotten. I can’t always cook what I planned due to health issues. I also have a great imagination for coming up with meals that I can do. And a husband who isn’t too particular about what he eats except it must not have many vegetables.
    Today I have spent the morning doing dishes by hand and keeping my hands in hot wax to try and get them moving with a bit less pain.
    So supper is pork chops from frozen in a casserole dish topped with potatoes and little carrots with chicken stock so I can make gravy for it when supper time rolls around. Easy and not much hand work.
    I don’t always know what is in the house but if I open the freezer and reach for a package I know I can come up with a meal we will both enjoy.
    sometimes I wish I had a list but it makes meal time interesting and always nutritious and cooked by me. No fast food delivery or pizza’s on the spur of the minute so I guess I am not doing too badly.

    • says

      I’m right there with you grandma. I’m afraid I’m not a list person either and wish some days I were. I function like you too in planning meals. I always find it interesting how different people need to do things differently because of their personalities, live styles etc.. That is why when I write most things I try not to insist they do it this way exactly because just because someone does it differently doesn’t make it wrong. You need to find what works best for you and your family just the way you have done.

  28. Jen says

    Its funny you say that your not a list person. You and Tawra are the ones that inspired me to get organized and start using lists. I know they don’t work for everybody but since I started planning our meals this way not only do we eat better but I have cut our food budget in half.

    • says

      Actually Jen I think part of the not being a list person is more of the fact I am getting ancient (let’s say older) and have done things for so long I have things memorized. I use to when I was a young mom make more lists but I don’t any more. I get up and without thinking make my bed, get dressed, start breakfast etc. I do still make out grocery list but it is mostly if I see I’m out of something I just write it down and don’t worry about it. I am kinda like grandma in that I keep so many basics all the time I pretty much have all I need to make most any meal we like.

      I always have hamburger, chicken or a roast in the freezer. If I see I am down to one chicken I put it on my grocery list to get more or to start watching for it to go on sale. Same goes for my pantry things.

      It really makes me feel good though that you say you have gotten inspired to make lists from us because I try so hard to give people ideas not so much to do what I do but to find what works best for them so you seem to be the perfect example of that so way to go.

  29. Rachel says

    I just wanted to comment about knowing the favorite things your family likes and making those same meals twice a month. My husband and I had this conversation the other day about all the things he likes and wants in the house. This was about the lemonade from the Publix deli, $3 a gallon, and he could easily drink 2 gallons a week. I don’t know about all of you, but groceries are going up and up, they are high where I live anyway, this is a tourist community, that is all I can figure to make prices higher. But I told my husband that if I bought only what we like to eat, it would easily be $150 or more per week at the grocery store. Of course there is no savings in cooking meals your family won’t eat just because the ingredients are cheaper. I can’t even remember the last time I bought a roast. It is mostly chicken and hamburger, the cheapest two meats there are, pasta, potatoes, canned green beans, corn, my husband and son don’t like a lot of other veggies, or salad. I buy a lot of canned soup for my son, who likes this, but it is high too. Really tired of the same old thing, but no idea how to afford the things we would like to have, like steak and seafood.

  30. d. tallent says

    always inspiring to read and learn what works for other people and reassuring that we all do some things right for ourselves and families.
    Lists are great but not if you can’t keep up with them…same goes for coupons. When i started out married life we lived in the country and i learned to shop weekly and rarely ran out of items needed. that has been a well learned life lesson because we never “run to the store”. Also i learned about “substitutions” when baking so this has become my 2nd nature to cook/bake without a master list.
    I always have something in the freezer or canned meat(chicken or tuna/salmon) in the pantry to make an evening meal. It is almost fun to challenge myself to see what I can serve without having shopped for the week.

  31. millie says

    I live alone, but I don’t rely on packaged food, like some people
    think I should. I make almost everything from scratch.

    I cook/prepare/batch cook up to 3-4 days of food ahead, including tea. Ex: blueberries with (home-drained “Greek-style yogurt) stevia I grow;sometimes some cinnamon.

    Slightly under-cooked pasta with sliced cheese and homemade sauce (low sodium V-8 and tomato paste sauteed fresh mushrooms, onion peppers and some basil)side dish/snack ready-to-nuke; salads three at
    a time; cook chicken legs/thighs 3+ at a time…eat for several days, including breakfast;
    buy whole chicken on sale, (brine so it will last longer than my energy) cube the breasts and freeze in two-serving portions, crock-pot the back, save bones in freezer for bone broth. Hand pick back meat for the dogs.

    Buy berries/grapes on sale/rinse/pat dry/ freeze on cookie sheet/ store in freezer baggie or glass= quick snack; hard boiled eggs 3 at a time, sliced and refrigerated = quick snack, or add to “Cobb-style” salad.
    Home ec in HS with sewing,plus Singersewing machine store sewing classes. The sewing machine is never put away.I made my prom dress.

    Meat: America’s Test Kitchen says you can put frozenmeat in 140F water for a quick defrost…maybe 8 minutes dependingon size (like a chicken breast?). Since it’s not going to be at that temp long, not a safety problem.

    I “close the kitchen”, & don’t start projects thatwill make a mess and keep me up late. I love waking up to a clean kitchen, too!!

    I do the salads and chicken completely separately, often on separate days, to prevent cross contamination. Salad first=one cleanup. I’m sure my “fresh” salad is just as fresh three days later as anything you could
    buy pre-cut in the grocery store.

    I definitely like the idea to fill the sink with soapy water. Food doesn’t get stuck on so badly.I like my pre-cooked food! Sometimes, one gets the impression that if you are not cooking for someone else, then
    you are not doing anything important. That is not true. I’m important. A long time ago, there were books/articles about cooking for two, because that would be so hard, and sad. “Cooking for One” was just not discussed. The glossy magazines did not want to admit that there were single people who actually didn’t eat fast food.

    Thanks for all the helpful hints, which even ONE person can use! Only difference is, I don’t have another person in the house telling me “We’re” out of this or that. (One wants to say, “what do you mean “we”)
    Shockingly, you can eat pasta without cheese! And when your tomatoes, that you grew, split and fail in your flooded garden, they can be green and not fried. Just eat them.

    d.Tallent: I agree…we need to know what is the use/function of an ingredient in a recipe, so we can substitute and not make a store run. I no longer make store runs.I plan, but I also am not tied to a recipe, just a concept.

    grandma…I sometimes say I will “shop my pantry”. many times I’ve gone to the store to get pasta, while having plenty of rice in the shelves. Not 100% interchangeable, but a little inventory periodically helps.
    Looking at the whole picture of starch/protein/green veggie. I just don’t have to have a “presentation” dish.

    This was a fun thread…so many people said their kids or grands preferred instant potatoes! They are a great thickener.
    Saves some sauces. I loved the ideas for that!!

    Mil

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