- The key is preparation. Mapping out your weekday dinner menus and shopping lists ahead of time is a great beginning. If time is more of an issue than money, buy fresh pre-cut fruits and vegetables whenever possible, or frozen when available.
- Purchase the best cooking tools you can afford that will help reduce preparation time. These include a slow cooker, mandolin, pressure cooker, wok, and a food processor or blender. Also, make sure you have two sets of measuring cups & spoons so you don’t have to worry about washing any during preparations.
- Read through your menus on Saturday and Sunday and decide what you can prepare ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate. Go for simple, basic foods with great flavors. You could stir-fry chicken, beef or pork every night of the week and create a different taste sensation every time by using different marinades and spices. And most stir-fry meals can be prepared, cooked and served in less than a 1/2 hour. You can also make double batches of things that freeze well, such as pasta sauces and soups. And meats can be marinated ahead of time and frozen. Just thaw, stir-fry, broil or grill, serve with rice and a salad and you’ve got a nutritious meal in 20 minutes.
- Set everything out you’ll need on the counter before you begin cooking, and put it away as you use it. This helps in two ways, less cleanup and if you get sidetracked by something (like a child’s blood curdling scream, you’re sure is life-threatening but turns out to be the dog has stolen her cookie), you’ll know exactly where you left off, since you very smartly put the garlic away, you won’t accidentally add double the recipe amount.
- Involve the kids in dinner planning and preparation. Try letting them plan one entire meal each week. This can open up discussions of what is healthy food, what is a balanced diet and how important it is. If they are invested in what’s prepared there are fewer complaints about what’s for dinner. Younger children can wash vegetables, use kitchen scissors and do some supervised mixing. Older kids can prepare an entire dish with parents’ help. Great conversations can take place while meal preparation goes on. If homework needs to be done while dinner is prepared, put a plate of raw vegetables and ranch dip on the kitchen table and encourage the kids to do homework there, where parents can answer questions and make not only eating dinner family time, but dinner preparation family time as well.
Remember, cooking is not an exact science, with a few exceptions. Don’t be afraid to substitute, don’t stress over measurements and most importantly, have a little fun with it.