We’ve all been there, we haven’t figured out what to make for dinner and the hour is running short. It’s tempting to order a pizza, but it’s usually expensive and relatively unhealthy. I know when I don’t have something to make for dinner, it causes me a great deal of stress and anxiety. To cut corners, I’m going to offer some tips that will get a scratch made dinner on the table fairly quickly.
Stock your pantry.
Not for the next millennia but every household has things they like to keep on hand. My staples include whole wheat pasta, chopped tomatoes/tomato sauce, rice, lemons, frozen fish, ground turkey, Kalamata olives, chicken breasts, tuna in water, coconut milk, capers, chopped garlic, nice vinegar, lentils, and other dried beans. I also keep on hand items for baking; butter, AP flour, cocoa, chocolate chips, varying shades of brown sugar, honey and baking powder and soda.
I pick these up when they are at my price points and buy a lot of them. The chicken and fish go into my deep freeze. I keep a supply of dried beans in the pantry.
Plan Some “Go-to” Meals.
These are meals that are cheap to produce, and no one hates. I keep a running list in my bullet journal (yes, I’m BuJo obsessed) broken down by primary ingredient (like chicken, beef, fish, legumes). I took this list (not super long) and made it into .jpg files that I store as an image on my phone. That way, I always have those suggestions with me. They aren’t fancy, but they are available anytime I need them (like at the store). Here it is below (and as they are PowerPoint slides, I can always add to them).
Prep Your Ingredients.
I chop onions, celery, and peppers at the beginning of the week (usually a small dice) and store them in Tupperware in my fridge. I also am a fan of buying the shredded carrots (I don’t do my own because I find they get slimy), frozen butternut squash (in cubes), frozen peas, corn, hash brown potatoes and chopped spinach. This way, if I want to throw together soup, I can grab from the pre-chopped ingredients, and a meal comes together in a flash. I don’t find a significant cost difference in the winter months of using ingredients that are frozen. Surprisingly, the frozen butternut squash bags are cheaper than buying a whole squash and a lot less work
I also keep a supply of frozen fruit chunks (most notably over brown bananas peeled and broken into chunks). The frozen bananas are perfect for smoothies or a quick loaf of banana bread.
Lately, I’ve been keeping a container of hard-boiled eggs in my fridge (mostly from our chickens) that my sons snack on whenever they get hungry. We also use chopped boiled eggs as a garnish for a curry or on top of a salad
Invest in an Instant Pot.
It is hands down, the most used item in my kitchen. With the timer feature, I can set up Irish oatmeal the night before and wake up to hot cooked cereal (you do need to know when you are getting up). I also use it to wake up to mini quiches. An instant pot can cook dry beans without soaking. I often throw together a chili with dried beans, pre-chopped veggies and have it set it up ready to cook on its own for dinner. You can use it for frozen chicken breasts (without thawing them). It is easy and economical to use it to make yogurt. Soup that would take 3-4 hours in the crockpot is cooked in the instant pot in 35 minutes. I also cook dry beans (cheaper and healthier than canned) and keep them in the freezer in sandwich sized baggies. I have a real love affair with mine; she even has her special decal
Make Double Batches.
If it is a meal that freezes well, cook a double batch. I do this all the time, especially on nights when I know I won’t have a time or the energy to cook. This is a tough week for us because we have two days of half days with parent-teacher conferences and dental appointments for the boys scheduled for Thursday. I know I will not feel like cooking. However, I made a huge batch of beef pho this weekend and froze half. My husband made chili tonight for dinner, and we froze half. I also do this for quick bread like pumpkin bread for a quick, semi-healthy breakfast. I just take them out the night before.
Organize Your Freezer.
I learned this trick from my sons’ godmother, Cheryl. She has a special place in her freezer for frozen veggies, frozen soups, poultry, etc…She color codes them using dollar store containers. She has a huge chest freezer and on the lid is a freezer diagram where everything is located. Genius. This is something I fall short and need to work on, but it is such a time saver. (I’m trying believe me).
These tips really do save time, money and most importantly energy. If you follow this plan, you may find yourself feeling more organized with less stress. It also has the added bonus of fewer trips to the store. What are your favorite tips to get a meal on the table quickly?