Do you want to eat healthier and have less stressful dinner-times? Maybe you’re hoping to actually enjoy time with your loved ones instead of being in a frenzied state from trying to get dinner ready. With a baby and a 3 year old, I’ve tried about every trick in the book to try and make dinner time easy (without calling out for pizza!) Below is a list of 20 cooking hacks that will save you time and stress at dinnertime.
First, the top priority for making dinner-time less stressful is planning ahead. There are several flexible options for planning ahead, you don’t have to fully plan the week’s meals in advance (although that is helpful). Take a look at the following planning options for a few ideas.
1. Plan your meals ahead
One of the first things you can do to make dinnertime easier is to plan ahead. Check out my article (Menu Planning Services You Must Check Out) to read about services that can help you get a dinner plan for the week.
2. Prep Day
If possible, have a prep day where you prepare 2-3 meals in advance. You can then save them in the refrigerator and heat them up during the week. This is one of my favorite prep strategies, making the weekdays sooo much easier but it typically requires a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday to make it work.
3. Slow Cooker Freezer Meals
These types of recipes allow you to throw a bunch of raw ingredients into a Ziploc bag and store it in the freezer. When the time comes you remove the contents of the bag and put it in your slow cooker and voila dinner is ready when you get home!
4. One-pot recipes
Have a list of one pot recipes your family loves that are easy go-to recipes. For us, it’s pesto pasta with fresh and sundried tomatoes. It’s easy and great to do in a pinch!
5. Overnight Oats
This one actually makes the morning rush easier. Use a mason jar, add some milk or almond milk, oats, fruit and nuts of choice. Each morning for the rest of the week you have a ready-to-go meal.
6. Have a few Frozen Meals in Place
While often not as healthy as a home cooked meal, it typically beats the nutritional void of pizza delivery! We like to have vegetable lasagna on hand for those nights when we’re in a pinch.
Next on the list is dinner prep. The tools you use and taking advantage of “spare” time can help you seriously get a leg up in this department!
7. Use a food processor
I LOVE LOVE LOVE my food processor! It’s wonderful when I’m doing batch cooking or cooking a dish with lots of veggies. It totally beats using a knife and cutting board.
8. Passive Cook Potatoes
On an evening when you’re at home, put some potatoes or sweet potatoes in the oven for an hour. You can clean the house, watch your favorite show, or even get caught up on emails. When the potatoes are done, you can store them in the refrigerator for several days and use them for baked potatoes or grill them for hash browns.
9. Batch cook Rice or Quinoa
At the beginning of the week, cook several cups of rice or quinoa. It can be frozen or stored in the fridge. It can later be the foundation of a meal or served as a side dish.
10. Wash Fruits and Vegetables in Advance
I love it when I wash the lettuce in advance and store it in a container so that I can quickly make a salad come mealtime. This works for tomatoes, carrots, grapes, berries etc.
11. Cut Vegetables in Advance
Carrots, Celery, or Onions can be cut, diced, chopped and stored so that they are ready when you need them.
12. Thrive Life Chopped Veggies
One of my friends sells a freeze-dried product by Thrive Life. I buy cans of dehydrated or freeze-dried onions as well as bell peppers. I add a little water and just like that I have diced veggies with minimal work. Check them out here if you haven’t already.
13. Mise En Place
A French term that means, “putting in place” – Think of a cooking show where they have all of the ingredients precut and measured. It allows you to throw things into the pot as you go and not have to pause to prep items while cooking.
14. Pre-chopped Veggies
Grocery stores offer pre-chopped veggies in the produce section or the frozen food areas.
15. Cut with Kitchen Shears
Last but not least, use scissors!!! Kitchen shears are great for cutting vegetables, herbs, even the fat off meat. They can be so precise and easy to use!
Now you’re at the final step, cooking. The good news is, there are even a few hacks that can help your cooking efforts be multiplied!
16. Cook Once Use Multiple Ways
My mom is a master at this. No left over goes to waste in her house! She bakes chickens, and then they become chicken soup, and chicken spaghetti. She’s a genius at reinventing the main dish throughout the week.
17. Slow Cooker
Throw and go! In the fall and winter, this is a go-to appliance for me. It’s wonderful to come home and dinner is ready to eat!
18. Double the Recipe
Double or triple the recipe and freeze the extras. It takes a lot less time to cook more of a dish than it does to make it several times. In days or weeks to come, you have a yummy homemade dish that only has to be defrosted!
When cooking root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, baked potatoes etc., cook them for a few minutes in the microwave. This will cut down the time required in the oven.
20. Cook with Parchment
Make clean up a snap, by covering baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.
Planning – Prepping – Executing
Any combination of these 20 cooking tips can help you avoid dinner-time chaos. Planning ahead, prepping your food, and leveraging a variety of cooking tools will help your dinner routine to go smoothly. Here’s to a stress-free dinner! Let me know if you have tried any of these dinnertime cooking hacks or there are other’s you’ve used and loved!