I recently read a statistic that households in India and Turkey spend the most time preparing dinner- clocking in at 74 minutes! 74 minutes! That’s well over an hour! I have firsthand seen this lengthy meal preparation, being Indian myself, and being my mother’s right hand woman in the kitchen. All the scrubbing, chopping, sautéing, steaming is certainly time well spent; I just don’t know who has that kind of time anymore!
Below is my list of tips that will cut down on meal prep time and help you get dinner on the table, well, hopefully in less than 74 minutes!
1. Make a meal plan ahead of time and go shopping accordingly: This has saved me and my husband! When we first got married, meal planning was on the fly, ending up in a mad dash to the grocery store, feeling hungry during meal prep, and then, quite often, ordering in. Now, we’ll sit down on Sunday morning and make a day-by-day list of what we’re going to eat, delegate who’s going to cook on which day, and what we need from the market. We then mosey along to the farmer’s market or grocery store and shop for whatever we need. If we’re including chicken or fish that week, we’ll buy that the day-of. Same goes for highly perishable produce. But even that gets delegated so there’s no last-minute confusion or shortage of anything. This way, we don’t have to waste time trying to come up with dinner ideas, and we have all the ingredients on hand, which makes for much speedier meal prep.
2. Have a list of go-to recipes: This goes along with my first tip. If you’re crunched for time, having a list of simple things your family loves is a real time saver. This way, you spend less time racking your brain for what to cook and more time getting dinner done. Even better, keep a folder of cut-out recipes or even a printed list of favorite foods that you can whip out when the need arises.
3. Pre-cut items that you commonly use, or buy pre-cut veggies: I always put kale in my breakfast omelet, so I cut up a whole bunch and store it in the fridge so that on rushed mornings, I can just take out a handful as opposed to going through the whole routine of washing, cutting, and cleaning up. Similarly, if you know you’re going to need carrots on Monday and Wednesday, cut them all up on Monday so they’re ready to go on Wednesday. Generally, produce loses nutrients with any kind of processing, including chopping. But if you know you’re going to use the produce up in a matter of days, go ahead and pre-cut. And remember, if saving time is your priority, you can always buy pre-cut items in the store. They may cost a bit more, but may save you time.
4. Delegate: If you have a significant other or kids, give them tasks to do. Whether it’s preparing salad while you work on the main course, helping you wash and cut food, or even cleaning up while the food is being prepared, get more hands on deck! Not only do you get to spend time with your loved ones by doing this, but you can also check more tasks off your list in a shorter amount of time. I also recommend delegating one or two cooking days to your significant other or kids (if they’re old enough). That way, you get time to reboot.
5. Cook once, eat twice: My husband and I always designate one day of the week as leftover day. We generally end up cooking way more food than we need anyway, so this works out just fine. Dinner is on the table in less than 10 minutes, and clean up is a minimum.
6. Let meals do double duty: Along the lines of cooking once, eating twice, let meals take on various incarnations during the week. With a little tweaking, those veggies you roasted on Tuesday can star in a stir fry on Wednesday. That pasta you made on Sunday can be tossed into a soup for Monday. Leftovers can be boring, but with a little modification, can be made into brand new dishes. And when most of the dish is already made, you will have significantly cut down kitchen time.
7. Sometimes, semi-homemade is just fine! I’m the crazy girl that insisted on making pasta sauce from scratch. And salsa from scratch. And chicken stock from scratch. Every time I needed these items. So do you know how much time I would spend in the kitchen?!?! 74 minutes, probably. Or even more. And then I’d be so exhausted I didn’t even want to eat. It was crazy, really. Then I unclenched and realized a healthy jar of tomato sauce is just fine. As is salad dressing once in a while. Just check the label to make sure the sodium, sugar, and fat content on these items isn’t astronomical! When I have the time, I absolutely make whatever I can from scratch. But when I’d rather be chatting up my friends or husband, I don’t need to be slaving over things in the kitchen.
Meal prep can be really relaxing for some, but for others, there is so much going on that the priority is to just get food on the table. With some of the above tips, I hope you can find ways to decrease the time you spend over the stove and increase the time you spend around the table.