Organization is key to fitting homemade dinners and more into your life. Here’s what I do:
Step 1: Keep track with an Excel file. This file is my record of all records. I would be lost without it. It helps me plan my week, grocery shop, and remind myself of what’s for dinner. It also allows me to track my favorites and make edits for future reference. Additionally, if I see something I like, instead of “pinning” something that is a nice idea that I’ll never make, I put it in my planner so that I remember to make it. The other benefit with meal planning is that you might buy something that you only need a little bit of. To reduce waste, plan a subsequent meal that also requires said ingredient. For example, if you are making Beef Stroganoff, which generally includes sour cream, maybe plan a night of fajitas or quesadillas, which would also use sour cream.
Planning tip: Make more food than needed. You can either freeze for future use or take leftovers for lunch (that is what my family does 99.9% of the time).
Step 2: Know your schedule. There are days where I am able to work from home or have more time at home than others. On some of those days, I plan to make fish so that I can get fresh fish from the local fish monger the same day. On days when I have a work function and the hubby and kids need to fend for themselves, I try to make slow cooker items that are ready when they get home. I also use free time to make future dinners or components of future meals.
Step 3: Make a grocery list and pick a day to go shopping. At this point, your meal plan for the week (Mon through Friday) should be set. There may be specialty stores that you prefer to go to for fish, meat, cheese, etc. Based on your meal plan, make a list of what you need to buy and from which store. Don’t forget to add breakfast items. (As noted above, I don’t generally need to make separate lunch meals because there are usually enough leftovers that we all take with us and either heat up at work or put in a thermos for the kids).
In our home, food shopping for the week is done every Sunday with some exceptions. Based on my plan, I may make a stop during the week if needed (e.g. for fresh fish for fish Fridays). I try to get to the poultry farm for fresh chicken on Saturday and I freeze what I’m not going to cook within the first three days.
Step 4: Make a game plan for each dinner. Similar to how you are only as strong as your weakest link, your meal can only be prepared as quickly as your slowest component. Assuming you have planned your meals, bought your groceries in advance, and have an idea on how you are going to make your meal, try to mentally organize the order in which steps for the meal should be performed to obtain your shorted time. Prep/chop items in advance, if possible, to decrease the time even further. For example, if I was going to make a lasagna on a weeknight, I would try to prepare the sauce the night before. The minute I got home from work, I would turn on my oven and start boiling water. After that was started, I would start preparing other components and assemble the lasagna. Once the lasagna is baking, I would prepare any other meal components such as the garlic bread since that can be made start to finish in the same time the lasagna is baking.
Step 5: Invest in kitchen tools/appliances that fit your life …and put them where you will use them. I didn’t always have a ton of space to store gadgets and small appliances and so they stayed in boxes where I could not reach. I totally forgot I had them and so I did a lot of cooking as a “minimalist.”
Now that I have more accessible storage and more available counter space, I make sure to use that as efficiently as possible. I keep frequently used appliances out on the counter or in a storage space easy for me to get to and I invest in gadgets that will save me time. You don’t have to get the most expensive item out there if it will not serve your purposes but you also should not deny yourself an appliance that will contribute to your daily goals.
For example, when I first learned about zoodles (zucchini noodles), I saw two gadgets: the vegetti ($15) and the spiralizer ($40). I wasn’t even sure if I would like zoodles and did not want to spend $40 on a gadget that would take up space for something I wasn’t even sure I would like. I bought the vegetti which worked great although it did produce some waste. It also gave my arm a little workout. It would not have been so bad if I was cooking for one or two but I was cooking for four and so it took me a little while to get the quantity I needed. The zoodles came out great and the hubby and I really enjoyed them. However, I was turned off by the prep required and therefore did not make the zoodles too often…that changed when I decided, after doing some light research and soliciting opinions, to splurge on the paderno spiralizer after all.
I’m glad I did. It works great! It’s a little more to clean, it takes up a little more storage space but it’s super easy to use with little waste. In 5 minutes, I have enough zoodles to feed a small army (not really because they cook down tremendously, but you get the point).
Another example is the air fryer. I love mine, but it is pricey. It saves me time as it heats up quickly and it reduces the oil needed to cook food I love. You also need a place to put it as it’s about the size of a bread machine or a large rice cooker. However, I use it almost every day which brings down the cost and earns itself a place on my counter.
Sometimes a little investment will go a long way because at the end of the day, time is money but money can also save you time!