Dinner Diva: Plan Ahead Tips For Fast Dinners

“I need more hours in the day!”  Have you ever found yourself speaking words like that?

Rundown of the Day

This fall season brings another cycle of activities and demands on our time.  Whether we are dealing with children and school activities, work responsibilities, or just fewer daylight hours that seem to make the days seem shorter too, time will be as precious as ever before, and if we plan ahead just a little bit, we can accomplish more in a shorter time.  Even better, time savers can give us more of that precious time to use for our more favored activities.

So, what are the activities that take up the most time in our day?

Work?  Yes, and perhaps in another blog, we can talk about working smarter instead of harder.

Sleep?  There never seems to be enough of it and sacrificing sleep hours to gain more hours awake can be a prescription for too many negative outcomes to discuss here.

Meals?  On a good day, we enjoy 3 of them and apart from the one-hour limit imposed by cultural and corporate norms for lunch, we can take as much or as little time as we choose to manage our breakfast and dinner hours.

A healthy breakfast is supposed to get us off to a good start and sitting down with the family in the morning is wonderful if you can manage it.  However, when we are in a morning rush we can get along with a quick smoothie, and with all the options available to us we can at least be sure of getting the Target Trifecta we should be getting in every meal: protein, fat, and fiber–all needed to keep us in balance, start the day off right and keep us satisfied.

However, when it comes to dinner, there are a few other activities that command my attention and commitment.  The end of the day, good or bad, deserves a reward with a good meal in my opinion.

Come and Get It, DINNER!

Sure, every once in a while a pizza delivery will suffice and fit the mood, but in general, there is nothing like sitting down at the end of the day to regroup with the family, discuss and evaluate the day, and to replenish and nourish ourselves with a wholesome, healthy, and tasty meal.

The thing is, the more elaborate the meal, the more time is usually required to prepare it.  If we cannot get out of preparing a great meal, we can at least figure out ways to shorten the time needed to make it, and those options are numerous.

Dinner Prep Made EASY 

To begin, there is a French culinary phrase called “mise en place” which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place”.

The purpose of mis en place is to allow the cook to prepare his food in the easiest and most time-saving way possible.

Being efficient with your time so you don’t have to stop is a huge time saver and to accomplish that all you have to do is plan ahead and get all your food, utensils, spices, herbs, etc. to your workspace and arranged for quick access.

With all of your ingredients close at hand you will avoid the panic run to the cupboard, searching for that one ingredient you haven’t used in weeks, or digging through to the back shelf of the refrigerator while your pot is boiling over.

Simply review your recipe and stage all the ingredients, even measure them out into cups, bowls, or whatever, so all you need to do is add them as needed when the time comes.

Mis en place is a huge time saver for professionals–and us!

Menu Planning WORKS

Another huge time saver is menu planning for the week.

If you think about the leftovers of a meal and how they can be incorporated into a lunch or dinner later in the week, you can realize some huge savings in prep time.

For example, if you are grilling chicken one night, make a little extra.  Take a cold but grilled chicken breast out of the fridge and slice it up over a nice spinach or lettuce salad and you have a 5-minute healthy meal or one that transports easily in a lunchbox.

The same thing goes for pasta.  One night you have spaghetti and later in the week you can have extra pasta already cooked (time saver) that is easy to warm up or perfect for another version of a cold lunch salad, maybe mixed in with some fresh veggies and a simple dressing.

Planning ahead for the week is an easy step to help you in your meal preparation as well as your shopping, and when you are buying for specific needs you will also reduce food waste and your grocery budget.  There are a lot of options available for menu planning to help you get organized and my favorite is obviously Dinner Answers. 🙂

Additional Time-Saving Tips!

  • Read the entire recipe before you start cooking!  Too often we have to put one step on hold because another step was supposed to be done earlier.
  • Buy a box of latex or vinyl gloves for handling meat to reduce the number of times you wash your hands during meal prep and avoid cross-contamination, especially when you make meatloaf. I keep a box of them in my pantry just for this task.
  • Don’t be a slave to perfect measurements.  Experienced chefs can pour spices into their hands and come close to that teaspoon/tablespoon and in time you will as well. Next time you measure a spice, instead of putting it into your recipe, put it into the palm of your hand first so you can see what half a teaspoon or a teaspoon looks like. You’ll be eyeballing your measurements in no time!
  • When bringing a pot to a boil, cover the pot, it will boil faster and save your energy bill.
  • Get an oil drizzler to avoid going to the cupboard and opening up a large bottle every time.  One pass of drizzle around the pan is about a tablespoon. The French use these lovely oil can/dispensers that are also decorative and practical.
  • Use an electric kettle to boil water instead of putting a pot on the stove; it will boil in a lot less time–this is one of my most favorite appliances.
  • Use a pinch bowl of salt and learn how to hand measure like your spices.  Measure some salt into your hand with the various measuring spoons and see what it looks like.  A pinch is about ⅛ tsp, 2 pinches ¼, a quarter-sized pile in your palm is ½ tsp, and a palmful is about a tablespoon. It’s easy and makes you feel like a pro!
  • For soups, stews, and even casseroles, make a double or triple batch and freeze the extra for future easy meals.
  • Reduce the cooking time of rice and beans by pre-soaking them, or…
  • Get an InstantPot® or other version of a pressure cooker.  It is amazing to see food cooked in a fraction of the time–rice is done in just 15 minutes!
  • Have you ever had to start over with a recipe because you added a spoiled egg?  If you are unsure about how old an egg is, put it in water. If it floats it’s too old, throw it away.
  • De-stem hearty greens?  Don’t waste time cutting the kale or other leaves off the stem; just grab the stem in one hand and strip it down with the other. Save the stems to add to soups and stews for extra fiber–keep them in the freezer and chop finely before using.
  • Organize your kitchen!  Keep your most frequently used items close at hand and keep your counters free of clutter. I teach my NutriCoaches how to do this in one of our lessons–it completely changes the way your kitchen operates!
  • How many times during meal prep do you walk over to the trash can?  Instead, keep a scrap bowl to collect your peelings and other scraps and dump them once. Thank you Rachel Ray for that game-changing idea.
  • Peeling potatoes takes a long time, but if you just peel a single strip around the fat middle, you can put them in boiling water for a few minutes and then put them in cold water.  The peels will come right off and this works with tomatoes also. (I just made a giant batch of gazpacho, so this one came in handy today.).
  • Combine your fresh herbs and olive oil in an ice cube tray and freeze them when you have leftovers.  This will reduce your waste and give you an easy pre-measured amount to use in the recipe. One cube or two?
  • Use frozen vegetables and reduce the prep time needed to clean, cut, and chop.  Don’t use the ones that have sauces incorporated, just use the plain fruits and veggies that are generally flash-frozen when fresh so they still have most of their nutrients.
  • Preheat your pans.  Turn on the heat ahead of time so you don’t have to wait for them to warm up once you are ready to start cooking.
  • Clean & put away while you cook.  Keep a soapy sink full of water and throw anything you’re using (except knives!) in there so you don’t have anything stuck on at the end. This is a reverse mise en place and will save you a lot of clean-up time.
  • Recruit your kids or grandkids at an early age to work with you in the kitchen.  It will teach them valuable life skills, help them learn about healthy eating, and give you some real quality time as more hands make the job easier and more fun!

Let me know what you like to do with all that extra time you will have on your hands!

Ready for more fast dinner ideas? Join Dinner Answers and get weekly seasonal menus and access to our custom menu planning tool.  Click here to join now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *