You’ve had a long day and the last thing you want to do is spend time in the kitchen making dinner. I love to cook and even I have those nights. It’s tempting to pick up the phone and order something, but you don’t want to blow your budget either. Here are my 10 tips for getting dinner on the table faster.
1. Start with a clean kitchen
There is nothing worse than coming home to a messy, disorganized kitchen except trying to make dinner in one. Each night after dinner we run the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen a bit. Before going to bed, we try to empty the dishwasher so it’s ready to go for the next day. Keeping the counters clear of clutter gives me space to lay out ingredients and do my prep work. If things start to build up, take 20 minutes on Saturday or Sunday to clean off all your surfaces to start the new week fresh.
2. Have a plan
You don’t want to come home after a long day and have to figure out what to make for dinner. I don’t do a formal meal plan but I do have a white board on the fridge with options for the week. I list out a number of things I have all the ingredients for so I can come home and pick something from the list based on how much time I have and how tired I am. Having that list keeps me from wandering around the kitchen, opening the fridge, freezer and cabinets looking for ideas. Always make sure you have some quick items on the list like spaghetti, grilled cheese and tomato soup or tacos.
3. Use convenience foods wisely
Two convenience foods that I love are frozen meatballs and breaded chicken cutlets. I get both of these items at Costco. Frozen meatballs can be thrown in the crockpot or a pan with some sauce and you have a number of options for a quick dinner. You can make spaghetti or meatball sandwiches. You can also make sweet and sour meatballs or Swedish. I use the breaded chicken to make sandwiches, chicken parmesan or as a topping for salads. I also buy minced garlic since we use a lot of garlic in our house and I hate chopping it. Using these items saves me a lot of time in the kitchen.
4. Turn on the oven or preheat your pan
If you are using the oven, preheat it before you start anything else. I also do this for the pans I am using. Start pasta water and preheat your pans. This will save you time once you start cooking. There is nothing worse than being ready to go and realizing that you have to wait for pans to heat up. Starting with hot pans will also make cooking faster which will save you additional time.
5. Pull all of your ingredients together before you start
Get together everything you will need before you start cooking. Having a clean kitchen will give you the space to do this. Put out your knife and cutting board, the can opener if you need one, and all the food you will need. You don’t want to go hunting for things later.
6. Chop once
I do all my prep work at the same time. I cut all my produce and place it in bowls, then I prepare any meat that needs to be cut. Having everything all lined up and ready t go into the pan reduces the chance that something is going to burn while I’m cutting other things and saves me time.
7. Put the trash can next to you
One of the biggest time wasters is moving around the kitchen, especially to throw things away. Bring the trash can to you or use a garbage bowl on your work surface to save yourself steps.
8. Precook and freeze
Whenever I buy ground beef at Costco, I cook the entire batch at once and freeze it in one pound packages. When I need ground beef for chili, spaghetti, sloppy joes, or tacos, it’s already cooked. This saves me so much time on busy weeknights. You can also freeze other meats as well that will be added to recipes. This is a lifesaver when I want to make something in the crockpot that requires cooking the meat before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.
9. Make a double batch for another night
Yesterday, I made a double batch of chili. It didn’t take me any longer to make a huge batch than it would have taken to make a single batch. Not only did we have chili last night but I now have chili in the freezer for another night when I don’t feel like cooking!
10. Prep more than you need
If you have time on the weekend, I highly recommend doing some prep work for the week. If you know you are going to need three onions and two peppers, chop them over the weekend. This can save you valuable time during the week. If you can’t find time on the weekend, cut an extra onion during the week if you know you need one the next day or a few days from now. If you only need half an onion or pepper for a recipe, chop up the other half to use in another recipe. You are much more likely to use up the leftover amount if it is already chopped and ready to go which helps reduce food waste.
Bonus tip – Clean as you go
Okay so I couldn’t stop at 10. When I’m cooking, I always clean as I go. When things start simmering, I dump my garbage bowl and clean my knives. I put everything I can in the dishwasher. I start to wipe the counters. Using that time means that there won’t be much left to do after dinner. My goal is to get everything back into the condition it was in before I started making dinner (or better!) as quickly as possible so I can unwind for the evening.
What tips to do you have to get dinner on the table fast? Have any of my tips worked for you? Are there any tips that you plan to try?