Good planning and the right ingredients and tools can make cooking a snap. Here’s what you should know about cutting down on food prep time.
When you split the day and evening into all the things you need to do, food preparation is something that you wish could take less time.
There a few ways that can happen. One is to prepare food, even whole dinners, in advance and freeze them. Another is to use a crock pot or pressure cooker to make an all-in-one meal. There also are plenty of tips that can help you prepare and cook food faster on the spot.
It also helps to think about what you’re going to prepare.
“Taking just one minute to think through what you're about to do makes all the difference in the world,” suggests the kitchn.com. “If you're making multiple dishes, you can pick out what takes the longest to cook and the exact order to prep and cook things, seeing where there are opportunities to prep things while something else is cooking.”
Consider time savers, such as setting up appliances and heating the oven, get water boiling immediately, load a pan with ingredients from the pantry or refrigerator, cleaning produce efficiently, figuring out your prepping order and multitasking, grating butter so it melts faster, and cutting food into smaller pieces for quicker cooking.
More fast cooking tips include roasting whole chicken spatchcock or butterfly style, cutting out the backbone. It cooks much faster, says chef Julie Yoon.
Yoon also recommends using sugar snap peas as your vegetables because you just pour boiling water over them to cook them to a tasty crunch. Instant couscous and vegetable or chicken broth with peas or cranberries added make a flavorful side dish.
If you’re cooking something in the oven, start it out on the stove first to get it going, Yoon says. Peel and dice sweet or regular potatoes into small 1-inch cubes before boiling for the mashed potatoes, and place chicken breasts, steak, or pork between plastic wrap and lightly pound with a meat mallet to cut cooking time in half.
Use a lid. It holds steam and heat, makes food more moist, and cooks everything faster.
Plan ahead to augment these corner cutters. Map out dinners at the beginning of the week and make sure you have the ingredients ahead of time.
You can also download free meal-planning forms, create a meal planning board, and make sure you start your menu with what you already have on hand in the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry.
If you really want to simplify meal planning, put together two or three months worth of menus and a matching grocery list. Rotate the menus to use them over and over to save valuable time.
Preparing meals in advance and freezing them also saves time and still delivers nutritious dinners to your family.
These so-called “master mixes” can contain just about anything you can freeze, in combination.
“For instance, ground beef or chicken cooked with seasonings and vegetables can be prepared in larger amounts and put into smaller 'meal size' baggies and frozen, to be used in future meals with pasta, burritos, rice or in soups, says eartheasy.com.
“Fresh vegetables can be chopped in advance and put in freezer bags. A good combination is onions, garlic, tomatoes, corn sliced off the cob, and green peppers.”
Another suggestion from eartheasy.com: always have a pot of cooked brown rice, potatoes, beans, or pasta in the refrigerator that can be the base of a meal. If kept cold and tightly covered, it can keep up to four days or longer.
“Anyone in the house will know that with a little effort a meal can be produced. That is very reassuring to teenagers, but be sure to put a note on food planned for dinner, or it will disappear also.”
Then, there’s crockpots, Dutch ovens, and pressure cookers. These make cooking whole meals in one container easy. Each have their differences.
Crockpots are slow cookers that use electricity for the heat. Their advantage is working at low temperatures for long periods of time. Which means you can be off doing something else around the house, or out of the house.
Dutch ovens are similar to crock pots but use the heat of the stove. An advantage is browning meats and then throwing in other ingredients later.
Pressure cookers also are electric, and cook foods much faster than crockpots and Dutch ovens. Pressure cookers were known in the old days for cooking foods for preservation and canning for long periods of time. Now, says eaertheasy.com, you can think of them as “crock pots on steroids.”
December 20, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN