Making meals for your family can take a chunk out of your day. That’s often part of being a stay at home parent, but it’s not always convenient. It’s particularly true for work at home parents who also need to deal with their work schedule. There are a lot of ways you can save time in the kitchen to make feeding your family at home take less of your day.
1. Time saving tools
There are a lot of tools you can use in the kitchen that will save a lot of time. Most of them are pretty affordable.
Crock Pot – I’ve loved my crock pot for years. I had one die on me a couple years ago, which was devastating – I didn’t catch on in time to save a rather nice roast I had put in there. I had to throw it out for food safety reasons. But aside from that one bad experience, it has been great.
One of the important things to understand with crock pots is what should and should not cook all day. Meats can of course stay in there for hours, that’s the main use, and so long as you have enough liquid, the meat should turn out tender. Do not leave vegetables or fruits in there too long. They will turn into mush.
You also need to season your meals properly for the crock pot. Too little seasoning, and you’ll have a very bland meal come out. I add some seasoning early in the cooking, but also some later so that the flavor isn’t entirely cooked out.
Instant Pot – My husband gave me an Instant Pot for Christmas, and I’m still learning to use it, but I’m impressed. I love the stainless steel insert that you cook in. So much nicer than a nonstick finish, which always wears off over time. I can cook rice in it, and it still comes out easily, and doesn’t even have the slight crust at the bottom my rice cooker always had.
An Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker can be a versatile device. How versatile depends on which one you get. My Instant Pot can be used to saute the meat before pressure cooking, giving the meat a much nicer look and flavor. It can be used as a slow cooker, although I think my Crock Pot does a better job. It can even be used to make yogurt. I haven’t tried that function so far, and don’t know that I will, but maybe someday.
Food Processor – A good food processor can save a lot of chopping time, slicing time, grating time, and shredding time. They don’t have to cost a lot – Amazon carries some in the $20-30 range, although others can go over $100.
Blender – I love my blender. It’s on the expensive side, being a Vitamix, but it’s well worth it for making smoothies or pureed soups. You can buy less expensive blenders if you prefer or that’s what fits in your budget. If you love smoothies, having a blender and making your own is far cheaper than buying them. Plus, any leftover smoothie make great popsicles for the kids.
Mandoline – If a food processor isn’t your thing or you have only a little slicing to do, a mandoline is a good choice. Make sure it has a good quality blade so that your slicing goes faster.
2. Prep for multiple meals at once
Prepping for multiple meals at once can save you a lot of time on those busy days. If the recipe can be prebagged, frozen and then dumped into a crock pot or Instant Pot, you have a huge time saver for those days when you don’t have the time to cook.
There are two ways to do this. One way is to set aside a few hours and make up a bunch of recipes, bag, label and freeze them. The other is to make an extra meal as you cook a regular one. Prep two sets of the same meal, but one is cooked that day while the other heads into the freezer for a busier day.
The other is to pick a day and make a bunch of meals on that day. Have the ingredients ready to go and plenty of bags. You can make meals for a week or more in a single day.
Either way can save you a lot of money by making it easier to cook at home even when you’ve had a very busy day. Cooking at home then takes about as much time as going out. Move meals from the freezer to the fridge the day before you need them if you can – they’ll cook more quickly and it’s better for food safety.
Within reason, you can pre-chop your vegetables as well. Don’t do this too many days in advance, or they’ll go bad. If anyone in your family likes to snack on vegetables (my kids do), having pre-chopped vegetables makes it easier for them to have healthy snacks, as well as simplifying meals.
3. Make one pot meals
Making a meal that only needs one pot saves a lot of mess and can be a huge time saver. I like how well my Instant Pot handles one pot meals, as it can saute the meat or onions to really bring out the flavors before starting the main cooking.
Don’t add vegetables in too soon. Overcooked vegetables taste bad, look bad and can ruin an otherwise good recipe. Consider how long the vegetables need to cook and add them in when there’s enough time
4. Use frozen vegetables
Frozen vegetables make it much easier to keep vegetables around without worrying about them going bad. Some people even like to snack on them while they’re still frozen. Frozen vegetables are easy to heat as side dishes or add into one pot meals.
5. Organize your recipes
Find a way to organize your recipes that is easy for you to use. I keep most of my in my bookmarks in my browser, organized by type. You could also consider a recipe app such as Paprika, BigOven, Cookpad and others.
On rare occasion, I print out recipes and put them in a binder, sorted by type. I don’t do this much anymore – they’re so easy to bring into the kitchen other ways now, but it does have its advantages. No need for an internet connection being one of them. It also ensures I don’t have to worry about a favorite recipe disappearing if the website goes away. I also worry less about getting it dirty, as the recipes are in plastic sleeves.
6. Be sure you have all your ingredients
Few things slow you down in the kitchen like finding out you don’t have all the ingredients you need on hand. Either you have to find a substitute for the ingredient, switch recipes, or get someone out to the store, fast. Any of those will take more time than you had planned on.
7. Make it a family job
Just because you’re the at home parent doesn’t mean all the cooking and food preparation is your job. Your spouse can take turns when their schedule allows. Your kids can help as much as is appropriate for their age and skill levels. Kid help can make the job take longer at first, but eventually they will get to where they’re a real help, and even make entire meals for themselves or the family on their own.
Once the kids are big enough to make meals, try to have them cook at least once a week for the family, school work and other activities permitting. Have them plan the meal, and help with the grocery shopping when possible. It’s good training for when they’re on their own someday.
8. Don’t skin the veggies
Many vegetables really do not need to be skinned before cooking or serving. Wash them well. The skins can be very nutritious, and while they may have a slightly different flavor from the rest of the vegetable, that’s often not a bad thing. Many people like their vegetables better with the skins on.
9. Hone your knives regularly
A good quality, sharp knife is one of the best kitchen tools, but it won’t stay good if you don’t hone it regularly. Many people mix up honing and sharpening, but what you do most often is hone your knife. Honing before every use of the knife is not a bad idea at all.
A well honed and sharpened knife will cut through meats and vegetables smoothly and make your work a lot easier. Your work will go faster if you take those few moments to hone it.