Sponsor Article from Chef Boyardee®
Here are some helpful tips to economize on time during the shopping, cutting and cooking involved in weeknight homemade meals.
Bringing dinner to the table can feel like an extension of a busy day at work, with endless and potentially frustrating to-do lists. Instead, skip the stress that can come with weekday dinners and take a tip from professional cooks: Plan ahead (and rally the helpers). Having a recipe in mind is only the first step to a smooth dinner, since translating dinner from page to plate can eat up nearly an hour of your family time per night. To save on time, take a closer look at your family's favorite recipes and consider what can be made ahead — whether in the stages of slicing and dicing, or cooking a step in advance — or making smart choices by stocking your freezer or pantry with useful ingredients or even whole meals. The combination of helpful hands and a few simple organizational shortcuts favored by full-time cooks will shift your dinners from hectic to heavenly.
Slice Ahead to Save Time
For many busy home cooks, the time spent on cleaning and cutting vegetables or fresh meat is an obstacle that stands in the way of a fast and healthy dinner. Restaurant cooks spend calmer moments in the kitchen — before guests show up — cutting and dicing many of their ingredients to avoid a last-minute rush and possible injury. The readiness of professional cooks can be brought to the home kitchen since many vegetables can be cut in advance and stored in either airtight containers or covered bowls in the refrigerator. Sturdy produce like broccoli and carrots can be cut and stored along with other ingredients that are used at the same time, whereas more moist or pungent ingredients like onion or peppers should be stored separately. After dinner, ask your kids to help you wash vegetables for the following day to save time when you need it most.
Cook in Stages
Many recipes can be prepared through certain stages and refrigerated, though the skill for picking the right stage comes with practice and a bit of perceptiveness. Dishes with multiple components like a sauce or topping, such as a stir-fry or pasta dish, can often be partially made, reserving the final stages of assembly and cooking for the last minute to ensure freshness. The majority of casseroles can be made completely in advance and refrigerated in their baking dishes, due to their often hearty ingredients and built-in reheating time. Recipes to avoid when thinking about partially cooking are those that contain ingredients that require delicate or quick cooking like wilted greens or seared shrimp. Get the little hands in your household involved with the measuring, mixing and stirring of the components of tomorrow's dinner and simply revise the final stages of the recipe the next night.
Another way to save time in the preparation and cooking stages of your favorite recipes is to choose wholesome shortcut ingredients from the grocery store that lend a handful of saved minutes as well as nutrition to your meal. Keep a stock of canned beans, grains and dried pastas in your pantry and fill the freezer with boxes of precut or partially cooked vegetables like frozen spinach or chopped broccoli. Look for items with packages that boast short lists of ingredients that you recognize, keeping preservatives and additives low. Plus, keep Chef Boyardee favorites at the ready for quick meals. Having a ready kitchen aids in efficient dinner prep, but also encourages nutritional variety: Ask your kids what vegetable they want to swap for another, and reach from your handy stock.