One of the best decisions that you can make to support your health and the health of your family is cooking your own meals. Doing this lets you avoid processed foods and the various additives that are included in them. At the same time, home cooked food can be so much better tasting than anything you buy from the store and is certainly worth the effort.
But, the time factor can be a major issue. Many of us already find that there simply doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. When you have kids to pick up, activities to do, and maybe even a full time job – how can you do it all? Most families have two working parents these days, so it's not like there's always someone to pick up the slack.
Plus, the processes of prepping and cleaning can be pretty time consuming. Besides that, often the last thing you want to do when you get home from work is to spend time on your feet in the kitchen, especially if the meal you’re making takes more effort than just throwing everything in a pot.
Thankfully, there are a variety of ways to save time cooking for your family, without sacrificing the quality or taste of your food. Some of these ways come down to cooking methods, while others are connected to tricks that you can use to cut down the time you spend in the kitchen. But, all of these ideas are powerful simply because they can help you be more efficient and give you more time to spend with your family.
Take Advantage Of Pressure Cooking
By their very nature, pressure cookers are a perfect way to save time. These devices make use of pressure to cook food much faster than it would normally take, while also ensuring that the food tastes great.
One reason for this is that during pressure cooking liquid is forced into the food. This helps to increase flavor and also ensures that meat ends up very tender.
The difference in time with a pressure cooker can be astonishing. For example, it can take as little as half an hour to cook an entire chicken this way, although the precise time depends on the pressure you use and the size of the chicken. There are similar time savings with other cuts of meat and with entire dishes.
It’s easy to see how much of an impact this change in cooking time could have. Basically, it means that you would have to spend much less time in the kitchen to get the same results. What’s more, you don’t have to monitor or stir food in the pressure cooker, so once it is set up you can get out of the kitchen for a while.
Now, the one thing to note is that pressure cooking can take time to learn. There are some fantastic devices out there, including some that are fairly inexpensive, and there is also some decent information online about how to pressure cook effectively.
Nevertheless, pressure cooking is a different style and technique than most people are used to. So, it can take a bit of trial and error until you get used to the processes involved and how to get the most out of your pressure cooker. Still, the end results are well worth the effort. The first decision you'll have to make is whether to get an electric or stovetop pressure cooker – there are pros and cons to both!
Get More Use Out Of Your Slow Cooker
Most of us have a slow cooker in the home already. If not, you really should check out my favorite slow cookers and get one. In some ways, slow cooking is a fairly counterintuitive way to save time. After all, the process of slow cooking does mean that your meals may take 5 or 8 hours to cook, which is much longer than if you cooked them conventionally.
Despite this, a slow cooker can actually be a major time saver.
One reason is that a slow cooked meal typically involves less prep work. In fact, many recipes just have you throw all the ingredients in at the beginning and leave the appliance to do all of the work. Even when you do need to do some prep the work involved is normally fairly minor, like browning meat, cutting up vegetables, or reducing a sauce.
You also save time when it comes to the cooking process. With regular cooking, you typically have to spend time standing around, stirring different pots and adding ingredients as the meal progresses. You may also have to keep an eye on the food to make sure that it doesn’t burn. One time I went out to get the mail and by the time I got back, dinner was ruined. I accidentally left the burner on high!
All of those tasks can be largely avoided with slow cooking. Instead, it’s entirely safe to let a slow cooker run its course by itself without intervention. That means you have more time to do the things that you want to do. Multitasking!
Additionally, a slow cooker lets you change the point in time where you are making food. With traditional cooking, you’re often trying to cook straight after work. This can be frustrating, especially if you’ve had a busy day or have to worry about picking kids up from after-school activities. Plus, cooking while hungry means that you're susceptible to snacking, or rushing the meal because you're hungry.
In contrast, slow cooking shifts your effort to a different part of the day. So, you can often most of your prep in the morning before you leave for work or the night before. This helps to free up time when you need it the most.
Try Sous Vide Cooking!
Another interesting option for saving time is sous vide cooking. This technique is a little bit less common but it is becoming more popular over time. Actually, it's a very old cooking technique that's just making a comeback. The term itself refers to cooking ‘under vacuum’, although that doesn’t really explain the process very well.
Instead, the key aspects of sous vide cooking involve cooking food in a sealed packet immersed underwater for an extended period of time. That water is kept at a specific temperature, which allows the food to cook slowly, without raising the temperature too high. Basically, sous vide cooking is a variation on poaching, although there are some fairly major differences.
As with slow cooking, sous vide isn’t necessarily a faster way to cook. But, it can still save you time.
For one thing, this cooking method is fairly hands off. This means that once you have your food setup you can pretty much leave it alone to cook. As such, you spend less time actually cooking. You can put all necessary ingredients into a bag and let it cook while you're away from the home. Using an immersion circulator, you can turn any pot into a hot water bath for your meal. A water oven is it's own device that contains water. It heats the water a little differently, and costs a little more, but the results are similar.
It’s fairly easy to make a lot of food at once with a sous vide cooker, especially once you get the hang of the process. This can be a powerful way to cook meat and put it aside until when you need it. In fact, if you use vacuum sealing, the food you cook via sous vide can last quite some time. You can simply use a vacuum sealer to store food in the freezer, then time the cooking properly to be ready when you arrive home…Dinner on demand!
Plan Ahead Of Time
It’s easy to do food on a whim when you're single, going with what you have in the cupboard and even how you feel emotionally on that night. But, regardless of the cooking method you use, doing so is a sure way to waste time. I find myself grabbing a bite here or there, setting up my music or a podcast, opening a beer, and getting started 15 minutes later.
But with a hungry family waiting, and the fact that one missing ingredient could change the dinner menu from a family favorite to a risky new venture, cooking off the cuff doesn't always work out. In contrast, one of the best techniques is to plan your meals, ideally for a week at a time. Doing so helps you to get all of the ingredients you need in one go, rather than wasting time going to the grocery store multiple times in a week.
Plus, planning ahead means that you spend less time in the kitchen figuring out what you want to eat in a week. Planning also gets easier the more you do it and it can be a powerful way to minimize stress at the same time. When I was a kid we'd make a grocery list every Saturday and go shopping that day, helping my mom plan the full week of meals ahead of time. Getting the kids involved can foster an interest in cooking, help them learn basic planning skills, and even secretly train them to take over part of cooking one day 😉
Planning also gives you more opportunity to get more out of slow cookers and similar devices. After all, a slow cooker isn’t going to be much use if you only decide what you want to cook a few hours before it needs to be ready. Meat and potatoes again? Boring! Tangy BBQ short ribs? Yum!
Make More Food Than You Need
In most cases, it doesn’t take that much more effort to create a meal with eight servings, versus a meal that just serves four. However, the larger meal will tend to create leftovers and those can be a major time saver. This can even mean that you can just rely on leftovers some nights, which can spare you the work of cooking and cleaning up.
You can even take this one step further and prepare large meals exclusively for eating later. For example, some people put aside one morning to prepare and pack away meals for the rest of the week. This is a great way to save time and also lets you cook on your own schedule.
Regardless of whether you make extra food while you cook dinner or in a separate process – kitchen tools can be a major help. In particular, there are fairly large sizes for slow cookers as well as large pressure cookers, allowing you to cook more servings with minimal hassle.
Just be careful that this doesn't get you in the habit of over eating! Sometimes just looking at more food means you'll eat more. You might find yourself gaining weight, or spending more on groceries if you're not careful about actually saving the food for a later. You can usually keep food in the fridge for a week or so, otherwise you'll want to look into stepping up your freezer game.
Use Your Freezer Space Well
If you’re going to cook extra food on a regular basis, making good use of your freezer can be absolutely essential. In particular, you want to be preparing food that will actually freeze well.
At the same time, it’s important to label your food clearly and effectively. Doing this helps to make sure that you use the oldest things in your freezer first and reduces the chance that some of your meals will simply get forgotten.
Freezing extra food really does mean that you save time, especially as many meals can be heated up from frozen. Plus, as we mentioned before, it often doesn’t take much effort to create that make that extra food in the first place, especially if you’re using a tool like a slow cooker or pressure cooker. People have gotten really creative with these tools lately, and even the ancient art of slow cooking is getting revamped with fresh new cookbooks!
You can also use your freezer to make slow cooking, sous vide or pressure cooking faster. For example, you can freeze vacuum sealed bags or other freezer-safe containers filled with the ingredients for your favorite dish already prepared. This means that all you have to do is thaw them out and then start cooking.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should cook straight from frozen. In most cases, cooking food from frozen (without thawing) can put you at risk for food poisoning, especially if you’re using a slow form of cooking. Be sure to thaw everything properly before tossing it in the cooker!
Cook Once But Use In Different Ways…
The idea of cooking extra food is incredibly appealing and great for saving time. But, the process can get old fast. In particular, leftovers mean that you’re often eating the same meal for multiple nights. Freezing them can help get around this somewhat but it’s still easy to get sick of specific meals. On top of that, freezer-friendly meals limits you. Personally, I hate carrots that have been frozen then recooked. Gross!
One way around this is to cook things that you can use in multiple ways.
For example, a large chicken can be cooked as a roast with various vegetables and gravy for one dinner. After that, there’s no limit to what you can do with the leftovers, like chicken sandwiches, salad or even a fast chili.
In fact, when you’ve already got the meat cooked, there are a lot of simple and fast meals that you can throw together. Plus, if you use a pressure cooker, slow cooker or take advantage of sous vide, then the process of cooking the meat doesn’t have to be labor intensive either.
If you have the extra time, you could even cook a roast one afternoon, just so you have the meat available for fast dinners and lunches throughout the week.
Remember, you don't have to do this every night. Cooking a large piece of meat once per week could save you time one other night when things are really busy. There's nothing wrong with buying some sourdough rolls and having chicken salad sandwiches with potato salad or soup (prepared beforehand) for a picnic-style dinner. Set out a blanket, eat on the ground, and make it fun! Little tricks like this can be fun and still save you time in the kitchen.
Keep Cleanup To The Minimum
On its own, cooking can be a pretty time-consuming process but having to clean the kitchen afterward makes that whole situation even worse. With that in mind, cutting down on what you use can help you dramatically reduce the amount of cleanup that you need to do and save you time overall.
One of the key ways to achieve this is to be more aware of what you’re using while you cook. For example, if you can, using the same bowls or plates more than once makes sense (as long as it is hygienic). Likewise, try not to use more pots and pans than you need to.
In fact, one good trick is to intentionally pick recipes that don’t rely on many tools. After all, there are lots of recipes out there that just use one pot or two. For that matter, there are even entire cookbooks on one-pot meals. That’s certainly better than the three or four pots and pans that some recipes use.
You can also take advantage of kitchen tools. Often it’s even possible to cook an entire meal in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. If you can cook like that, then you just have to clean the device.
Pressure cookers are actually especially powerful for this, as many come with steamer baskets, allowing you to steam food while the rest of your meal cooks. Rice cookers are good for this too! Doing so can be the perfect way to get your main meal and side dish cooked with minimal effort.
Read The Recipe Carefully First
Cookbooks are great tools for making homemade meals, especially if you’re wanting to try something new. However, many people don’t always read that recipe well enough the first time.
Instead, most of us are guilty of just scanning the recipe first and paying more attention to the ingredients than to the actual steps involved. This is especially easy to do if you’re in a hurry or if the recipe seems similar to something that you’ve made in the past.
In many cases, skimming a recipe won’t cause any issues. However, sometimes it can completely ruin your dinner plans or make meals take much longer.
For example, a recipe might call for marinating meat for half an hour or even preparing something the night before. Likewise, you may simply find that a recipe involves much more prep work than you anticipated.
Reading the recipe thoroughly ahead of time can save you from some major headaches and helps you to be sure that you have the time and everything you need before you get started. Doing so can also help you get into a rhythm with your cooking, which also plays a role in saving time. Also, you'll start to memorize recipes more easily as time goes on, meaning you can cook from memory rather than needing a cook book or Pinterest pin to keep you on track.
Time Your Cooking Around Your Schedule
Most of us have some busy days and some slow ones. For example, the first few days of the week are often the most hectic, as everybody shakes off the weekend and gets used to being back at work and school. In contrast, you’ll probably find that you have more free time on the weekend.
Those quieter days can be the perfect time to cook larger and more complex meals like roasts. If you’re lucky, you can even get your family to pitch in with the process or at least the cleanup.
Doing this means that you’re making the big meals when you have the time to do them and you have lots of leftovers for the busy days.
Don't Be Afraid To Learn Something New!
It can be tempting to want to save time now, but some of the techniques and habits I listed on this page need to be learned and fit into your schedule over time. Taking a Sunday morning to meal prep for the week isn't an easy habit to get into right away, but after a few times doing it, you might actually enjoy it and make it a weekly family event.
Making breakfast at night in a slow cooker could seem weird at first, but when you wake up to a Mexican breakfast casserole and have an extra 15 minutes to get the kids ready for school, you might be an instant convert to the magic of slow cooking!
Even something foreign like sous vide can seem like an expensive investment when you already have so many kitchen appliances, but when you realize you can pick up an immersion circulator for less than $200 and turn any pot into a slow cooking water bath (and even monitor via wifi), then you could change your mind. Imagine herbed chicken breasts cooked to perfection while you're away at work!
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OK, this last one is a bit of a cheat, but be sure to follow our Facebook page for new original recipes from us, or recipes we love on other foodie blogs. The theme of our site is quick recipes to save time in the digital age. We've all got busy schedules, but that doesn't mean your taste buds have to suffer.