Saving Time Preparing Real Food

After the cost of real food, people start complaining about the time. I enjoy cooking, but I also run a business, write a blog, take care of an unschooled child, maintain a house, clean said house, have a decent sized garden, make time for running and other exercises…in other words, I have other things to do too.

And oh yeah, I do all of these things myself. I can’t tell my husband that the hose pipe broke under the porch, so would he get out the plumbing stuff and fix it. I have to do it (it’s on my list, we’ve had enough rain to use the rain barrel so far). I can’t remind him that the lawn needs mowing or ask him to play with Caleb while I go running or ask him to dig up a new section of the yard for the garden.

So I needed to streamline my meal production, without sacrificing any of the flavor, because I really love food, especially that I cook. Here’s how I do it:

1. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Eating simply not only saves you time, it eases digestion, and it saves money. Eliminate unnecessary ingredients and steps from recipes. Like my favorite curry recipe starts with popping mustard seeds in a pan. You can’t taste these seeds in the curry a bit, so skip the expense and the hassle. You can also cut down the the variety of vegetables in a recipe or a meal to save time.

Or skip the recipe all together and just make simple combinations. For mother’s day dinner (which I of course prepared), I sauteed a package of golden oak shitake mushrooms (bought for half off) in butter, steamed broccoli (on sale for $1 a bunch), and dumped them both on top of mashed potatoes (which I left the skins on, because it’s faster and more nutritious-they were also organic potatoes that I got for half off as well). It was delicious. I could have eaten twice as many mushrooms, they were so amazing. And it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to prep and another few minutes of active cooking to sautee the mushrooms real quick and mash the potatoes.

Simplifying might mean skipping the cooking completely. A green smoothie for breakfast whips up in no time flat. A salad can be loaded up for a meal with leftover meat on top or a can of beans or some fruit. Raw food retains all the nutrients too.

2. Prep raw ingredients ahead.

Most of my recipes start with onions, so when I buy onions, I chop them up and freeze them. I also chop and freeze loads of peppers when they are in season. Having this stuff prepped ahead, saves 3-5 minutes per recipe. Mushrooms also freeze well, so you can buy the on sale and use them at your leisure.

You can wash your salad greens ahead of time if you dry them well. It’s better to wait to chop it until you need it though.

For meat, cooking ahead saves loads of time, that way you can just throw some in the pan without worrying washing and cleaning up after dealing with raw meat.

Pick one day a week and one day a month where you prep everything you can for the week or the month.

3. Start dinner early in the day.

This is the strategy that I used when Caleb was a baby and I only had small snatches of time here and there. Prep during nap time, that way all you have to do is throw things in the pan or pot at dinner. Crockpot cooking means NO work at dinnertime.

4. Make big batches. 

Make enough muffins for the week or the month. Make a huge pot of soup or chili. You can then freeze them for later in big containers for a meal or smaller containers for a single serving. I don’t make too much ahead, because I do enjoy cooking, and I prefer fresh food. But it’s nice to have a few meals in the freezer for nights when we get home late or for lunches. You have to remember to thaw them though ahead of time (at least if you don’t have a microwave like me).

5. Plan your meals. 

This saves you time if you prep the ingredients for the whole week at once. But it also saves you time puttering around your kitchen at loose ends, because you can’t figure out what to make. And deciding is sometimes the hardest part about making dinner. Make your decisions ahead of time and stick to them.

How else do you save time cooking?

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