Time is precious and every second counts so when it comes to dinner time planning is key, says Emily Bridgewater.
We know the benefits of cooking from scratch: not only can meals be healthier, it can also work out cheaper. However, juggling work, family and busy social lives can mean little time in the kitchen. The lure of ready meals or takeaways is oh-so appealing when time isn’t on your side. However, we’ve come up with our 10 top tips to help you rustle up family meals in no time.
1. Plan ahead. Decide on what you’ll be cooking a week in advance. Not only will it reduce time in the kitchen but it’ll also make your trip to the supermarket quicker and save you money. Armed with a list of your key ingredients, you can whizz around the shops getting exactly what you want, rather than wasting precious time browsing around all the aisles and putting too much food in your trolley.
2. Use technology. If you have a tablet then save your recipes and shopping list on to it. Not only will it keep you organised, it’ll reduce clutter in the kitchen when you’re working at speed.
3. Have a well-stocked larder. OK, so we don’t all have walk-in foodie emporiums like Nigella Lawson, but having a cupboard full of basics is a must for the busy cook. Make sure you have a good selection of herbs and spices, tins of chopped tomatoes and pulses, and dried foods like pasta, flour, sugar rice and couscous. Stock cubes, a selection of oils and vinegars, and quality salt are also must-have items.
4. Invest in quality kitchen tools and appliances. Having a vegetable peeler that’s speedy and a tin opener that doesn’t stick is invaluable. Spend time organising your utensils so that they are easy to find when you’re on the go.
5. Cook in bulk. Double up on recipes so you have one meal to eat and another to freeze for a later date. Vegetarian dishes, or those using beef such as stews or lasagne, work particularly well. One afternoon or evening spent in the kitchen is all you need to make a week – or more – worth of meals.
6 Use your freezer. Not only is the freezer a great place to store your ready-to-reheat meals, it’s also an extension of your larder. Keep it well stocked with items such as pizza bases, pastry, different breads plus vegetables and fruits – which are just as good as their fresh counterparts when it comes to nutritional value.
7. Invest in a slow-cooker. If you haven’t already got a slow-cooker then now’s the time to buy one. The saviour of many busy people, all you have to do is load it with ingredients, close the lid, turn it on and leave it to cook for a period of six to nine hours. It’s a one-pot meal with minimal effort required, and there’s also very little washing up. Bonus.
8. Mince meat is your friend. A simple base of pan-fried minced beef, garlic, chopped onion, beef stock and salt and pepper is the staple for many great meals. By adding chopped tomatoes and Italian herbs, you have a bolognese sauce; kidney beans, chilli powder and tomatoes will make a delicious chilli. Basic curry sauces are also good to cook in bulk, by adding meat, fish or veggies to your sauce, you have a satisfying meal.
9. Get the family to help. Don’t go it alone. If your hubbie and kids can help then ask. Give the kids basic tasks like washing and preparing vegetables or measuring out ingredients.
10. Cheat. There’s no harm in using some cheat products. Very Lazy, for example, have an excellent range of pre-chopped garlic, ginger and chilli. Think about buying pre-chopped vegetables, now widely available in supermarkets, and if a recipe requires you to make pastry, buy the quality ready-made stuff.