By Jennifer Lindquist
I was so excited when my daughter moved from a toddler to a preschooler. I quickly signed her up for ballet and swimming lessons. It wasn’t until I saw that most activities were around dinner time, that I realized we needed to make some changes to our cooking and preparing dinner routine so that dinner was hot and ready in 20 minutes or less. After a year of experimenting, these are my findings on how to prepare dinner quickly for those busy nights.
Create a Menu
One of the biggest time savers doesn’t involve cooking. Planning a menu, a week at a time, helps save time grocery shopping and allows for preparation throughout the day. I have a white board on my refrigerator and I create a menu every Sunday morning before I grocery shop. Even though I don’t always follow it exactly, having a menu helps me feel less stressed on busy days because I already have a plan for dinner and the ingredients to cook it.
The crockpot became my best friend this last year. We had Crockpot Tuesday every Tuesday which helped with my meal planning for the week. There are many recipes on the internet as well as cookbooks that have only crockpot recipes. We have tried everything from soups to “dump dinners” where meat, vegetables, noodles or rice are all cooked in the crockpot and loved all of them. My favorite recipe is:
Tuesday Shredded Chicken Tacos –
4 chicken breasts
1 can diced tomatoes (drained)
1/4 cup water
1 envelope taco seasoning
Place chicken breasts on bottom of crockpot, add tomatoes and water, sprinkle taco seasoning over the top
Cook on low for 6-8 hours, shred chicken with fork and add some of the broth to help keep the meat moist, serve on tortillas with your favorite taco fixings
My favorite part of the crockpot is that we always have leftovers. I use the leftovers either for lunches the rest of the week, for a second meal during the week, or freeze for another time.
***Friendly tip, don’t forget to defrost any frozen items to be used in the meal the night before in the refrigerator for easy dump and go ability the next day.
Preparing elements of a meal ahead can help cut down cooking time during the dinner hour. After grocery shopping, I brown my hamburger and portion it out into freezer containers. We do the same when grilling chicken. Having already cooked protein makes a dinner come together quickly.
My favorite quick dinner is
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup cooked protein
Frozen vegetable (I usually use peas)
1 TBSP Sesame oil (optional, you can substitute any oil)
1 tsp Ginger
¼ cup soy sauce
Add oil to skillet or wok, when warm add eggs and scramble
Then add frozen vegetables let cook for five minutes, add protein, ginger and soy sauce
Mix and let cook for five minutes then add rice and stir-add soy sauce to taste
Serve with extra soy sauce for passing
Make Double and Freeze
On the days I do have time, I like to double my recipes and freeze the extra. This makes cooking on busy nights a lot easier. I keep an inventory of my freezer meals on my refrigerator next to my menu board. This helps me with my meal planning as I know what is in the freezer without having to dig through it.
My daughter loves this recipe and the meatballs are great in spaghetti or served as a meatball sandwich.
T’s Oven-baked Meatballs
1 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup milk
¼ cup minced onions (or 2 TBSP onion flakes)
1 pound ground beef
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
1 tsp garlic powder
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Soak breadcrumbs in milk, add other ingredients and mix well
Shape into 1’’ balls place onto greased cookie sheet
Cook meatballs for 18-20 minutes or until no longer pink in the middle
Whether you have had a busy day at work or driving little ones around to their afterschool activities, following these steps will allow you to make a healthy dinner without extra stress.
Jennifer Lindquist graduated from Concordia College, Moorhead MN in 2005 in business and French. She currently acts as Social Media Manager for Sleeping Baby. She is also a photojournalist and has been featured in various newspapers. She has traveled and lived all over the world. She loves to cook and bake and is always in the kitchen trying new recipes. She currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, five year old daughter and cat.
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