Fresh, simple foods not only cost less but they are healthier, have less processing and less packaging so result in less waste. On the other hand, you pay a premium for convenience foods like takeaway or pre-packaged foods, their nutritional content is not as good, and they just don’t taste as good as a home cooked meal.
But I know what you’re going to say. You don’t have time to cook, right? I know that after a long day it can be hard to prepare dinner and wash up. We’ve sat down to plenty of KFC two piece feeds and called it dinner over the years. However, with a bit of planning and a few tricks, it becomes easier to eat home cooked meals even on the busiest of evenings.
Getting organised and planning ahead of time is the key to cooking and eating from scratch on most nights, even when you’re really busy. Listed below are a few ways of organising meal preparation for maximum efficiency as well as a few other tips on saving time when cooking.
Use a menu plan. A menu plan answers the question ‘what’s for dinner’. It helps you prepare ahead of time by reminding you what needs defrosting in advance and what meal preparation can be done ahead of time. Coupled with a good shopping list, it cuts down on the time spent at the grocery store. No more running to the shops for forgotten ingredients, no more queuing for the night’s meal when you could be at home.
Organise your kitchen for maximum efficiency. Have the cooking tools that you need readily at hand to save rummaging around in the drawers and cupboards. Make bench space prime real estate and clear the clutter so that you have plenty of room to work.
Prepare food in advance. You can prepare food in advance by preparing ingredients for meals later in the week while you prepare for the current evening’s meal. For example, if you’re dicing an onion for tonight’s meal, why not dice one for tomorrow’s meal saving you not only preparation time but washing up as well. I plan meals around preparation. For example, if I plan to have tuna rissoles I follow them with fried rice the next night. I cook double rice and prepare two night’s worth of vegetables at once. This makes the second night’s meal very quick and easy to prepare and wash up after.
Alternatively, you can try once a month cooking. Prepare whole meals in advance and store in the freezer for easy reheating. I like to cook a large batch of savoury mince and freeze it in batches ready to make spaghetti bol, cottage pie, mince bake, chilli con carn etc.
You don’t need to spend a day cooking every month or even every week to have a freezer full of home cooked ready to eat meals. Curries, stews and casseroles, bakes, mince etc can all be doubled or tripled with very little extra time and effort, the excess can then be frozen for quick and easy reheat meals later on.
Invest in a slow cooker. Food can cook away all day in a slow cooker, ready for you to eat when you get home. Fast slow food.
Clean as you go. One aspect of cooking from scratch that puts people off is cleaning up the mess afterwards. Use a bowl to collect the scraps as you prepare your food, for easy deposit into the bin or compost. Put some soapy water in the sink to clean utensils and boards etc as you finish with them, or rinse them and stack the dishwasher as you go. Wipe down benches and put away bottles and packets of food while dinner is simmering away. Rinse or soak pots and pans before sitting down to dinner, it only takes an extra couple of seconds and makes them easier to wash up later. Rinse plates when the meal is over. This makes washing up or stacking the dishwasher quick and easy.
Pick simple meals. A simple salad with tinned tuna, a quick pasta with fresh or tinned tomatoes and basil and olives, a tapas platter that you can ‘assemble’ rather than prepare are all healthy and cheaper alternatives to take away. There are a plethora of recipe ideas online for quick and easy dishes that can be on the table in less than 20 minutes.
Use convenience foods judiciously. Not everything has to be prepared from scratch. Bottled curry pastes, ginger in a jar, spaghetti sauce can all supplement fresh ingredients and cut down on preparation time.
Learn how to wield a knife. You’ve seen Masterchef, you’ve watched the contestants learn to julienne carrots and dice onions. Put away the tiny utility knife, this is no good for food prep. Get a good, sharp chef’s knife and learn how to use it affectively, it will cut preparation time in half (pardon the pun). Google videos on knife skills: there are thousands that demonstrate how to hold a knife, how to diced an onion, cut a carrot etc.
Use time saving equipment. If you’ve go the bench space, a food processor can also drastically reduce food preparation time. You can have a slaw on the table in 3 minutes flat with a food processor.
Don’t underestimate slow cook meals. There’s food that takes a long time to cook, and food that takes a long time to prepare. If you’re preparing a stir fry from scratch, then all that chopping can take ages. Compare this to a roast chook. Just throw it in the oven, set the timer and go have a glass of wine while the oven does all the work for you.
Use the time in the kitchen as time out. Grab a glass of wine, get the kids or your partner to help, have a chat about what’s happened through the day, try new recipes and savour the cooking time as time to unwind.
If you’ve arrived at this page via a search engine, your missing out on the complete Step by Step Guide From Money Blues to Savings Success. This article is part of the Frugal and Thriving Newsletter. To read the rest of this newsletter and find out more, you can sign up for the free newsletter here.