If it seems like you're always on the go, but you still value making homemade weeknight meals, these dinner preparation tips will be a huge help.
As with most things in life, planning is the most important step. Some people seem to have it all together and plan their menus a month at a time. If that's too much effort for you, try planning your menu for the week and referring to it to write and organize your grocery list. As you're thinking up meal ideas, reserve slow-cooker recipes for easy and delicious casseroles, roasts, stews and soups, for busy nights.
Once you get home from your grocery shopping excursion, defrost meats, if necessary, then cut, marinate and precook them for use throughout the week. The same goes for your veggies and starches. You can season, slice and dice your vegetables at this stage, too. And why not go ahead and prepare your rice, pasta and potatoes?
After you're done with this stage of the prep process, organize your ingredients for easy access when you're ready to whip up each meal. Try stacking storage containers or bags of preportioned meats, vegetables and spices for each particular meal together in a dedicated space in the refrigerator or freezer. For example, if you listed kabobs on your menu, put your steak, peppers, onions and mushrooms -- or whatever you like -- on skewers, then douse them with marinade and store in a shallow, covered container.
One way to maximize your time without compromising the home-cooked taste of your dinners is to buy precooked ingredients. Instead of a bag of dry beans, opt for canned beans. Don't have time to roast a whole chicken? Grab a rotisserie-baked chicken from the deli. When your recipes call for chicken, just slice off as much of the ready-to-eat chicken as you need and integrate it into your dish.
Rally the Troops
Now that you've got your food items in check, here are a few ways to make dinner preparation a family affair. Call in the kids and your partner, and decide who will be responsible for what. Even the least culinarily inclined family members can help set the table or take items off the stovetop or out of the oven when the buzzer sounds.
You may love cooking dinner but think cleaning up afterward is a drag. There are a few things you can do to keep the entire mealtime experience enjoyable from start to finish. First, you've probably heard this or said it a million times: Clean up as you go. Have a bowl handy to hold food scraps -- this can reduce trips to the garbage can or disposal. Wipe countertops and wash cookware and utensils as soon as you've finished with them. You may even want to consider investing in multipurpose cookware, the kind you can use to prep, cook and store food in. This way, you can just place your pot of leftovers in the refrigerator, then reheat it using your stove or microwave without the fuss of using and washing more prep bowls and pans.