Prepare as much of the meal in advance as you can.
*Chop vegetables and put them in covered storage bowls or plastic zip bags so all you have to do is wash them and throw them into whatever you’re cooking. It’s recently been recommended to leave vegetables unwashed as veggies that sit in water breed bacteria faster and can lead to food poisoning. If you do wash them before storing them in the refrigerator, dry them thoroughly.
*Take any meat to be defrosted out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator the night before. Make it part of your bedtime routine. Save yourself a mess and make sure you put it in a 13 x 9 pan or other dish to catch any drippings. There’s nothing much worse than cleaning up meat juice that has leaked all over the bottom of the refrigerator. It’s ok if your meat is not completely thawed before you have to cut it. It’s much easier to slice it when it’s slightly frozen.
Involve your family in the cooking and cleaning. If you have kids, you’ll not only be teaching them a valuable skill, it’s a great way to spend some quality time together. Some of my favorite memories are of helping my grandfather in the kitchen. Even now I can smell the garlic and onions. I bet you have some great memories, too!
If you have a timer feature on your oven, use it! I have to admit I don’t make the best use of this. I have been able to season and prepare chicken pieces and throw it in the oven to cook and run my child to an activity knowing that the timer will shut it off at the appointed time.
Use recipes with fewer ingredients. Fewer ingredients mean less preparation time which means getting in and out of the kitchen faster. Aim for recipes with five ingredients or less.
Cook once, eat twice. Some days you have more time to cook than others. On those days when you have the time, prepare enough meat to be used for two different meals. For instance, brown all the ground beef you need for two meals. Either freeze or refrigerate half of it to be used later. You can use it to make chili today, tacos later. The possibilities are endless.
Use items that cook quickly. Instead of chicken pieces, use chicken tenders; use shrimp that’s already peeled; chop vegetables as finely as possible.
Use prepackaged ingredients. Look for those that have fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients. Fresh or frozen chopped vegetables, chicken roasted in the deli, sliced/shredded cheese, boil-in-a-bag rice, pasta sauces.
Be efficient. Make as few moves as needed to get your meal together. Grab all your ingredients at once and put them in your prep area; pull out all the utensils, measuring cups, pans, etc.; maximize your prep space by clearing all the stuff off your counter that you don’t use nearly everyday; get a garbage bowl or can and have it right there to throw away scraps and wrappers rather than going back and forth; have all your food prepared and ready to go before you cook.
Have a recipe arsenal. Have a collection of recipes that are favorites for your family. Then group them by ingredients. For instance, have a list of favorites using ground beef, chicken, pork, fish, etc. When that goes on sale, you’ll have a ready list of recipes to use for whatever is on sale. This is efficient and saves money. Try new recipes every so often and if it becomes a new family favorite, add it to the arsenal!