17 September 2008

Saving Time, Saving Money

Is it just me, or are there some days you just don't want to cook? There are times after a long and busy day when I just can't be bothered to go near the kitchen. Sometimes we are just very busy and run out of time. Other days, the sink is full of dishes and the kitchen is a mess. I think, "By the time I get the kitchen ready to make anything, it will be too late to make anything."

I don't really like the idea of feeding the kids cereal and peanut-butter and jelly for dinner, though believe me, that has happened. This "time-crunch" is another one of our "excuses" for eating out.

Lately, I've been trying to reduce this crunch in order to keep our budget low and our family eating healthier. One of the newer things I've been trying is making large quantities of things that freeze well--think sauces, pasta, meat, soups, etc. I then take these items and freeze them in quantities that I would need for meals, or in the case of the soups, serving sizes.

I know that can sound a little complicated and like a lot of work! I've noticed though that I'm not really spending much more time in the kitchen, as I often to this prep work in between other things. Last night, for instance, I made a pot of corn chowder while I was waiting for dinner to cook. I opted for this for myself instead of the tacos. I then froze the rest in serving size portions. This is much easier than I thought it would be.

I simply fill an extra large muffin tin with the soup and place it in the freezer! It's that easy! To remove, I dip the bottom of the pan in warm water, pop out the "portions", and place in a freezer bag. It really helps me to have these ready, and they are so quick to prepare when we are in a hurry!

Another thing I do to save time is to cook my meat in bulk. When I buy chicken breasts, I'll cook them in the crock pot during the day while we are away. That evening, I'll separate the chicken into meal-sized portions to use for meals later. Meals are much easier to prepare when the meat is already cooked. It is still quick on the days when you "forget" to take the meat out of the freezer for dinner!

Lastly, if I need to prep large veggies for a meal, I prep the entire veggie. Rarely do we use an entire squash, zucchini, etc for a meal. I go ahead and prep the entire veggie rather than just the portion I'll need for that meal. This ensures a quick dinner on a later night. Having the prep work done encourages me to use the rest of these veggies that may have otherwise gone to waste.

Initially, these can sound like a lot of work, but these hints really do save time. I don't feel like I'm spending much more time in the kitchen on these than normal since I try to do them during down times when I'm normally cooking. How about you? What does your family do to save time in the kitchen?

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