One of the most important things I do to save money is consistently get dinner on the table, 7 nights a week. In this post I share a few tricks I use to cook dinner faster and easier.
Eating out with a large family is expensive. We can easily drop a Benjamin any time we step into a restaurant. Even when “kids eat free” (because they don’t know my kids – I usually end up eating a kid meal so a child can eat the adult-sized portion), we spend $50.
7 ways to cook dinner faster and easier
Getting dinner on the table every night is much easier if you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Here are a few of mine.
I started meal planning in earnest after my third baby was born and suddenly all the homekeeping stuff got difficult.
Meal planning gets a bum rap among frugal folks because they claim that flexibility is key to saving money. However, meal planning can accommodate flexibility. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Having a basic plan so that you reduce decision-making allows your brain to relax and say, “we got this“.
Having a few dinners written out before I shop accomplishes a few things: I stick to the list, I buy ingredients, and my stress level goes way down. (One way I save time meal planning is asking the kids to do it. They enjoy choosing what we eat for dinner, and then helping out when they’ve planned the menu.)
Buy pre-cut, frozen veggies in large bags
I know, I know. I try to make convenience my enemy, but hear me out. I’ve found that when I keep pre-cut veggies in my freezer, I Eat More Vegetables. My health is worth a few extra shekels.
As an example, yesterday I had onions, celery and bell pepper (seasoning blend) with my egg for second breakfast. And I ate squash, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots (Normandy blend) on top of my sweet potato and chicken breast for lunch. That means I’d eaten 9 different vegetables before noon. (And I had several more with dinner!)
Without pre-cut frozen veggies, ain’t no way that’s gonna happen.
A pot of Broccoli-Cheese soup (which I ate 3 days last week for lunch) takes seconds to throw together if you have frozen, cut broccoli and diced onion on hand.
At the grocery store, I buy Seasoning Blend (celery/onion/bell pepper), Mirepoix (carrot/onion/celery), Normandy Blend (carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, squash, zucchini), Cali mix (carrots/cauli/broccoli) and Fajita Blend (sliced tri-color bell pepper and onion) in huge bags as well as diced onion.
Frozen diced onion changed my life. Seriously. After my 3rd baby was born, my sister gifted me with a copy of The One Armed Cook, a cookbook with recipes that can be made with a baby on the hip, and one I still use to this day. Frozen diced onions appear regularly in its recipes. Because dicing an onion is nigh on impossible while holding a baby.
AmazonFresh doesn’t have all of these, so I make a trip to WalMart occasionally for the big bags and stock up.
Once you have these cut veggies in your freezer, making many things is easy.
Vegetable Soup – broth, mirepoix, Normandy Blend, white beans, tomato sauce
Beef Stew – stew meat, beef broth, tomato paste, onions, Normandy Blend
Omelet or frittata – eggs, any meat and cheese you have on hand, Fajita Blend
Chili – ground beef or turkey, seasoning blend, fajita blend, tomato sauce, beans
Buy frozen chicken breasts in large bags
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be expensive – around $6 a pound or more, but when you buy them in large quantities frozen, the price drops to around $3 a pound (I get mine from AmazonFresh). Totally worth it to me.
I use these as the basic for many easy meals: Burrito Bowls, White Chicken Chili, Spinach Alfredo Chicken, etc.
Salsa Chicken is also super quick and easy. I simply place chicken breasts and salsa along with spices (chili powder, garlic, onion, cumin) into the slow cooker and cook until soft, then shred. This can go on top of rice or lettuce or in tortillas or soups.
Keep cooked beans in the freezer
This makes it easy to make: Black Bean Soup, Burrito Bowls or Tacos, Tortilla Soup, Chili, or just beans as a cheap side to help fill up hungry children.
Similarly, I keep brown rice in the fridge almost all of the time. I make it a habit to cook more than I need for any one meal so I can easily reheat the leftovers.
Here’s a little secret to cooking brown rice in half the time: measure it out into a saucepan and add the appropriate amount of water, place a lid on it and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, add salt and bring to boil, then simmer on low. It will cook in 20 minutes.
It’s a good day if I have chicken broth and/or canned tomatoes. (In a perfect world, I would always have homemade chicken broth, but I use it so much I run out of homemade, so store-bought is fine in a pinch.)
With broth I can make all manner of soups or perk up leftover rice. Canned tomatoes go in dozens of my family’s favorite dishes.
Lastly, I never, ever run out of eggs
My family loves frittatas and omelets, so as long as I have eggs, I have a respectable dinner. Knowing how to make frittatas and omelets is a wonderful tool for a frugal chef because you can put nearly any leftover meat, cheese or veggie in them and they’re nearly impossible to mess up.
What are your time-saving secrets for getting dinner on the table every night?
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