Spend less time in the kitchen and more with your family!

Preparing homemade meals for my family is an important thing to us. Sitting down every night to the family dinner table, eating and sharing about our day is something we look forward to. The only problem is the time spent in the kitchen. I am perfectly content spending two hours a day preparing dinner for my family, but I'd much rather spend that time with them. So in the last two years I have found a few ways to make it easier for me to spend more time with family, and less in the kitchen, yet still serve my family the same home cooked meals they love.

The first thing I did to save time in the kitchen was consolidate and organize my kitchen. I went through every cabinet, cleaned and organized them. I put all the stuff I use the most in the most easily accessible places. The items I do not use I put in higher up or cabinets harder to get to. I also threw away old plastic containers and donated some other stuff that I knew we would never need again. It's amazing how many water bottles 2 people can accumulate over the years!

I looked at the items I use all the time and determined if they were worn out, could I get more use out of them, or is there an easier way to do things that's going to save me time if I bought a new tool. One example is I had a worn out potato peeler. I planned on replacing it, but also realized since I make home made french fries a lot I could get a peeler/corer/slicer for about $15 and it would let me make fries in half the time. This may have cost me a few dollars extra now, but in the long run the amount of time it's going to save is more than worth it.

I also went through the pantry to clean and organize. I threw away anything outdated and donated anything we weren't going to use. I then went through my staples checklist and made a list of the things we should always have on hand, noting in a shopping list what needed replenishing. Flour, sugar, salt, pepper, spices, go through and see what you use the most, or what can be used to make a last minute recipe. Always having them on hand is sure to save you time!

The next thing I did now that my kitchen is organized was put together a kitchen binder. Those of you that use a home management binder may be familiar with or already have parts of the kitchen binder started. You can use a simple, plain binder or get more elaborate if you wish. I bought divider tabs and made sections. Before the first tab is a blue print of my kitchen I drew to scale in an architecture program, but you can just as easily use graph paper and draw it by hand. I labeled each cabinet and drawer with a number and then I followed that with a key to the blue print and a list of what's in each cabinet. No more searching for 2 hours to find where I put that heart shaped muffin tin I only use twice a year. The third section is meal planning, with calendars for each month and printed shopping lists. The fourth section is recipes. I have so many cookbooks and try to keep many of my recipes on recipe cards, but still end up with recipes from magazines, or photocopied or printed so I use this space to keep them. It works well if you organize them by type of recipe; Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Hors D'Oeuvres, salads, desserts, etc. Another thing I do to save time with recipes is bringing my laptop right into the kitchen. The 5th section is called care and usage. This is where I keep a folder and sheet protectors and put all the books and guides that come with my appliances. I also have a magazine holder that I put anything bigger than about 5 pages. This way I can reference if my giant cupcake pan can be used in the dishwasher, or what to do if my microwave decides to just blink 88:88 and do nothing else. The very last section in my kitchen binder is folders and sheet protectors with up to date menus for the local take out places. Once you have the main part of your binder together you can add anything that makes your cooking easier.

Shopping twice a month, for two weeks at a time will also help you save a lot of time in the kitchen. Sit down with a blank calendar and decide what days you want to cook and what days you plan on eating out. You can plan different meals for every day of the 2 weeks or have a set schedule. i.e, Thursday is spaghetti night, Tuesday is tacos, etc. Planning meals ahead of time will also help you create a more precise shopping list. This will not only save you time in the grocery store, but can stop you from buying unnecessary items. If all else fails, buying prepackaged heat and serve items such as potatoes or rice are a quick way to save time on busy nights.

When you get home, another way to save time is to pre-prepare parts of meals ahead of time. Finding recipes for freezer meals that you can cook ahead of time, freeze, and pop in the oven with limited notice can save you tons of time. You can even cook more than you need of a specific ingredient if you plan to use it in your next meal, such as browning ground beef for tacos and freezing a portion for spaghetti later in the week.

I hope these ideas help you to save more time in the kitchen, so you can spend more time with your family.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by ConAgra Foods. All opinions are 100% honest and that of the author.

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