Cut Cooking Time

Don't spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Here are some ideas to save you hours of food preparation and cooking time.

With more two-income families managing households than ever before, the chore of planning, preparing, and cooking meals often adds to a stressful lifestyle. But it needn't. Planning a few thoughtful shortcuts can save minutes or hours of valuable time for more meaningful activities.

1. Plan daily meals for a week at a time. That includes hurried breakfasts and packed lunches. Either arrange them in your head or write them in a list so that you, and perhaps the rest of the family, know what to expect. That way you won't get bogged down wondering, "What should I cook today?" You'll already know, and that will save both time and stress.

2. Shop in advance. Follow the week's menu by clipping or downloading coupons for your shopping trip. Try to go to the same store on the same day of the week, at about the same time. This chore will then become part of your usual schedule and prevent lost time trying to figure out the best time and place to shop. Store purchases in an organized arrangement in your cupboards, refrigerator, and pantry so you can find what you need for each day's meals, and you'll know exactly where to look, saving more time that would otherwise be spent hunting for the jar of olives that has mysteriously disappeared.

3. Use several appliances for the same meal. Pop muffins into the oven, a roast into the crock pot, frozen corn into the microwave, and boiled potatoes on the stove. The electric bill won't notice much of a difference, and you will appreciate the saved minutes when you don't have to keep putting things in and taking them out of one or two appliances. Keep your equipment in good working order and clean up after each use so it will be ready the next time you need it.

4. Measure ingredients and set them on the counter so you can literally throw them together quickly when preparing a recipe. For example, when putting beef stew together in the crock pot, get the onions, carrots, and celery from the refrigerator at the same time and put all on the counter so you can peel one after the other. You'll save steps to and from the fridge in getting and replacing each food item.

5. Time entrees to get done about the same time. That way you don't have to hold up a meal waiting on one or two things that take longer. You may want to set the table after cleaning up from the previous meal so you're ready to go next time instead of unloading the dishwasher, hunting for clean glasses, and folding napkins while everyone hungrily waits.

6. Place needed items on the counter or table ahead of time. Napkins, recipes, non-perishable food items, cooking pans, and other preparatory things will then be ready for prompt use when you enter the kitchen to fix a meal.

Conserve time, energy, and steps when planning your meals, unless you happen to enjoy cooking and wish to savor each meal as a hobby or recreation activity. After eating, load the dishwasher promptly or run a sink full of soapy water to get the dishes done quickly. Leaving them set will only make the task harder later. Then enjoy your newfound freedom as you leave your tidy kitchen!

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