Ways to speed up daily meals

vickeym Posts: 2,111 ✭✭✭✭✭

The way I have done bread in the past since I work an odd and changing schedule was to use the "Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day" recipes. Basically you are making the dough in advance and the dough stays in the fridge. When you want bread you take out enough for a loaf or two. Shape it quickly. Let it rise and bake. It worked well for us and there are recipes for all kinds of breads, rolls, dessert doughs etc.

Another idea for speeding up cooking routines is the freezer cooking methods for crockpot meals where you prep ingredients for multiple recipes and batches. Divide each into meal sizes into ziplock bags or other containers and put in freezer. They you just pull whichever you want, put it in the crockpot and go about your day. When your done, your meal is ready or almost ready.

Another way I love is my canning. I often can individual ingrediets as well as meals such as soups, stews or whatever. Then if I need a quick meal I can use the same individual jars for several different meals. A jar each of beef, carrots, potatoes, beef broth, etc. Heat them all up together, thicken the sauce and you have stew, don't thicken but add corn and green beans or whatever veggies you like and you have soup. Use the beef and add BBQ sauce and you have sandwiches, use the beef and the broth thicken and you can have been over noodle, rice or potatoes and heat your veggie on the side, etc.

Does anyone else have ideas for our busy lives that allow us to still have great meals on busy days?


  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,537 ✭✭✭✭✭

    This is an area I have been thinking of a lot in the last few days. Mother Earth news had an article once on prepared tv dinners. I would like to find that again.

    Muffin tins work well for freezing small batches of different items that can be put together or mini meat loafs, ham loafs, eggs, etc..

    Nights are so busy here I need to plan ahead or get the crock pot going earlier in the day

  • Annie Kate
    Annie Kate Posts: 680 ✭✭✭✭

    I just cook too much and then we have left overs. It's very low-investment in terms of thought and time, but it works. A bit boring, perhaps, if you end up eating the same food for a while, but often I can freeze it.

  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    @Annie Kate -- I aim for this, too. I will often double (or more) a recipe that I am making from scratch, and then have enough for leftovers and a freezer meal or two. I do this with marinara, meatballs, chili, charro beans, chicken pot pies, meatloaf, etc. (Actually, my family prefers meatloaf that has been frozen and thawed, interestingly enough. It's already really good IMHO, but I think it has something to do with the flavors just having a little extra time to meld together.)

    Another thing I do that actually saves more time than you'd think is chop up a bunch of onions all at once and then freeze them. I use onions in practically everything, so being able to just grab a cup or two out of the freezer is a big time saver on a weeknight. I chop and freeze celery, too, and anything else that needs to get used up/is threatening to go past its prime, but I don't have an immediate need for -- extra carrots, potatoes, cilantro, etc. (The root veggies I chop and vacuum seal into meal-sized portions. The onions and celery I keep in zipper-lock freezer bags so I can get into them when needed, without having to vacuum seal again.)

  • Wendy
    Wendy Posts: 138 ✭✭✭

    My two favorite quick meals are something in the crock pot or something pre-cooked from the freezer. I have a beef roast with veggies in the crock as I type...

    When I make a large crock of food, my husband and I eat one meal, save one portion as left overs, and dole portion sizes into freezer containers. Once they are frozen, they are vacuum sealed, labeled, and stored for another day. We love to pick out lunch time soups from the "soup shelf" in the freezer. Currently the choices are Broccoli Soup, Chili, Chicken and Veggie, and Potato Corn Chowder.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,917 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I do a lot of freezing and I am now experimenting with pressure cookers.

  • dipat2005
    dipat2005 Posts: 1,277 ✭✭✭✭

    I love the concept of very little to cook at dinnertime. I used to do this when my kids were young. I remember freezing pizza crust. Then taking it from the freezer and adding ingredients to it then baking or making several ahead of time to freeze take out and bake.

  • Linda Bittle
    Linda Bittle Posts: 1,515 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I really love my Instant Pot for soups, stews, and beans. I use it for other things, too, but it excels at these. (I don't use the slow cooker mode - I've read many complaints about it not working well.)

  • nksunshine27
    nksunshine27 Posts: 343 ✭✭✭

    i do a lot of presure cooking cause its quick but also when we cook in the crock pot we cook enough for a family of 6 but ther is only 2 of us so i split it up in vacuum sealed bags and freeze then when we want that for dinner we get it out and can boil it right in the bag

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,111 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I do cook in large quantities fairly often, however...and I should have said this from the beginning...

    We live off grid so no instant pot, very limited freezer space and such. I do a lot of canning because of it. I would love to be able to do more of the crock pot cooking. But I can only use it in the summer when our solar panels keep the batteries charged enough for the power to not drain out before the food is cooked.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,537 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @vickeym Would dehydrating work for you for extra storage?

    I can but would like to add to the variety I have.

  • lewis.mary.e
    lewis.mary.e Posts: 225 ✭✭✭

    There are so many things I cook for dinner in under an hour. Spaghetti, Chili, Burgers on the grill, Omelettes, French Onion Soup, Pizza, etc. I also cook more than we need and then freeze the leftovers for another day. Another thing we do is cook 3 meals on Sunday and eat the leftovers during the week.

    I have a cooking blog, but I don't know if it's ok to post the link here. Marjory Wildcraft, let me know if I can share it. 😊

  • annbeck62
    annbeck62 Posts: 1,019 ✭✭✭✭

    Sometimes I cook a big batch of something without using any spices or other seasonings. Then I can use it each day but by adding different seasonings it becomes a completely different meal.

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,483 admin

    @vickeym when I'm in for a busy week, I divide what I'm cooking and change it up to a different cuisine. It's amazing what you can do with a kg or mince(ground beef) I could make a lasagna with 1/3 and add heaps of veg and that would feed us for 2 or 3 nights with a salad thrown in. Then I could make mexican buddha bowls with red kidney beans etc or tacos. The rest could be made into meatballs and done in italian based sauce with pasta. 1kg of mince spread over 5 nights, feeds 2 of us, a cheap cut of meat and most of the prep is in the 1st hr on the 1st day.

    Freezing pesto is also handy for a quick meal. Good practical discussion, thanks.

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,111 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Denise Grant Yes, dehydrating works for storage for our situation. Just have to run the generator the whole time to run the dehydrator. Hoping to get plans to build a solar dehydrator this summer and hoping our weather will be enough for it to work and not a long wet, rainy summer like we get sometimes here.

    That would be a great class sometime. To have Paul Wheaton or the folks at Permies.com teach us how to build and use a solar dehydrator.

    @jodienancarrow We use a lot of ground beef for the same reasons. A little goes a long way in a meal, cooks quick and is cheap. I frequently cook multiple meals and often cook larger roasts than we can eat just to use the leftovers for pulled pork or to make beef stew type dishes.

  • happy-trails
    happy-trails Posts: 170 ✭✭✭

    vickeym - thanks for this useful post! Do you have more information for the "Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day" method? This sounds like a game changer as far as saving time... the time consuming aspect is the only reason I don't make homemade bread more often, but ideally, I'd love to make all our bread, tortillas, biscuits, etc from scratch!

    As far as meal prep planning and saving time, I often double what I'm cooking and freeze it. After a month, I have at least 8 back up meals in the freezer ready to grab anytime things get busier than expected, or for a day I just don't feel like cooking. =) Something else I do is roast a rotisserie chicken at the beginning of the week, shred it into a bowl, and use that meat in simple, quick meals throughout the week - sandwiches, noodle soup, basil penne, burritos, etc.

    The absolute BEST thing I do for eating healthy while saving time, is this: once in a while, my husband and I will do a "cooking marathon" on the weekend (one or sometimes 2 days). It's also such a fun way to spend quality time together, like a date. I will purchase the groceries for a list of about 10-15 meals. We will set up stations for meat, veggies, carbs, sauces, etc... I get 2 crockpot/instant pot meals going (for example Mongolian beef & broccoli, and chili in another), then there will be a couple chickens roasting in the oven - these get shredded for a variety of meals - pasta, salad, jalapeño chicken, casseroles, soup, enchiladas, pad Thai, Indian butter chicken, curry, fried rice, white sauce lasagna, chowder, etc....

    Then all the beef meals will be prepped together, and so on. I cook all the sauces, beans, noodles and such extras while he does the millions of dishes and clean up! Then we freeze them all and we are stocked on meals for a couple months, or they could be back up meals to be used only on extra busy days, which will stretch further! It's incredible. I like doing this because if I want to take a whole week off cooking, I can! It saves sooo much time, the constant prep, clean-up, and washing the dreaded dishes every night! I really recommend this. It may also come in handy for those who have an upcoming surgery or may be having a baby soon. It would be such a relief to have a freezer stocked full of healthy foods and not have to worry about cooking during recovery.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,917 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I saw a cool tip - if you have a lot of mushrooms saute them then freeze them. When you need them you can take out what you need :)

  • kbmbillups1
    kbmbillups1 Posts: 1,374 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I make batches of burritos 8 or 16 at a time to keep in the freezer for dinners when we need something quick or when my kids are complaining about being hungry and insist there is "nothing to eat". I cook 2 lbs of pinto or black beans in my crockpot all day, sometimes I add onions and peppers or rice to the burritos -sometimes not, I always add cheese and spices. I use the burrito shells you have to cook yourself so they're plyable. Then, I wrap each burrito in parchment paper so they don't get freezer burn and keep them in a gallon freezer bag.

    I have 2 instant pots which I LOVE!!! I can cook a veggie in one and sausage or chicken in the other pretty quickly. Like others have said I make soup or curry in them as well. I like making "baked potatoes or sweet potatoes" in them too. Once they cook I can leave them on low until we eat and they're always better than baking in the oven. They cook in 15 minutes.

    @Lisa K I do the same thing with mushrooms to use for pizza or whatever. When I see them marked down at Kroger I buy several packs and cook them & freeze them right away.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,917 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @kbmbillups1 I plan to do this next time I go to Costco!

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,111 ✭✭✭✭✭

    happy-trails Here is a link to their master recipe. If you explore their site you will find all kinds of recipes using one of the basic dough recipes.


  • Acequiamadre
    Acequiamadre Posts: 269 ✭✭✭

    One small thing is to menu plan and do grouped prep work.

    For example: cut all the onions you need for the week at once (same with things like carrots).

    I double soups, breads, and cakes and freeze one. It takes about the same amount to time tone as two.

    I will also double-trouble soups: make two different kinds at once, since many of the steps are the same (the main veggie might change).

    I will make batches of salsa and free them--this becomes the base for fish, beans, eggs, etc. Salsas That Cook has some good recipes.

    I have started to use the Levy no-kneed bread. Today I taught my son to make it and I hope to put him in charge. Three ingredients...can a teenage boy mess that up?

    Sheet pan suppers are also awesome. There is usually about ten minutes of prep and you can walk away for 40-60 minutes.

  • RustBeltCowgirl
    RustBeltCowgirl Posts: 1,403 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I have a Coleman slow cooker stashed in my camping stuff. It's not huge, but it will handle a small roast.

    This is a picture that I grabbed off EBay to give you an idea of what it looks like.

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,111 ✭✭✭✭✭

    RustBeltCowgirl That does look interesting. Will look into whatever else they make this way too.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I try to get my regular recipes set up so that I can make dinner in 30 minutes. Even dishes that some people think are complex, like pad thai, I can have done in about 30 minutes.

    The once-a-month pre-made frozen meals can also really help speed things up.

    A bread machine is your friend! You can have fresh-baked, warm bread on the table in a little over 3 hours, or less if it's a quickbread based on baking soda or baking powder.

    There are also many simple recipes in my repertoire that I can whip up very quickly without much preparation. An example would be bean burritos, assuming the beans are already cooked and just have to be heated; scrambled eggs.