No matter what time of year, there always seems to be something going on. Whether it’s summer birthday and pool parties, back to school dropoffs and pickups or holiday gatherings, our to-do lists are exhaustive. Sometimes, those full schedules can make planning and cooking plant-strong meals feel like a total chore.
We get it! But we also have some good news:
It doesn’t have to be!
Check out these fast and furious tips to help you save time in the kitchen:
1. Buying frozen grains and produce. Depending on your store, you can often find frozen quinoa, brown rice, wild rice and more grains. These grains often require a few minutes on the stovetop in the microwave for a quick and easy meal base! When it comes to produce, there are even more options. Pre-washed, chopped, even roasted or browned veggies mean tossing together quick bowls or wraps is super quick. Or if you’re making a recipe, subbing say frozen diced onions and peppers for fresh can save you 5 to 10 minutes (or more!) at dinner time. If you’re worried that frozen produce is somehow less healthy than fresh, do not fear – frozen produce is typically picked and frozen at the height of ripeness, making it actually more fresh than the fresh fruit and veggies at your grocery store! BONUS: Keeping frozen veggies in your freezer typically means less waste as well when fresh, unused produce spoils.
2. Planning out your meals ahead of time. Some people reading this will think “Of COURSE I plan meals,” while others couldn’t comprehend doing anything but whipping up a meal that sounds good at the moment. Once you’ve started planning, though, you’ll realize it is a major time saver in the kitchen. Rather than taking time every day to think about what you want, scan the cupboards, fridge and freezer and even take a trip to the store, taking a little time to plan out your meals in advance each week means simply glancing at your notes or meal plan and making what sounds good off the list. You can build a meal plan by going through websites and your cookbooks to see what sounds good or is in season, or if you’re looking for an online tool that makes it simple to stay on track with your plant-strong lifestyle, be sure to check out our Engine 2 Meal Planner. In addition to our standard features, we’ve added a bunch of bells and whistles to help make meal planning a CINCH. And you don’t have to just plan by the week – you create and name your own menus. So if you want to save all your favorite Mexican-inspired dishes in one place, for example, you can create a list called “Favorite Mexican Meals.” If you know you’re going to be busy every day one week, you can create a menu of all meals that are ready in 20 minutes or less. Build and customize to exactly what you need! (BONUS: You’ll also likely save money by using what’s in your pantry to pick out meals, rather than buying a ton of new ingredients each week.)
3. Stop measuring spices. This one may sound a bit unusual, but go with it for a second – depending on the recipe, you may be getting out 4-5 (or more) measuring spoons for one recipe. By the time you get around to measuring, scooping, leveling off and ultimately mixing, something as simple as adding spices suddenly feels like a laborious task. Unless you’re baking (when measuring can make a major impact on the outcome of your recipe), skip the measuring spoons! Here’s a rough guide to use:
⅛ of a tsp = a pinch
¼ of a tsp = 2 pinches
½ tsp = a small pile about the size of a quarter in the palm of your hand
1 tsp = a small pile about the size of the die you’d find in a board game
1 tbsp = about a palmful
You can always start modestly, taste, and add more to your liking, but you’ll soon begin wondering why you ever measured spices at all!
4. Getting your groceries delivered. This one seems so modern and even “out there,” but wow, once you’ve experienced a grocery delivery service, you will wonder why you ever ventured into the store before (or why you ever would again!). In the US, services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh are changing how people buy groceries. Instead of spending several hours (during the week or worse – on a Sunday!) going to the store, or even several stores, you can pick out your groceries from home, leave notes for the shopper (eg. “pick some bananas that are ripe and some that are a little green”) and even “watch” your groceries as they’re being shopped before they’re delivered directly to your door. There is one small caveat: Item prices are often slightly higher via grocery delivery than in the store. But, most items are only $.20 to $.50 more using Instacart, and, according to a member of the Engine 2 team who recently tried out Instacart and never wants to go back to the grocery store, she ended up actually saving over $10 on her groceries because she was no longer tempted to buy more than she needed or the occasional “temptation” item! Another bonus: If you use the Engine 2 Meal Planner, your meal planner menus will automatically sync with Instacart, so not only can you plan your meals and build your grocery list in just a few minutes using the E2 Planner, you can send them right to Instacart and have them all delivered…that means your weekly meal planning AND grocery shopping could take you as little as an hour~ What will you do with all that added free time to your week?!
5. Batch cooking and freezing leftovers. Batch cooking isn’t just for people who have a big family or a party coming up – anyone can benefit from this kitchen time saver. Soups, stews, pasta dishes and casseroles tend to be super easy to scale up and freeze well. Simply store them in some leftover glass or Tupperware dishes and pop them in the freezer. Then when you’re in a rush or simply don’t feel like cooking, your next plant-strong meal is just a few minutes away! TIP: If you are using our Engine 2 Meal Planner, you can easily scale up the number of servings to batch cook recipes for freezing. Simply select the number of servings and choose the best number for you! Looking for some batch cooking inspiration? Click here for a super easy, one-pot meal that is perfect for batch cooking and freezing.
Give these tips a try and let us know what plant-strong fun you’re kicking up now that you have all this spare time on your hands!