Easy mealtime shortcuts

    submitted by Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD,

    Meal preparation doesn’t have to be a complicated or lengthy process.

    In fact, there are ways we can meal prep and plan ahead to our advantage so that family meals can be focused around conversation and connection.

    Read on for easy shortcut ideas to help make the most of your time together around the table.

    Prep fresh produce in advance – Fruits and vegetables can be cut, bagged, and kept in the refrigerator for use during the week ahead. Pre-cut fresh produce is easy to grab for snacks and meals, and may just require a quick rinse. This could include carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce for a dinner salad, apple slices and celery sticks for the afternoon, or chopped onions, zucchini, and potatoes for roasting.

    Prepare grains and doughs ahead of time – Grains such as quinoa, millet, and rice can be cooked, cooled, and refrigerated in containers for use during the week ahead. Consider how many servings will be needed so that you can prepare accordingly. Homemade pizza dough can be made in advance, wrapped, and stored in the freezer to thaw for later use.

    Save time by using a slow cooker – Slow cookers help make meals that require little supervision to prepare. Mix the ingredients in the pot and let them cook all day so all that is left is to divide the meal into serving dishes. For instance, you can make a hearty vegetable and bean soup, a spicy tempeh or ground meat filling to use in tacos, or a baked ziti and tomato dish that you just have to sprinkle with cheese. The slow cooker can even be used to make desserts, like brownies, apple crumble, or cake.

    Pre-mix dry baking and spice mixes – Making bags of dry mixes for cornbread, oat and nut pancakes, bran muffins, whole wheat breads, and herbed pizza doughs in advance can save a lot of time. All you have to do is add the wet ingredients when it’s time to use them. Pre-bagged spice mixes for various types of cooking (soups, burgers, meatballs, or ethnic-inspired cuisine like Mexican or Indian) can also cut down on meal preparation (labeling them with intended uses also helps). These can be stored in your pantry or spice drawer.

    Lean on leftovers – There’s no need to make an entirely new meal every night. Leftovers offer a versatile option when you’re short on time or ideas. They can be reheated or repurposed. For example, reheating leftover burger patties and serving them over brown rice with fruit instead of on a bun.

    Even incorporating one of these tips into your week can cut down time spent on meal preparation significantly, and allow for more family time.