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How to Save Time When Preparing a Meal

Sometimes it's great to spend an afternoon preparing a meal in a leisurely fashion. Other times you don't have that luxury and getting everything done fast is the top priority. There are all sorts of tips and short-cuts that you can use when you're in a hurry to deliver.

If you're in a rush, choose your dish carefully. The best cook in the world can't hurry up a slow roast, and dishes that include a range of different techniques and processes are always going to be more time-consuming. But, even if your dish isn't entirely straightforward, there are still things you can do to save time - starting by putting the ingredients out, so you're not chasing around, riffling through closets.

Even if you're a purist about preparing food from scratch, sometimes you can compromise a little without sacrificing quality. Pre-prepared fresh and frozen foods can save you a lot of time scraping, peeling and dicing. It won't be a solution for every dish, but it really won't matter for others. Buying grated cheese, pre-chopped garlic in oil and other ready-made foods can make a significant difference to the time you spend wielding a knife in the kitchen.

Make use of labor-saving devices, as appropriate. They will also help you to multitask more effectively to speed things up. While something is being beaten in the mixer you can get on with something else. Good quality gadgets can also make life easier. A good device for slicing and dicing really can do the job effectively, and in half the time.

Microwaves and conventional ovens are both excellent for people looking to save time. Even if you're not keen on things cooked in the microwave, part-cooking things like vegetables in the microwave first can cut down on standard hob-top cooking time. Also take a look at your cooking habits. If you're making mashed potato, don't cook them as halves. Dice them smaller and you've not only saved yourself some time but some gas and electricity to boot.

If you associate your ordinary oven with dishes that take hours, think of it from another angle. Vegetables and other dishes just need topping and tailing, drizzling with oil and away you go. You're free to work on other elements of the meal. You may think frying is fast - and sometimes it's the quickest method. But if you've got other things to do too then you'll be wasting time checking and turning things and making sure the oil isn't too hot.

There are two kinds of cooks - those who wash up as they go along and those who end up with a mountain of dirty dishes. If you get into the habit of doing the former, you can double up and save time that way too. A lot of kitchen efficiency is about re-examining your normal way of doing things. It may not be the best way. After all, you've got better things to do - like eating your home-cooked meal and chilling out with an accompanying coffee or glass of wine.


Meal Planning to Save Money on Your Grocery Shopping

The amount of food that goes into landfill sites each year is truly staggering. It's not only an environmental problem. It's also a waste of your hard-earned cash. A scientific study calculated that wasting food means that the average American family puts at least $600 or more a year in the trash. Meal planning will put those dollars back in your pocket.

The supermarkets make it easy for us to buy food that we don't use. Special offers only save you money if you actually consume the goods before the use-by date. A simple grocery list is the key to smart shopping and resisting unnecessary purchases. That list should be based on a realistic assessment of what you need. A meal plan will allow you to draw up a shopping list that covers those needs.

Meal planning doesn't mean a rigid schedule where you have pasta on Monday, meat on Tuesday and fish on Friday. It means knowing what your eating habits and meal preferences are so that you only buy the perishables you'll use and don't get seduced by the bargains in the store.

You may want to keep a food diary for a few weeks to see what your meal pattern is. How much salad do you actually eat in a week or a month? Realistically, are those fresh vegetables going to be used up while they're still fresh? What types of food do you regularly consign to the garbage?

Make a note of your staple, regular meals. Your core menu might include a favorite pasta dish, a stir-fry and a weekend barbecue. If you have pasta and home-made spaghetti sauce once a week, it's easy to calculate quite precisely the quantities of fresh ingredients you need. When you know what you normally eat, you can draw up a meal plan for a specified period. That could be a week, fortnight or even a month.

If your menu includes meals with lots of fresh ingredients, it makes sense to shop more often, for maximum freshness and minimum waste. If that's not practical, plan meals that use up perishable ingredients and can be put in the freezer. By planning meals that use seasonally available ingredients and can be frozen you can still take advantage of bulk buys when produce is at its cheapest, without worrying about waste.

Meal planning will save you time and effort too. Most of us waste time dithering about what to have for supper when faced with a refrigerator full of incompatible ingredients. That's when you'll be tempted to reach for the phone for a take-out - not the most economical option. Smart planning means there's always something good and fresh to eat.

The time you put into meal planning will pay you dividends. With a bit of practice it becomes second nature. You'll know intuitively whether you need six eggs or a dozen. Meal planning means a smart shopping list, which also means you won't find out halfway through a meal that you're missing the vital ingredient.

Planning your meals also means you may never have to deal with those vegetables that you meant to use but that are actually rotting in your refrigerator. With the gains of fresher food, less daily hassle and extra money in your pocket, meal planning is something we should all be thinking of.


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