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Dinner Hacks: Less Time in the Kitchen Means More Time for Busy Entrepreneurs to Rock Their Businesses

It’s another Expert Briefs, where I ask really smart business owners to answer your burning questions.

This week I asked our panel of experts…

“Swaying off topic a bit, do you do any special dinner prep to save kitchen time and make you more productive?

Inquiring minds want to know.”

I think you'll enjoy this special weekend edition.

kellyKelly McCausey of Solo Smarts Podcast says:

My only prep hack is running out to a fast food restaurant for my daily salad. I love salad and will eat one every day, IF it's made for me. If I have to shop ingredients and assemble one, it will never happen. I love fresh salads from Wendy's, the Chicken BLT Cobb is my favorite there. I also hit McDonalds for the Chicken Bacon Ranch. In both cases I order the grilled chicken to keep it ‘good for me'.

Another prep hack is buying veggies all cut up at the grocery store. I'll pick up two or three pre-packaged cut veggie assortments every week and they save me from the munchies. Finally, I buy a bag of pre-boiled and peeled eggs for easy low carb snacking. I know I spend more – but it's worth it. If I don't make sure there's something healthy available to grab n go, there'll be something unhealthy there for sure.

AliceAlice Seba of The 30 Day List Challenge says:

I love cooking, but sometimes dinnertime can sneak up on you during a productive afternoon. I do a few things to ensure we have healthy meals each day, all the while avoiding eating out as much as possible and rarely resorting to packaged foods.

The first thing I do is set up a meal plan each week, so there is no question about what's dinner. Then it's easy to assign some dinners to hubby and even my oldest child is making dinner about once per week. Without that plan, it's easy to get into take-out trap which doesn't usually offer the healthiest options.

Dinner Prep - Alice

I love the crockpot, but for the most part, the family doesn't care for the mash up of food it creates, so I don't use it all that much. But I do use it for chili, sauces and other things like that, so firing it up in the morning and having dinner ready at the right time is a great thing.

Although I can't use the crockpot much, I'm a big fan of freezer cooking and will often spend a day on the weekend freezing soups and prepping other meals, so they're easier to get to the table in a timely manner. Because I love both cooking and working, but just not at the same time, I find it great to separate the activities to different days as much as possible, so I can really focus on what I'm working on. I also often cook more than needed and then freeze the leftovers to use them at a later date. And since I absolutely hate wasting food (my Eastern European mother drilled this into me), I chop and freeze any leftover meats and they're easy to use later for sandwiches, soups, quesadillas, etc.

I also wash and freeze cut berries, fruits, etc. so we can easily use them for smoothies or using or Zoku Quick Pop Maker, White.

That way, there are healthy quick options available at any time.

LynnetteLynette Chandler of Tech Based Marketing says:

No magic formulas, only a hodgepodge of methods. Meal planning – I do not like to plan meals at all but it is a huge help. So, I rope in the kids. This way, I'm sure they will eat what's on the table and I free myself of this task.

I also try to assign the girls to one meal a week. Woot! Two days down 5 more to go. If I'm lucky I'll rope in the man for one day of the week as well. 4 days left, what to do?

Well, slow cooker meals are definitely a must. We also have a FoodSaver. The best purchase we made. When cooking family favorites e.g. Spaghetti, taco's and the likes, I try to cook double or more. On the days I get lazy, it's home made freezer meals for us.

The other side benefit to the FoodSaver is something I never anticipated. Meal prep is super fast and surprisingly easy with these saved leftovers. Taco meat or sloppy joes get turned into cupcake tacos or hamburger muffins.

So there it is. Were you expecting me to say we had a self-programmed robot cook at home? I wish, but will continue dreaming.

Cooking robot

Jeanette S. Cates, PhD of Plan Your Online Business says:

LOL – Special dinner prep.

We choose the list of take-out restaurants ahead of time, instead of the night-of.

melissa-ingold-twitterfbMelissa Ingold of Special Reports PLR says:

Using my crockpot is just one of the tools I leverage in my business to help me be more productive. Sounds funny, right?

Well here's the thing, without my slowcooker I'd have to stop working before I'm ready so that I can prepare and cook dinner, then take my kids to their various sports, and then come home exhausted and head back into the office to finish what I was doing before I had to start dinner and drive all over the place.

Instead, by leveraging my crockpot I can get all my work done and head out of the office without feeling rushed and stressed that I still have things to do. I get to enjoy the kids and their activities without worrying about work, and then I get to enjoy a good meal and unwind with a glass of wine in the evening.

You can do the same thing with all the business tools available to you… you leverage the crap out of them 😉

NicoleNicole Dean of .. here! .. says:

Oooh. I love this topic! Why? Because there are so many great ways to make dinnertime less stressful and more enjoyable.

Granted the #1 way for me is to drink lots of wine while cooking, but I'll behave and answer the question, David Letterman style. 🙂

Top 10 Ways to Make Dinnertime Less Stressful.

10. Toast the beauty of the roasted veggie.

Definitely  the best invention on earth is that of the roasted veggie. You can quickly make any meal “fancy” by cutting up a random fresh veggie that you have laying around, tossing a bit of olive oil on it, and throwing it in the oven on a baking sheet at 350-400 F for a bit.

Some of my favorites to roast are bell peppers (all colors, shapes and sizes), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, onions, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and yellow zuchini squash.

2012-09-09 17.19.56
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Seriously, if you have some chicken or fish and one of the above veggies fresh in your fridge, you can get a nice dinner in the oven while you wrap up some work or help the kiddos with their homework.

9.  Hug your freezer.

I have a big chest freezer in my garage. I love it. I usually keep certain things on hang in there, like chicken – so we can have dinner on the table pretty much any day of the week fairly easily.

One of the tricks that I learned awhile ago was when you buy chicken for the freezer, divide it out into however much you'd want to cook at one time, and throw it into a freezer bag (or casserole dish) WITH your marinade in it. That way, when you pull it out the day before to thaw, it is thawing in the marinade and you don't have to think as much – or worry what you have on hand.

As you'll see below, I use my freezer for pre-chopped veggies and batch cooking, too.

8.  Pre-chop.

I do most things that I can in batches in work and in my home life, too.

Heck, if I could just brush my teeth for an hour a month and then not have to deal with them for the rest of the  month, I'd do that, too.

So, it should come as no surprise that I tend to chop stuff in advance. If I go to the store and buy three onions and some celery, I'll probably sit and cut them all up at one time, just so that they're handy for the next day. That way, if I make soup (which I usually start with onions and celery) – I just grab the olive oil and the package of chopped onions and the container of chopped celery and I'm ready to go.

7.  Don't Fear the Food Processor.

In my opinion, most of the difficulty in dinner time comes to two things:

– Are the groceries I need on hand?

If the answers to one is “no”  – then I'm more likely to call for pizza.

– How much prep work is involved to get dinner started?

If the answer is “lots” – again, pizza. (I love pizza.)

That's one of the reasons why I love my food processor. Chopping veggies is relaxing to me, except when I'm hungry. Then it's painful. So, learning how to use the tools in my kitchen help me to get dinner on the table faster.

6. Embrace the Manliness of the Man.

Men seem to enjoy grilling. Go figure.

If you have been following me for long, you probably know that I'm really good at getting people to do my bidding… (evil laugh) 🙂

So, if you want your man to cook, make him love the grill.

Have the right tools and food on hand that can be thrown on the grill on the spur of the moment. Turn the TV towards the grill, grab some cold beers, and and invite some buddies over. It's just one way I get dinner on the table when I'm busy.

And, that my dears, is how you outsource on the budget. (If you're reading this honey, I love you!)

5. Kids = Cooks in Training. (ie. Free labor)

Speaking of outsourcing on a budget. Kids are free or at least cheap labor.

Lynette touched on this one a bit in her response, but really, kids as young as 2 can be helping with dinner. And, older kids need to learn their way around the kitchen before they leave the house – so you might as well start early, right?

4. Have Staples and Don't Be Afraid to Use Them.

We have a pretty standard shopping list. I don't mind being a bit repetitive with meals because it's less thought involved for me.

Did you know…

Take Albert Einstein. It has been reported that the famous physicist bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning – Forbes 

So the less things that I have to think about in the kitchen, the better for me. I know this is about dinner, but take breakfast, for instance. I eat eggs with veggies every morning. Which veggie is in them? Whatever is left over from the night before or on hand to be tossed into them. (See #10 – roasted veggies.) 🙂

I try to do the same with some meals at dinner, too. Less thought = Less Overwhelm = More Happiness for me.

An example: I normally buy chicken tenderloins, just because you can use them in pretty much everything. I don't even look at the other parts of the chicken, because I know that chicken tenderloins are easy and quick to cook. Why spend more time thinking than I have to.

3. Keep “Safe” and Acceptable Standby's.

Ever since my kids were little they knew that, if they didn't like whatever was made for dinner, they could eat peas (which they like) and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

So, having a standby makes my life easier. I'm not as much of a short-order chef as I could be if I was trying to please everyone (since our tastes vary greatly).

2. Grow your Own Herbs (and more).

One of my favorite ways to perk up a meal is by adding fresh herbs to it. You can make homemade pesto with basil in minutes (in your food processor) or chop up some salsa if you have cilantro. Why run to the store or worse use dried herbs when fresh are so easy to grow?

Some herbs that are must-haves include: Basil, Garlic, Cilantro, Chives, Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, and Oregano

Of course, if you also grow tomatoes and peppers (sweet or spicy), you can whip up dinner in your food processor any day of the week.  Bruschetta anyone?

1.  Batch Cooking is the BOMB!

I LOVE batching tasks in my business. If I'm going to record one video, I'll plan out 5 instead and just deal with them all at once.

Well, I do the same with cooking as I mentioned.

It takes me approximately the same amount of time to make a small batch of my fabulous bean soup as it does to make a stockpot full.

It takes me nearly the same time (but with a bit more planning) to make 8 lasagna's as it does to make 1.

So, with just a bit of extra planning in advance – I can stock my freezer with healthy and cheap meals. And, yes, I have the kids on label duty so I know what the heck I'm freezing. 🙂

One thing I do not use enough is the crock pot.

My friend, Tracy Roberts, is doing 30 Day Crockpot is for Dinner Challenge  – and you can still join her and the Facebook group that's part of the community. 🙂

How about you?

What are your dinner hacks?


Nicole Dean

PS. Don't forget the wine!

I appreciate shares and I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.

  • Jeanette Cates

    You’re laughing at ME, @Kelly, Queen of the fast food? LOL
    This reminds me of when we had a lot of potlucks to attend. I always took a huge pot of spaghetti (store bought sauce). The kids loved it so I went home with no leftovers. No one asked for my recipe. And it let the other cooks shine! I knew we’d have a lot of creative answers for this one. So thank you all for letting me take the back seat this time. (wink)

  • Kelly McCausey

    LOL! @Jeanette!

    All of this crock pot talk has me hungry for something delicious… someone needs to write a crock pot cooking for one cookbook 🙂

  • Janice

    Truly great ways to prepare dinner! I really am no good in preparing dinner, my hubby is. What is know is well, just the basics…frying and boiling! Lol. I am planning to go to a culinary school next year. I am preparing a complete kitchen equipment and I could just wish that everything will turn out fine.

    Amazing tips you got here! I will definitely follow your blog.


  • The Mom

    I’m taking a break from writing recipes to read about cooking. Go figure. 😉

    I am so hungry now!!! Those roasted Brussels sprouts are absolutely unbelievable. I know. wink wink!

    Okay, my hack. I have to say, aside from the wine (again… wink wink), chopping up all those things like celery and onion as soon as you bring them home from the grocery store is a time saver. Also washing all the veggies right away is great, too.

    And, being from a family of 11 kids, the other hack that I just came by honestly was cooking in big batches. I don’t think I know how to cook any smaller. So, I guess when I make HUGE pots of stuff, it’s not so much a purposeful thing… I just don’t know when, where, or how to stop. My meals just grow. But, it’s a good thing.

    Thanks for the fun read, Nik. And thanks for making me hungry for Brussels sprouts. Dang, those things are good!


  • Paul B. Taubman, II

    Um, Brussel Sprouts cooked ANYWAY is NOT going to be on my plate, but thanks for playing!

    Thanks for the great ideas – looks like it is time for me to get pick up me a crockpot/slow cooker!

    Thanks for the tips, ladies! Interesting that you did not get a Dude’s ideas on this one! Did it just happen that way, or did you plan it that way, Nicole?

  • Kurt Scholle

    Great ideas! Meals need to be quick & easy, delicious and healthy. I often go out for a salad at lunch like Kelly does. Nice for a break, healthy and nice to get out of the house.

    Love my crockpot and want to use it more. I have a collection of recipes I want to try.

    The key for me, and I do 99% of the cooking, is to have several proteins in the fridge for the next few days, as well as a selection of carbs (trying to cut back, especially on glutens) and veggies available. All quick fix!

    Grilling is tasty and no real cleanup.

  • Tiffany Lambert

    Great post Nicole! I had wanted to help answer this one but was deep in my eyeballs with divorce stuff 🙁

    For me, I plan on Sundays what we’ll have. Some nights I cook nice, fresh meals like steamed vegetables, rice and chicken – and some nights, we rely on mac n cheese and hot dogs. I try to do better meals more than the other.

    I like to cut up the veggies and have everything ready while my kids are at school. That way, as soon as they’re home, I just have to turn everything on and let it go to work.

    I also like to cook good leftover meals – like manicotti – something we can have more than 1 night.

    Being a vegetarian, and my kids are not, I sometimes end up just eating a pomegranate for dinner while I make the kids chicken or something – because who has time to make separate meals? (Sometimes I do).

    Working from home, it’s great because we can all take mini breaks for prep and enjoy our family when they get home.

  • Mitz Pantic

    I live in Queensland in Australia so we use the BBQ 90% of the time. That means you are cooking outside, not messing your kitchen up.. I also use disposable plastic plates and if anyone whines about that I say to them “well do you want to do the dishes then?”

    BBQ’s are quick to do. You just make sure your meat of fish (if you eat them) is defrosted or marinated. You can also roast veges on bbq’s that have lids like an oven.

    Most of the time I make a salad to go with it and we are done!

    Unfortunately we still have to wash up the knives and forks! I know having plastic plates is a bloody waste but I just hate to mess up my kitchen.

  • Kemi Quinn

    This was a great post. I do all these and then some. Like Alice I’m not fond of the mish mash the crockpot creates but I do find I’m having to use it more often. When I was growing up my mother made ‘surprise dinners’. She wrapped meat, veggies and cooked rice in foil and baked. Came out delicious. I need to do more of those…

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