This week’s parenting topic is actually not a parenting topic. OK, some of it is, but if you don’t have kids, be sure to skim this article before you decide to ignore it, because five minutes right now could save you days over the course of the year!
As many of you know, we don’t have any children at StayingVegan HQ (we rely on the advice from the Council of Vegan Parents, who are amazing,) but we’ve got one on the way really really soon. As part of our preparations, we attended some classes, and at the last one they went over how much time we’d likely be spending each day on baby care between feedings, diaper changes, etc. The number of hours per day was… well, the room had a certain stunned silence to it at the end. 🙂
With that in mind (firmly in mind!), I thought it’d be a good topic to ask the Council for their number one time saving tactic, but to tie it back to veganism, I wanted tricks to save time cooking for the family. Even if you’re breastfeeding, how can you and/or your partner make time to make meals that keep you going, and if you’ve got older kids, how are you keeping everyone fed and still sleeping those essential two point six hours per night?
The range of responses we received was astounding, and once again, most of these things are things you can do right now, even if you don’t have kids, so check it out!
1) Freezer 101
This was the one that I specifically said not to submit, not because it was a bad idea, but because it was too obvious and I wanted deeper answers. Plus I wanted to claim that one 🙂
Even so, many parents wrote in with variations on the theme that are worth noting, both here and as part of the other tips below. At the simplest, when you make any meal, make it really big, and freeze the rest. I like this better than having leftovers for two or three days, because it staves off boredom, and also because it’ll “bank” meals for the times when you’re really too tired to make anything.
Lisa pointed out that you can take this beyond leftovers and easily freeze anything that’s about to go bad in your fridge, including ends of tofu and herbs, both of which can later be thrown into stews.
Kim also bakes tons of muffins in advance and freezes what she can’t use right away – you can check out one of her recipes here.
2) Plan out your meals
Kimberly and Amy are both big fans of meal planning. You don’t need to write down every breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the month, but just picking out the dinners for the week can make for one less thing to have to worry about each day, and it will save time both in the kitchen (wondering what to do) and in the grocery store, where you’ll know what you need ahead of time.
Sure, planning takes the spontaneity out of things, but think of it this way: it’ll make time for the other spontaneous stuff that pops up through the week!
3) Wear the baby
OK, fair enough, this one’s for parents only, but Julie found baby carriers, wraps, slings, and what have you a lifesaver for food preparation, keeping the baby close by (and thus calm and happy) while leaving you the use of both hands.
Of course, this only works for most, but not all kitchen activities – if you’re frying with hot oil, for instance, it might not be the best time to innovate with efficiency.
4) Make breakfast smooth
Kimberly has no troubles getting breakfast out of the way for her family – they all drink nutrient-rich smoothies! This is a great time saver, and I’ve used it a lot in the past where I had to go to work and would have skipped breakfast otherwise.
Kristie and Julie both advocate co-sleeping, which is the fancy word for bringing the baby to bed with you. It’s a great way to reconnect after a hectic day and many parents find it makes nursing easier, which means more sleep for you, and spending time on sleep can often save way more time in the long run!
This is something Angela and I are looking forward to trying. Among the many yet-to-be-assembled items here is an Arm’s Reach Clearvue Co-Sleeper, which will (we hope) act as an extension to the bed to give that extra room and reduce anxiety about any issues with tossing and turning.
6) Make meals in steps
Sarah, Amy, and Kristie all follow a variety of staged meal preparation plans, where the final dish won’t be ready for a few days. Those recipes in Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbooks that have sub-recipes for various parts? Make those a day or two before. Amy makes sauces and spice packets on the weekend when there’s a little more time, so everything can be quickly added to the dishes during the week.
This can extend to pre-washing vegetables when you get home from the store, which we talked about in our How To Eat More Raw Fruits and Vegetables tip.
7) Make food a family event
More people on a task means more overall hours spent, but somehow this seems to work: include your family in the food process, from shopping to cooking. Julie says this turns the trips to the farmer’s market into more of a field trip than a chore, and as a bonus, kids tend to be more interested in eating things that they helped make, which can save time during the “eating” part that most time saving guides overlook.
8 ) Embrace one-pot meals
Sure, it’s fewer dishes to wash, but it’s also fewer precisely-timed steps that various interruptions can, well, interrupt. Not that distractions ever take place in a young family’s household, or so I am assured by my friends with kids who never quite forgave me for buying them that drum set… But I digress. To get you started, Meredith sent a link to a pineapple black bean rice dish that has fruit, vegetable, bean and grain in it and only takes 30 minutes to put together.
9) Redefine “meal”
There’s settling for substandard food, and then there’s recognizing that there’s a fair bit of wiggle room in what constitutes a meal. As Julie’s doula instructor said, “if it covers two food groups, it’s a meal.” That would include cereal and soy milk, even if it’s for dinner, and you can always make a “real” dinner for yourselves once the kids are in bed.
10) Get the Gear
You don’t have to invest in any tools to make your life easier, but be aware that there are gadgets out there that really make a difference – we were talking about this just this weekend when Angela’s mom made coleslaw with the food processor’s shredding disc, for example. Here’s what some Council members recommend:
Amy says that the Magic Bullet is a “lifesaver. Easy to use, easy to clean and purées food well.” We have one up at the cottage where facilities are more limited, and I’d totally agree – it’s one of those infomercial things that actually come close to the promise, from what I’ve seen.
Kristie recommends both a slow cooker and a pressure cooker, which can really help out, but in different ways. The slow cooker can be loaded up the night before or in the morning for a super-easy stew, and the pressure cooker can turn dried beans into meals in no time flat – you can see our video of how to do that here.
Rebecca says that the Oxo Good Grips Apple Corer and Divider is “a surprising time saver when we’ve got to be in the car and driving to preschool five minutes ago and we have to take a snack and are out of bananas.”
Lastly, we’ve used a Vita-Mix for around 12 years now, and it’s a little pricier than the other suggestions, but it’s hands down the best time saver we’ve got in our kitchen, from operation (dump stuff in and turn it on) to cleanup (usually we just rinse it out.) You can use this link to learn more, and it’ll also get you free shipping if you buy through it.
[we believe in everything we just said, but FYI links to the products above may be affiliate links, for which we’ll earn commissions to help pay our bills if you purchase through them.]
11) You tell us!
What have you done in your kitchen, whether you have kids or not, that’s shaved off precious minutes? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks to Kimberly, Julie, Lisa, Amy, Kristie, Sarah, Kim, and Rebecca for their help with this one!
(Photo by wwarby)