1. Find ways to use as few dishes when cooking as possible. When following a recipe it is often possible to use the same measuring cup for more than one ingredient. If you need ½ sugar and 2 cups flour in a recipe just use the ½ cup measuring cup for both. Some ingredients can just be approximate measures. It is easy to “eye-ball” a ½ teaspoon vanilla extract or salt. If you are cooking pasta and broccoli, toss them in together. You can always add broccoli a few minutes after you start the pasta if you like your broccoli more crunchy. If done often this can save a lot of time with clean up.
2. Choose one day each week for prep. Pick a day when you have more time. This may be a good day to let your kids help you out in the kitchen. For any recipes you will be making do all the chopping and cutting on one day. This is a huge time saver. If you repeat the task of chopping veggies several times each week you will be pulling out cutting board, knife, and vegetables, cleaning up the cutting board, knife and vegetables multiple times when you could do it just once. If you bought an onion but won’t be using it all cut the entire onion and freeze the extra in an ice cube tray. I have learned from experience that you never want to use an ice tray for ice ever again after you’ve used it for an onion.
3. Make a double portion and freeze half. Make sure to do this with only the tried and true recipes that your family loves. No one wants double the leftovers for a meal that isn’t great. If you plan to make lasagna buy extra ingredients and make up two meals. Put one in the freezer before baking it. This works very well with soups, sauces, enchiladas, casseroles, and more. This works for the same reason as having one prep day. It saves time to not repeat all the prep and cleanup steps.
4. Teach your kids. From the time they are old enough to walk, teach your kids to carry their own dishes to the sink after meals. Unfortunately this may initially create more work for you. Every spill means more cleanup, however this will save a lot of time in the long run. It will also give your child some good habits for when they are grown up.
5. Before preparing for a meals pull everything you need out. Instead of multiple trips to the refrigerator to get ready for dinner become more efficient. When you go to the pantry make one trip and pull out everything you need. Make only one trip to the fridge, pantry, cupboard, etc.
6. Plan ahead. Plan ahead to make sure more difficult meals are on less stressful days of the week. On your busy night pull out that extra lasagne you made. When we are too rushed making dinner we often neglect cleanup. When cleanup is delayed it takes twice as long. Now everything must be soaked and scrubbed. If done right after dinner, clean up time is much quicker.
7. Get a dog. Having a dog has really made my job easier. We have a sweet little dog in our family. When my kids are out and about they seem to make a huge mess during meal time. Somehow at home there is not a drop of food on the floor ever. Even when I am sure my daughter knocked the chicken she doesn’t like off her plate I never seem to find it on the ground. I certainly love my little food vacuum. If only he could eat up napkins too.