By Kylie Archer
Prior to having kids I was constantly cooking fun, interesting meals for my husband and I. I never thought that having kids could make cooking dinner so hard! No-one had ever told me about “the witching hour” or the fact that everything I put in front of Miss Three would get an eyeroll.
I’ve had to make shortcuts, lots of them! I now go out of my way to make dinner easier for myself- especially as more often than not I have to cook two lots of dinner per night.
- Freeze meat how you use it. I believe in shopping in bulk and keeping a freezer full of food ready to go. But there is no point freezing four chicken breasts all stuck together, they take too long to defrost organise. Instead, decide how you will actually use them, chop them, leave them whole, marinate them on skewers, flatten them, do whatever they will be used for. If you’re going to turn them into nuggets or schnitzel for example, set aside the time to do it immediately when you bring them home, then spread them out on a tray and freeze for a few hours before putting in baggies or containers. I pop my chicken nuggets or schnitzels in the oven frozen with a spruzz of olive oil and cook…it takes so much less fuss. I do this with all meat. Frozen in portions, chopped, marinated etc. I thinly slice bacon before freezing and leave some in rashers as well. Your 5pm-OMG-what’s-for-dinner-self will love you for it.
- Plan your meals. But don’t beat yourself up if you change your mind about what you’ve got planned. With a well stocked freezer you can change to homemade chicken nuggets/homemade fish fingers/pasta and sauce at the last minute.
- Take the time to slice, dice and chop. Onions! I buy at least a 5kg bag, slice 10-12 and freeze on trays to transfer later, dice 10-12 and roughly chop 10-12. As onions are usually one of the first things to go into anything you cook, its ok that they are still frozen when you pop them in. grab a handful and pop them in the oil for pasta, put rings under a roast chook etc. I do the same for leeks.
- Use your slow cooker. I do caramelised onions in the slow cooker then freeze them in baby food trays. Pop them out and into containers or freezer bags so that you can use as much or as little as you want…on anything from burgers to tarts! Cooking for 10-12 hours in the slow cooker they don’t need any sugar and end up very sweet.
- Something on the side. My kids are meat and three veg fans. Sure, they will eat pasta, rice etc, but things with sauce are pushing the upper limits of our working relationship. So I pre-prepare some sides ready to go, mini potato bakes done in muffin trays, falafels, broccoli potato stacks, mini cauliflower cheese portions. If you use a silicone muffin tray they pop out easily after freezing.
- Cook double. Rice and pasta are one of those things that it doesn’t matter how much you cook, it takes the same amount of time. So cook extra and freeze in muffin trays. That cuts a good 20 minutes off fried rice and also makes a pasta bake a lot quicker. I don’t use it again as pasta with sauce or plain rice as it loses texture.
- Grate it. Use your food processor to grate a big batch of parmesan, means you’re not doing it as you put dinner on the table. I also do a pizza cheese combo: mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan. It’s a lot cheaper and tastier then the shop bought grated combos. Freeze it on a tray on baking paper then transfer to bags/containers.
- Roast it. I recently had a conversation with someone who said they rarely use their oven and never do roasts. They also said they struggle with dinner ideas for the whole family. Nothing could be easier than popping a chook/piece of pork/beef/lamb in the oven with some veggies. It gives you a good hour and a half to play with your kidlets whilst the oven does the hard work. Also, roasted meats freeze well cut up- great for a last minute lamb pilau using the rice you have frozen and lamb you’ve chopped and frozen! Shredded roast pork is great in tacos, nachos etc as well.
- Double it. Even if you are like me and never feel like the leftovers the next night, label them and then stick them in the freezer. There will be a night in the near future where you want to fall in a heap and have a fairy godmother prepare you the dinner of your choice. If, like me you don’t have a fairy godmother, the next best option is reheating a tasty dinner that you don’t have to cook.
- Breakaway from takeaway! If you’re organised you can avoid takeaways. I make double batches of pizza dough, roll them out and freeze them with pizza sauce on them on pieces of baking parchment. When frozen I transfer them to a pastry container. Perfect for family pizza night!
- Something sweet. Crumble toppings freeze well, so I make a big batch and freeze it for when I want a sweet treat. Sometimes I make extra crumble fruit as well and freeze.