Cooking dinner doesn't have to be a big production. A little forethought and some smart shopping can help you get dinner done fast.

chop lettuce

Set aside some time to devise a menu and grocery list for the week, then hit the grocery store to buy any ingredients you don't have. When you know what you'll be eating ahead of time, you can get straight to cooking each night instead of staring into the fridge for inspiration. Not only that, but by purchasing food in advance you'll always have ingredients on hand. Which means you won't waste time making last-minute trips to the grocery store for that can of chicken broth you thought was in the pantry.

If you have time during the day (or even the night before), prepare ingredients ahead. Chop lettuce, veggies, and herbs, or mix homemade salad dressing, dip, and sauce before storing in airtight containers in the fridge. Come dinnertime, you'll be able to skip the prep work and start cooking.

Invest in a Slow Cooker

Pumpkin, Chickpea, and Red Lentil Stew

Soups, stews, and chilis are family favorites, but they take hours to make on the stovetop. Let a slow cooker do the work for you. Just add the ingredients to the pot in the morning, and they'll simmer all day long. When you come home, ladle into dishes and serve.

Yummy Slow Cooker Recipes

Shop Smart

Chicken Linguine with Pesto Sauce

If you spend just as long prepping ingredients as you do cooking, consider buying ready-to-use ingredients. Though they are slightly more expensive, bags of salad greens and veggies cut down on time spent washing, peeling, and chopping. Pick shredded cheese over a block you'll have to grate yourself. And heat up a microwavable package of rice instead of the dry grain. When meat's the star of your dinner, save yourself time by using precooked versions, like rotisserie chicken, frozen or refrigerated chicken breast, or roasted cooked beef au jus.

Learn to Love Your Freezer

Freezer Organization

Next time you make a batch of soup, double the recipe. Extras stored in the freezer make great meals. Just thaw during the day and heat up when you get home. Have some free time on Sunday? Cook a couple of meals you can freeze for the coming week. Lasagna, casserole, chili, stew (without potatoes), pasta, and potpie all stand up to the freezer and are tasty when reheated.

Stocking up on frozen veggies is another way to slash cooking time. Instead of washing and chopping fresh vegetables, just toss a bag of mixed frozen veggies into a hot wok with microwavable rice, precooked chicken, and a bottle of Asian sauce for a fast and easy stir-fry.

Freezing Helpers

Get Creative with Leftovers

Basic Beef Bolognese

Just because you're using leftovers doesn't mean you need to eat the same meal two nights in a row. Instead, turn yesterday's meal into the base for a new dinner creation. Baked chicken with rice transforms into chicken enchiladas with rice and beans. Marinated flank steak with roasted potatoes becomes a steak salad with roasted potatoes. Use your imagination!


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