1. Use a slow cooker
Slow cookers are great, and not just for stews! You can put all the ingredients in before you go out and come home to a hot meal that just needs to be served up. Some have a cooking time of just two or three hours, which will be perfect for lunchtime and others cook all day while you are out on adventures. You could do jacket potatoes or soup for a light lunch, bolognaise sauce that just needs some quickly cooked pasta or a lightly spiced tagine style stew. Yum! If you have an aga you can use the slow oven in exactly the same way, bringing the food to a boil before putting it in. I've been know to start a stew in the aga 24 hours before we needed to eat it!
2. Use the oven timer
A lot of ovens these days come with timers and can be set to turn themselves on and off at certain times. This is perfect if you know you'll be in at an exact time, after the school run or a class for example. Just put the food in the oven before you go out and program it to turn on half an hour before you get home. Obviously you will want to be careful of putting things like raw fish in the oven at room temperature for hours so this method might be best for vegetarian dishes or times when you wont be out of the house for too long. I tend to program it to be ready ten minutes after I plan to get home, and to turn off automatically, just incase we get delayed.
3. Use leftovers
If you know you have a busy day coming up why not cook extra the night before and just have leftovers? Lots of leftovers can be turned into new dishes too, especially things like plain cooked meat and vegetables, which can become a stir fry, a frittata or a pie in next to no time. Bolognaise can become a lasagne (which you can then put in the slow cooker or in the oven on a timer) or add a few beans and spices for chilli.
4. Use quick cook foods
On busy days you don't have to produce a roast dinner or cheese soufflé (you never have to produce soufflé unless you want to!) There is nothing wrong with having a few quick meals on hand for when you want to go out, or to pull out when plans go wrong. Scrambles eggs on toast served with fruit and yogurt covers all the food groups and will be ready in minutes.
5. Use your freezer
Ok, so this won't help you much if your freezer only contains icecream, but it is a useful tool to combine with the other tools. Why not make an extra pasta bake next time and freeze it? Then cook it using the oven timer? Slow cooker meal kits (or "dump bags") are so quick and easy to do, and home made chicken nuggets can be cooked from frozen. It takes a little bit of planning but you'll be so grateful on busy days, sometimes I manage to only cook once a week!
I'm not saying every meal has be cooked from scratch, everyone has different ideas about using packets, tins and ready made food. You might be happy with opening a tin most days, or occasionally, or not at all. That's fine by me, you know what's best for your family!
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