Getting dinner ready is all about organization. The same is true for chefs and families. Organizing your pantry, fridge and game plan for the week is more than half the battle. Here are a few tricks of the trade.
Anything a chef does in the kitchen is for safety, efficiency or both. Sorry Food Network fans, but creativity is third. Without safety or efficiency there would be zero successful or functional restaurants. Period.
Creativity is also probably third (maybe fourth, fifth, not on the list?) for a mom-on-the-go trying to get dinner on the table for her family. Here’s a secret: that’s okay. If a famous chef doesn’t make it number one, you don’t have to either. Yep, you heard it from a chef.
1. Organizing your pantry
Let’s say you have the safety issue down pat; after all they don’t call you “Mom” for nothing. Streamlining your pantry is priority one.
Toss anything older than one year. You heard me. Frozen mystery meat, boxed [fill in the blank], it’s got to go. The same principles of your wardrobe: If you haven’t worn it in a year, toss it, applies here too. If you don’t use it, you won’t miss it. Carry this over to your fridge and freezer.
Organize spices by date. They can be expensive, so don’t let spices go unused because you don’t see them or can’t find them.
Eliminate Tupperware. It’s overrated and makes your life a nightmare. No one in a restaurant has time to organize a Tupperware drawer or deal with mismatched tops/bottoms and different size containers. Streamline your life by buying quart containers in 1-quart, 1-pint and 1/2-pint sizes. They stack together, fit in the dishwasher like cups and save you countless minutes of stress daily. Purchase at your local restaurant supply store. Bonus: They’re cheap.
2. Organizing your fridge/freezer
Now that you’ve got the pantry down, let’s tackle cold storage.
- Organize according to cooking temperature. This point harps on food safety. Storing items according to cooking temperature (aka the final cooking temperature of a protein) helps prevent cross contamination. That means chicken (needs to be cooked to 165 degrees F) should go under fish (needs to be cooked to 145 degrees F), which goes under vegetables or fruit. Doing this prevents chicken juice from dripping on your lettuce. Yes, it’s that gross, I went there.
- Lay it down. Store stocks, soups and liquid items in the freezer by pouring into zip-close bags and laying flat. Think about your linen closet; the neater your stacks of towels and sheets, the better everything fits. Since the liquids are frozen, the same principle applies here.
- The freezer is your best friend. Half a stick of ginger, freeze it. Butter, same thing. The freezer is the best way to utilize your fridge by increasing an item’s shelf life. Almost anything can be frozen.
3. Organize your weekly menu
In a restaurant little to no prep is done during service; everything is “mise en place” before service, which means “getting everything ready.” The same thing can be done for a home cook a day, hour or even week before the dinner you’re preparing. A little chopping, shopping or prepping on Sunday (or Monday) can make weeknight meals run like clockwork.
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- No midweek grocery shopping. It’s hard to avoid, I know, but think about it, who wants to shop for dinner after work when they’re starving and need to get home? No one. Get in a routine of shopping (or ordering online) once a week during the morning on Saturday or Sunday when the store isn’t crowded. Line up everything you’d like to eat, stick to it and purchase once. You’ll save time, money and stress.
- Do what you can and don’t feel guilty. Weeknight cooking is not about being ambitious. Save that for Saturday night. Weeknight cooking is about being honest with yourself and setting realistic expectations. Why not consider using store bought sauces or easy recipe starters combined with fresh ingredients to save time. Or maybe you love the idea of a roast chicken but can’t wrap your head around actually trussing and roasting a chicken. Buy a rotisserie chicken and toss a small salad on the side.
- Understand the importance of dinner. It isn’t about what you make, it’s about who you break bread with. Spending time with your family and teaching kids the purpose of dinnertime and being at the table as a family is the number one priority.