Do you struggle to come up with weekly dinner ideas every week? Is getting dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes (or even at all) one of your biggest challenges? Do you find yourself overspending at the grocery store because you don’t have a dinner plan? Are you spending your entire afternoon in the kitchen?
Have you ever noticed that when you go to a restaurant, it never seems to take as much time to
prepare your food as it would if you made meals at home? Restaurants have no choice but to plan, stay organized, and prep food ahead of time.
If they didn’t they wouldn’t stay in business.
I’ve rarely waited more than 20 minutes at any restaurant for my dinner. Restaurants are great at getting food on the table quickly and efficiently.
If you want quick dinners on the table, do what restaurants do! Here’s what we can learn from restaurants to help get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes and stay under budget.
Schedule time one day to prep your meals for the week.
My personal preference is doing meal prep on Sundays. It’s when I find myself catching up on other household chores, and Sundays are less hectic. In order to prepare my meals on Sunday, I need to menu plan and shop before I prep for the week.
If you try to do everything on the same day, it will probably take all day and that’s overwhelming. Instead, focus on one day each week to meal plan, shop, and prep.
Meal prep can be as simple as cooking meat for the week, cutting up fruits and veggies, shredding cheese, or portioning out food for upcoming meals. It can be as involved as making some of the meals and freezing them for later in the week. ANYTHING you can do ahead of time will decrease the time it takes you to make dinner in the evening.
If you can’t set aside time one day a week to prep meals, try to prep meals first thing in the morning or during lunch if you have small children at home.
Your favorite restaurant has someone (or several people) who come in early every day to prep the food for the lunch or dinner crowd. When you order a dish at a restaurant everything that goes into that dish is usually ready to be cooked (or even cooked ahead of time). Prepping food before dinner is a huge time saver.
Clean out the fridge/ pantry.
Clean your fridge and pantry regularly to make sure you are throwing out expired items, food that is past it’s prime, and know what food you actually have to use in your weekly menu plan.
I’m sure many of us have started a recipe at 5pm only to realize that the main ingredient is expired. This can lead to a ruined recipe or a last minute trip to the store and money and time wasted.
I use a sharpie to label containers in the fridge that have been opened so we don’t accidentally eat something that has been in the fridge too long.
A restaurant with a dirty fridge or freezer that served expired food wouldn’t stay in business for long.
Keep an inventory of your food.
If you are the type of person who never wastes food, congrats! For most of us, this is something that we need to keep a close eye on. A recent study showed that Americans throw away as much as half of their food every year! That’s like throwing money in the garbage.
Once your fridge, freezer, and pantry are clean and organized make an inventory of the food and ingredients you already have. This will not only help you get a better idea of what you already have in the house, but keep you from buying things you don’t need.
Keep a printout on your pantry and fridge of EVERYTHING you already have. Here’s a free pantry inventory sheet.
For my garage fridge/ freezer, I write directly on the outside of the freezer with a dry erase marker.
Not only can you keep track of what is in your freezer, you can also keep track of any freezer meals you have available.
Keeping a pantry and freezer inventory will save you time when meal planning, because you already know what you have. It will save you time when you are making dinner because you know exactly where everything is and you know it hasn’t passed its expiration date. Remember as you use ingredients and eat freezer meals throughout the week, update the list.
One of the biggest budget busters is food that goes bad in the pantry or the fridge. If you know what you have available you are less likely to purchase items you don’t need and you’ll save money each month on your groceries.
Restaurants track food inventory closely so they aren’t throwing away large amounts of spoiled food. Restaurants already have to account for food waste when it comes to mistakes and leftovers, so they definitely don’t want to throw away food that sat on the shelf too long.
Stick with reliable recipes.
New and exciting dishes are fun, and I try to add at least one new recipe in our menu plan every month.
Sometimes the new recipes are a hit and sometimes my family politely asks me not to make that dish again.
If you are going through a busy or stressful season, stick with tried and true recipes you know your family likes to eat.
Make a meal plan cheat sheet of recipes you know your family loves and that you can rotate in when
you’re out of ideas. Don’t try to make something new every night! Instead, focus on old reliable
recipes for most nights, and maybe one new recipe in the mix.
When my kids were all very small I made a list of 20 of our favorite recipes that I knew the kids loved. When I made my menu plan each week, I picked from the list of 20 meals. With 20 meals on the list there were only a few repeats every month (when you account for leftovers and going out to dinner).
Most of our favorite recipes take less than 20 minutes to prepare. (No wonder they are my favorite!) Typically I don’t even need a recipe with our favorite meals which means I’m not going back and forth between a cookbook (or my phone screen) and actually making the food. Familiar recipes are almost always faster.
Even restaurants stick with their tried and true recipes they know the customer likes. While some restaurants offer nightly specials, most restaurants keep the same menu for several months at a time. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!
These simple tips (borrowed from restaurants) will help you get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes and save money on your groceries every week.
What’s your favorite tip for getting dinner on the table quickly?