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Monday, May 2, 2016

Spend Less Time in the Kitchen and More Time Outdoors

By Mary Schroeder, Extension educator and registered dietitian

Spring is here! If you're like me, you want to spend as much time outside as possible. Here are three steps to spending less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying the outdoors.

Step One: Plan

Writing a menu for the week is a helpful way to streamline kitchen tasks. A menu allows you or another family member to shop ahead of time to ensure the foods needed are in the kitchen at mealtime. It also helps prevents the frustration of hearing "What's for dinner tonight?" and not having an answer.

One way to start planning a menu is to write a list of foods your family likes to eat. Take a few minutes and ask family members what foods they would like included on the list. Use your list to complete this Meal Planning Guide (PDF).

Step Two: Shop

Using your menu, make a shopping list. Having a shopping list (and sticking to it) will save you time in the grocery store and prevent extra trips to the grocery store for one or two items.

To save money, you may also want to make a “Not To Buy” list. Check your cupboards for staples you may already have on hand, like pasta, canned tomatoes, or olives, and write them down. Also put on this list “fun” foods that you don’t really need, like novelty snacks, candy, or sugar-sweetened beverages.

Step Three: Prepare

Look at your weekly menu and see what items you can prepare ahead of time. For example, if you need browned ground beef for several meals during the week, brown the ground beef all at once, and put the extra in the freezer for later in the week. You can also cut enough fresh vegetables to last a few days. Because recipes such as lasagna and casseroles freeze well, make a double batch. Enjoy half the batch on the day you make it and freeze the other half for when it is on your menu again.

Helpful Tips

  • Keep ingredients in your pantry for your favorite quick meals such spaghetti, stir-fry, or tuna salad sandwiches.
  • Save your weekly menus. You can use them again as-is or make revisions.
  • Remember that meal preparation doesn't need to be the responsibility of just one person. Involve other family members in planning, shopping, preparing, and cleaning up after a meal.
  • Make a list of your family's favorite quick meals. Keep the ingredients for these meals in your pantry and refrigerator so you can have a "meal in minutes" when needed.
What are your favorite quick meal ideas? Please share in the comment section.

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