If you’ve been reading my blog or following me on social media for any length of time, you’ll know that cooking is a big part of my life and one of my greatest passions. Last year, I shared a post called How We Eat and explained the principles I follow when feeding my brood.

Although I love preparing dishes from scratch, even I find it challenging at times. Life is hectic and busy and feeding a family of four every day can feel like a chore.

However, because it means a lot to me that we eat well, over the years I’ve figured out a few ways to make those meals happen without losing my sanity in the process.

Whether you’re cooking for one or feeding hoards of people on a daily basis, adopting some of these methods should make the whole thing a lot less stressful.

  • Plan Your Meals

In my experience, staring blankly into your kitchen cupboards, searching for a spark of culinary inspiration at the end of a long, tiring day, rarely leads to a satisfying and healthy home cooked meal. Spontaneity’s great, but I don’t always have the energy to think on my feet.

There are a million ways to meal plan and I’m not certain I’ve hit upon the best method just yet, but deciding what we’re going to eat ahead of time definitely makes my life easier, so I plan a menu once a week before our big online shop. To keep things interesting in the kitchen and ensure a varied diet, I always opt for a mix of old favourites and a few recipes I haven’t tried before.

  • Keep It Simple

Harried midweek chefs should never attempt elaborate, complicated recipes with lengthy ingredient lists. Instead, opt for simple dishes that can be thrown together with very little effort. I like things than can be flung in the oven or cooked quickly on the stove, so tray bakes, one-pot pasta dishes, quick casseroles and curry always feature heavily in my meal plans.

  • Choose Your Key Ingredients Carefully

When time is short and you’re rushing to put food on the table, it makes sense to choose ingredients that by their very nature can be cooked quickly. For this reason, fish appears regularly on my menu along with veg that takes mere minutes to cook and salads that can be thrown together in the time it takes to lay the table.

Cutting proteins and root vegetables into smaller pieces will also help reduce cooking time. For example, thinly sliced chicken breast will cook in just a few minutes, while a thick, uncut piece takes much, much longer.

  • Make Your Store Cupboard Work For You

A well stocked store cupboard is essential if you want to make cooking from scratch a regular occurrence. There are plenty of lists online to guide you, but Jamie Oliver’s basic store cupboard list for families is probably the closest to what I keep on hand at home.

As well as the basics, there are a handful of ingredients that help me create masses of flavour without having to break a sweat. Infused oils, tinned anchovies, Marigold Vegetable Bouillon Powder, Marmite and the fresh herbs I grow in our yarden are all things I never want to be without.

  • Take Advantage of ‘Good’ Convenience Foods

While I can’t remember the last time I ate a ready meal and I rarely reach for jars of ready-made sauce, I’m not against taking the odd shortcut when it comes to cooking. I’ve been known to buy pre-prepared veg, I love ready rolled pastry and I recently fell for Tilda’s new Pulses and Rice range {see my serving suggestion here}.

Far from being ‘bad’ processed foods, there are lots of products and ingredients designed with convenience in mind that actually make cooking from scratch every day more feasible than ever before. However, they’re not always cheap and you do need to be savvy about checking labels. Here’s a useful guide to help you avoid hidden fat, sugar and salt.

  • Let Kitchen Gadgets Do Some of the Grunt Work

For all its many shortcomings, Jamie’s 30-Minute-Meals* did make me rethink the way I prepare certain ingredients when I’m in a hurry. Chopping, slicing and grating with my Magimix wherever possible has been a game-changer. The Braun Multiquick Hand Blender {as seen in my recipe for Homemade Thai Green Curry Paste and Super Simple Sweet Potato Soup} also receives a lot of love.

A good slow cooker is another gadget that makes it easy to have a home cooked meal on the table at the end of the day. I relied on mine heavily throughout university, but especially during my MA when I was arriving home after 6pm with two very hungry children. They can be purchased fairly cheaply and my go-to slow cooker recipe book* also happens to be a bargain.

  • Double-Up and Embrace Batch Cooking

Life always feels a little easier when I’ve managed to do some batch cooking to fill my freezer. Ensuring I have a good supply of healthy, home cooked meals ready and waiting to be thawed and reheated has definitely been a lifesaver on more than one occasion, especially when Mr L.A. is travelling and I’m parenting on my own.

Whether you set aside time on a Sunday afternoon to prepare your own ‘ready meals’ for the week ahead or simply make extra throughout the week and freeze as you go, it’s always good to have food you can fall back on. If you need a little inspiration, I often refer to Sarah’s posts about batch cooking here and here.

  • Try Dump Cooking

Another option if you’re keen to get ahead, dump cooking simply means you dump a mix of protein, veg and marinade in a food bag before popping it in the freezer. Then, when you’re ready to eat, you dump that mix into a pan and let it cook. Pinterest is awash with ideas and I found this post by A Cultivated Nest particularly helpful.

  • Never Let Leftovers Go to Waste

When I’m creating my weekly meal plan, I always account for left-overs and try to make sure dishes flow from one day to the next. For example, extra rice cooked to accompany a curry on Monday can be used in a stir-fry on Tuesday and vegetables roasted in bulk on Wednesday can be added to salads at lunch on Thursday and Friday.

Many of Nigella’s books provide suggestions for using up leftovers within the recipes themselves and I’ve also heard very good things about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Love Your Leftovers*.

  • Accept That Sometimes You Just Need to Order a Takeaway

I love cooking, but even I get sick of it sometimes! If you find yourself too tired to cook, don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy your takeaway, relax and figure out what tomorrow’s delicious home cooked meal might be.

  • Do you have any time-saving hints and tips to add? Be sure to let me know if you follow any of the advice above. Happy cooking!

Love Audrey xxx

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