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Tips to save time and your sanity in the kitchen on school days

If you ask me, all moms should come with three pairs of arms and hands. Because managing rush hours during schooldays with just two hands – it’s impossible! I’m packing three school lunches every day, and feeding a hubby, two big boys and a picky little girl every night. Let me share my tricks with you guys.

How to spend less time in the kitchen

Let me get this straight, I’m not going to tell you to order in or eat out every day. It is awfully expensive in Calgary, and not as good and healthy as your cooking. Let’s see the other ideas.

Let the freezer be your friend

Prepare and freeze extra portions of their favorite meals

I always cook or bake extra and put them in the freezer for crazy practice nights or for school lunches. Usually I just freeze the meat, and make the side dishes on the day we want to eat them, to save space. A few things that freeze very well and they will keep for several months:

  • Oven baked chicken anything: wings, drumsticks, thighs, breaded or otherwise
  • Oven baked pork or beef, i.e. ribs or brisket
  • Pork chops or similar dishes
  • Anything made with cooked ground meat, like meatloaf, pasta toppings like Bolognese sauce, taco fillings, etc.
  • Soups without thickener (you know, sour cream, cornstarch, flour, stuff like that to make the liquid more thick)
  • Muffins, breads, cookies
  • Pizza dough

Freeze your raw meat cut up and ready to use

We buy meat in bulk to save some money. The portions I don’t use right away I cut/slice up and freeze them in freezer bags, flattened out. That way they thaw quicker and it will save me some time on food prep.

Have a cooking day and freeze a week’s worth of meals

I haven’t tried this method but it makes sense. For very helpful tips and recipes see Don’t panic – Dinner’s in the freezer book below.

Plan ahead

Plan your meals on shopping day for a week

I know, it’s not for everybody, but I’m doing this since I have kids. On Fridays, I

  • grab the list of our favorite meals,
  • and/or google some new recipes to try,
  • plan the menu for the week,
  • write the names of the dishes in the calendar and
  • write the shopping list as well.

It saves me the improvisation, which I’m very bad at, the extra trips to the grocery store, and helps me to organize my time… I will know ahead of time on which day I’ll make a quick something because I have errands to run, and which day I can make broth because I’ll stay home and clean anyway.

Marinade ahead

I found this recipe years ago in the Calgary family magazine… Marinade your drumsticks or chicken winds the day before, whenever you have a little time, and when it’s dinner time, just pour the whole thing on a baking sheet, pop them in the oven and that’s it. (If I have time, I put sliced potato under them, with some salt and bits of butter… yum!)

Leftovers, leftovers, I love you…

If I cook something my kids like, I make extra, and let them have it for their school lunch the next day. You should hear them calling dibs on their favorites! 🙂

Child labor, here I come!

Have the kids pack their lunchboxes

I’m sure lots of you are already doing this. If you have space, store the things they will need within their reach, and outside of your work triangle.

  • Small containers and sandwich bags
  • Water bottles
  • Fruits&veggies
  • Packaged snacks
  • Peeler, apple cutter, cutting board
  • Napkins, spoons, etc.

They will enjoy the independence, and be more likely to eat what they packed for themselves.

Ask your big kid to be on kitchen duty in the morning

Okay, I’m lucky, my sons are over ten already. My younger is on duty in the morning, and my older helps with dinner prep when I need it. Morning duty can include, depending on your kids’ age and the food you eat for breakfast:

  • Unloading and loading the dishwasher
  • Setting the table
  • Preparing cereals, eggs, sausages or hot dogs
  • Making tea
  • Finishing sandwiches, washing veggies
  • Putting the lunches in the stay-warm containers for everybody
  • Putting away everything after breakfast
  • Helping the younger ones

It is a great help, and I tell them every day how much I appreciate it. It saves me a lot of time!

My time-saver tips at a glance

  1. Freeze cooked food for later
  2. Plan your meals ahead
  3. Teach your kids to help in the kitchen

Well, that’s it, folks. I hope you’ve found something useful for your life and your family. Let me know if you have any tricks that I could try in the comments below! Take care!

Additional resources

recipes

Bone broth fighting the chill

Nothing is better on a freezing cold they, than a bowl of soup, if you ask me. And lately I’m making an especially healthy soup every week: bone broth.

I grew up on chicken soup, I’m telling you, but it was our orthopedist who first mentioned to me how healthy a bone broth can be for growing kids. Or anybody else. You can read the details of the health benefits of the broth here.

There are lots of recipes online, here comes how I  make it. It takes time, but it is a very flexible soup, and hardly require preparations. Also freezes very well.

How to make the best bone broth in Calgary

Step 1: Shopping for bones

You can use any kind of bones for a broth. I use mostly beef, but sometimes pork or chicken.

Where to find bones in Calgary? Superstore have beef soup bone packages, usually some meat on them, too. T&T (the Chinese store) has nice beef bones and sometimes chicken, as well. Our local Korean butcher always keeps several different kinds of bones, including beautiful knuckle bones, in his freezer, too.

Why knuckle bone?

Knuckle bone and chicken feet makes the broth jelly-like when cold, because they release lots collagen. It is great for the joins and the skin. 🙂

Step 2: Cooking slow, baby

Bone broth ingredients

  • Bone (for my 9 liters pot, I like to use at least 3 pounds or 1.5 kg bones, or two packages)
  • One big onion, peeled, cut in half
  • Garlic, half a dozen gloves, peeled
  • Ginger, good chunk, peeled
  • Apple cider vinegar, 3-4 tablespoons (helps to solve the nutrients to the broth)
  • Salt and whole pepper to taste
  • Any limpy, mild tasting veggies you have waiting in the fridge, carrots, zellery, half a bell pepper, mushroom, a tomato or two, a few Brussel sprouts or cabbage leafs, whatever you have. (I don’t use broccoli and alike in this soup because they have a very distinctive taste.)

Cooking the broth

Plan to have someone in the house in this day for about 5-6 hours.

  1. Rinse and put the bones in your big pot. Pour cold water on it and put it on the stove on medium heat.
  2. Whet it started to boil, skim the foam from the top of the water and discard.
  3. Lower the heat. Add the other ingredients. (I save the carrots and anything we actually want to eat for the last half an hour of cooking so they won’t be too soft.)
  4. Let the broth simmer on very low for at least four hours. (I cover the pot.) Simmer means that you can see tiny bubbles coming up but nothing more. No bubbling crazy like with pasta! If it happens, no problem, the broth will be fine, maybe less than perfect color, that’s all. Don’t tell your grandma about it.
  5. When it is done, cool it down fast. (I put it outside to the deck to the freezing cold Canadian winter. It helps. 🙂 )
  6. Skim the fat from the top, if desired.
  7. Save any veggies and meat pieces you will eat.
  8. Drain the gold colored amazingly flavorful yummy liquid into a big airtight container. It will stay good in the fridge for 3-4 days if cooled down immediately. Freeze the excess or share with friends.

Step 3: Dress it up as you like

This broth can be used for a healthy instant ramen soup any time of the day. I love the variety! Things I add:

  • rice noodles (we use brown rice ramen noodles)
  • chopped green onions or red onions
  • water crest (from Chinese store)
  • sprouts
  • slightly sauteed bok choy or other veggie
  • mushrooms
  • precooked meat cubes

For the kids, I just let them pick whatever they want in it.

Or we can just drink it from a mug whenever we need something warm and nutritious! My teenager loves it before he has to leave for school in the snow. 🙂

I hope you found this recipe helpful. Let me know in the comments below how your family makes this broth. Take care!