Even if you love to cook, live to cook, dinner can be a chore -- especially when you're trying to get that meal on the table after a long day at work. No matter what kind of day you've had, come six o'clock energy begins to wane. Yet, we can't really avoid dinner. While take-out may be tempting, it's just not as good (health-, price- and flavor-wise) as a home cooked meal.
We're sorry to say that there's no magic wand or secret formula that can make this weeknight meal easier. But there are some simple tips and steps to follow that will significantly shorten the amount of time it takes you to make it -- without having you resort solely on canned foods. If you've got a great time-saving trick that we don't know about, please share it with us!
Embrace The Slow Cooker
Despite what its name suggests, the slow cooker is a great tool in getting dinner ready quickly. While it requires a bit of time in the morning to get ingredients together and put into the cooker, once you've done that, your work is done. When you walk through the door in the evening, you'll have nothing left to do but set the table and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
Use Fewer Ingredients
While we're fans of experimenting with new ingredients and recipes, sometimes simple meals taste even better -- and they take a lot less time. You can find many five-ingredient recipes with great results. Just be sure to start with good ingredients; since there are so few, each one counts.
Read The Recipe First
You've probably heard it before, and you'll hear it again: Reading a recipe before starting to cook will save you time and frustration. Not only will you be sure to not miss any important details (i.e. the dish you're planning to serve in an hour requires an overnight marinade) but you'll also be able to cook more efficiently, being aware of the next step to come.
Get Two Meals Out Of One
Consider tomorrow's dinner when preparing tonight's and stretch the ingredients you are cooking to make them work in another meal. For example, if you're cooking chicken breast for a chicken parmesan, cook extra chicken and make fajitas with them tomorrow. If you do this on a regular basis, you'll be making a week's worth of dinners in a fraction of the time.
Keep Chicken And Meat In The Freezer
If you have a stocked freezer, you can get dinner on the table without having to make a stop at the store. That can be reason enough to get this practice into gear. Get in the habit of taking meat out of the freezer (and putting it in the fridge) to defrost before you leave for work in the morning, it's one less step you'll have to worry about when you get home in the evening.
Use The Microwave
The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/microwave-cooking-tricks_n_1568628.html" target="_hplink">microwave can do so much more</a> than just warm up your cup of coffee. While we're not suggesting that you cook your entire meal in it, veggies can cook in a fraction of the time in the microwave compared to conventional cooking; and they hold up well in the microwave.
Keep A Stocked Pantry
Just like keeping poultry and meat in your freezer can help make dinner easier, keeping a well-stocked pantry can be even more helpful. If you find yourself in a bind, but have pasta and tomato sauce or beans and rice in the cupboard, you can always manage to whip a meal together. Especially if you store even more interesting items like olives, capers and roasted tomatoes too.
Have The Kids Help
If everyone is enjoying the meal, why shouldn't they all contribute? (So long as they're of a safe age, of course.) Having kids contribute in the kitchen might not be quite like having a chef helping you out, but they can take care of the small tasks that take up your time; and you'll get to spend quality time together too.
Easy Go-To Recipes On Hand
The fastest dinners to cook are ones that you know how to make by heart. Collect a handful of easy and tasty recipes you can make without having to look up instructions. With five recipes like that on hand, you can easily turn to these when in need of something quick. And if you take the time to incorporate a new one each month, you'll never get tired of your quick and simple dinners.
WATCH: Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners