We’re in the middle of a series on 7 Habits of Eating at Home with tips on each habit to help in establishing out own healthy habits. We’ve covered topics like planning meals around your calendar, quick and simple grocery shopping tips, stocking your freezer and the 15-minute meal. Today we delve into some tools and tips for mastering time-saving cooking methods.
Habit #5 – Master time-saving cooking methods
In Habit #1 we talked about consulting your calendar when making out your meal plan so that the amount of time and the time of day available for cooking matches up with the recipe.
Strategically choosing slow cooker recipes, pressure cooker meals, sheet pan dinners, and 15-minute meals depending on what your day or week is looking like will make a huge difference in your success with eating at home.
But in order to make all of these amazing options for saving time in the kitchen work, you need to learn how to best use these appliances and cooking methods and which one makes the most sense for the different mealtime scenarios that come up in your schedule.
It really helps to practice with these appliances and cooking methods at a time when you aren’t in a rush so that you can figure out the individual quirks or steps for each one without a lot of pressure or stress to get it right the first time. Don’t give up if you have a failure or two. It could be that you’re just learning how to use the appliance, and with a little perseverance, you’ll come to find that it’s one of your absolute favorite kitchen tools!
A good recipe will go a long way to making you successful – and I’d like to think that the recipes we have here on the site are good ones that will make cooking a delicious meal for your family easy and enjoyable!
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Tips for Using the Slow Cooker
You can make a ridiculous amount of good food in the slow cooker. Prep time is fast and there’s little to no standing in the kitchen monitoring the food as it cooks. That’s a huge plus if you have a lot of other things to do besides keep an eye on the stove!
One of the biggest issues you may run into with slow cookers is that they tend to cook too hot. Most often, this is because you’re using one that is too big. If the food doesn’t fill the crock at least half way, chances are it will cook hotter than it needs to, resulting in dry and over-cooked food. Some slow cookers are better than others at cooking consistently, too.
Here are some of my favorite ways to use the slow cooker:
- To save even more time by cutting out prep, you can make easy freezer-friendly slow cooker meals that are ready to go into the slow cooker in the morning without making any extra messes in the kitchen.
- If you are going to be gone until dinner time, choose a recipe that can handle cooking all day long. Nothing like coming into the house after a really long day and smelling the delicious smell of dinner already cooked and hot for you and your family to enjoy!
- During the summer, I love using my slow cooker to keep my house cooler by not using the stove and oven as much. You can get TONS of inspiration in our super popular summer slow cooker series, 100 Days of Summer Slow Cooker Recipes and 30 Days of Whole Food and Garden Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes!
- There are lots of ways you can maximize the usefulness of your slow cooker, too. Try out some of these slow cooker hacks and see what you think!
Tips for using the Instant Pot or any electric Pressure Cooker
The digital, electric variety of pressure cookers are fairly new. I have the six quart 6-in-1 version and I use mine all the time. It’s such a handy kitchen tool! They’re really easy to use, but there is a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never used a pressure cooker before. Read through your manual very well and keep it handy so you can refer to it as needed as you set things up the first few times. I recommend trying to making something simple in the Instant Pot for the first time, like rice.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned from using my pressure cookers this past year.
- The most important thing to remember when using the Instant Pot or any electric pressure cooker is that you’ll need to add at least 1 1/2 cups of liquid to the pot to get it to come to pressure. However, remember that the liquid doesn’t have to be water! Things like broth, tomato sauce or juice, enchilada sauce and any other liquids work too. A good instant pot recipe will account for the need for liquid, but if you experiment with your own recipes, that’s something to keep in mind!
- Also, remember that the amount of time you set the pot for is not the time that your dinner will be done. You need to allow extra time for the pot to come to pressure before the cook time even starts. The amount of time needed for the pot to come to pressure and then the food to cook varies a lot. And it is usually still a lot faster than cooking on a stovetop or in the slow cooker so it’s a great option when you need to cut down cook time a bit.
- Picking good recipes that are made for cooking in the instant pot is ideal for cooking a successful meal when you are starting out! Every week, we put instant pot as well as slow cooker instructions for many of our recipes in the Weekly Meal Plans. It’s been a hit with our members and I’ve enjoyed cooking these recipes as well!
Looking for a few recipes to try out? Here are a few of my favorites on the blog.
- Instant Pot Chicken Fajitas
- Chicken Cacciatore Sandwiches
- Pressure Cooker Apple Sauce
- If you precook meat in the instant pot, there are loads of great ways to use it up! You can get lots of ideas for what to do with all kinds of proteins and links to my live demos on how to cook meats in the instant pot in this post here.
If you are considering buying a pressure cooker, but aren’t sure which to go for you can read my honest review of the two brands I bought in this post here.
Tips fop making fantastic Sheet Pan Dinners
A sheet pan isn’t exactly an appliance, but it is a really useful tool to have in the kitchen! You can put nearly any type of meat and vegetable combination on a sheet pan and have a marvelous dinner with less time and mess than if you cook each item individually.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when making a sheet pan dinner.
- The best thing is to use a very large sheet pan like this one. If you don’t have a large pan, you can use two regular sized sheet pans, but the large one is really nice and not expensive. If you have a bigger family, two large ones can really make it easier, too!
- Timing is everything with sheet pan dinners. Figure out which ingredient will need the longest cook time and place that in the oven first. Then add the other ingredients later so they get the proper cook times as well.
- Be sure to oil the pan or use parchment paper to keep clean up easy. After all, the whole point of saving time is to spend it with those around your table, not standing at the sink scrubbing off baked-on food!
- These sheet pan dinner recipes are super popular at our house and with our readers! Try one out and see what you think! Once you see how easy they are, you’ll have inspiration for endless varieties of meals you can toss together on a sheet pan and get in the oven for easy family meals.