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Time-saving ideas for preparing family dinners

SHARE Time-saving ideas for preparing family dinners

Arrange your kitchen so it's most efficient. Ideally, your refrigerator, sink and stove will form a triangle to minimize walking.

Organize your equipment for easy access. Knives are used for preparation, so they should be near the prep area. Pots should be stored in the cooking area, and so on.

Declutter counter tops and drawers so you have adequate working space and can find what you need quickly.

Before you start cooking, read the recipe all the way through to be sure you have the ingredients, equipment and time needed to make it.

Gather all your ingredients and equipment near the prep area. This saves on additional trips to the pantry or fridge.

If you need to chop several items, such as vegetables, nuts and herbs, do all the chopping at once.

If two recipes call for baking items at the same temperature, bake them together.

Learn to "eyeball" correct amounts rather than slowly measuring every ingredient. Measure a teaspoon of salt and pour it into your palm to observe its size. Then clear your palm and pour out some salt in your hand to see how close you can come to an accurate measurement. If you can approximate measurements, you don't need to dirty any measuring spoons. (The one exception is baking: The structure of baked goods is less forgiving if the ingredients aren't precise.)

Give tasks to family members, such as mixing ingredients or setting the table. Taking the time to teach them once pays dividends later.

>On Saturday or Sunday, take a few minutes to jot down meal plans for the week, based on what foods you have on hand. Post this on your fridge or bulletin board, so you have one less decision to make on a week night when you're frazzled.

Double the dividends. Many recipes can be doubled, with the second portion going in the freezer for future use. Make sure you label them, however, so you'll remember to use them.

To save prep time, buy dried chopped onions or jarred minced garlic.

It's easier to slice or dice meat or chicken when it's partially frozen. Or, ask your butcher to do it at the store, to save time at home.

Cut chicken breasts, meats, potatoes, etc., into smaller, thinner pieces to cook more quickly.

If you're stuck for a quick dinner idea, get out a carton of eggs and any leftovers in the fridge. Scramble the eggs and toss in bits of ham, chicken, cheese and veggies.

Be mindful of the pots and pans that you use. Many dishes can be made in one skillet, which saves on cleanup time.

SOURCES: "Family Dinners: Easy Ways to Feed Your Kids and Get Them Talking at the Table," by Janet Peterson; "Homemade in Half the Time," by Shea Waggoner; "Giada's Family Dinners," by Giada De Laurentiis; "Faster! I'm Starving!" by Kevin Mills and Nancy Mills