Cooking shortcuts

Call me impatient. Call me lazy. But what I'd really like is for someone to call me to the table for a home-cooked meal (preferably whipped up by a renowned gourmet chef, while we're dreaming).

Because I have no one to cook for me, and I don't have all day to prepare, I need a plan. We must avoid all impulses to dash out for pizza or Chinese whenever any little interruption occurs so we don't perpetuate those obesity statistics.

Meetings, football practise, dance classes – your kids think your role in life is to be taxi driver for them. Yes, we are busy-busy but must crank out delicious, healthy meals at the same time. Here are some shortcuts in the kitchen that may help you to retain the family table in this crazy world of busy-ness.

Prepped to go. See, you aren't the only who can't stand the drudgery of chopping and dicing onions, peppers, mushrooms and all kinds of assorted vegetables. You will find in the fruit and veg aisle as well as frozen section, assorted pre-chopped items to add to stir-fries, pasta or any other recipe.

Bear in mind that frozen veg are just as good as fresh - if not even better. Freezing vegetables immediately after harvesting preserves nutrients. With fresh veg, nutrients are often lost during transport and storage.

The jars of minced garlic and ginger also save time. You can also buy these in interesting little tubes, like toothpaste. The flavour will not be as fresh but will do in a pinch.

Pasta in a jiffy. It's not like pasta takes a long time, but when you cook it, double or triple the quantity and save the rest to be heated up in an instant. It even freezes well and can be warmed with some hot water run through.

Staple meal. Combine the pasta and veggies for a base that has infinite possibilities. Throw the frozen or fresh chopped veggies into the last several minutes of boiling pasta. After draining, add away, with items such as tinnes tomatoes, drained, canned beans, diced leftover chicken breast, tuna, spaghetti sauce, parmesan or feta cheese. You can just go wild.

Slaw tonight. Coming up with different vegetables can be a challenge. Coleslaw does not have to be the partner to all fatty meats. While it is routinely the sidekick to barbecue, lasagne, hotdogs and burgers, try a different version to accompany grilled chicken or fish.

Buy a bag of shredded cabbage, broccoli or carrots and simply add low-fat dressing. Jazz it up with chopped red or yellow peppers and coriander if you get industrious. It doesn't take long, but it tastes like it.

Speedy starch. For a quick starch when you forgot to put on rice or don't have 30 minutes to prepare it, either use instant rice or couscous.

Couscous is my favourite - it takes about five minutes and is very receptive to cooked vegetables and meats thrown right in. All take as long as it takes to boil water. Just don't watch the pot.

Prompt protein. Make sure that you have lots of different sizes of zip-lock bags for meat marinating. I like to take whatever meat or fish I have purchased - salmon or tuna, pork tenderloin, chicken breasts or beef.

Remove packaging and place in a zip-lock bag with a good dousing of some marinade. It is ready to be cooked that night, or it can go into the freezer for future use. Go ahead and buy the economy size and grill all of it for lots of leftovers that can be frozen.

If you think about it, much of our time-crunch cooking issues arise because we didn't think about it ahead of time. It's all in the planning. Head for the supermarket, plan your meals, whip them up and then you can get to that meeting. No problem.

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