As a food writer and stylist, I cook for a living, so after a long day of recipe development, the last thing I feel like doing is making yet another meal. I sometimes fall back on takeaways, but they’re expensive and can be disappointing. So, having come up with many a cookery hack for my work in the past, I decided to try out a few in my own life to reclaim time for myself and the family.
I’m a serial food shopper, and buy groceries on a near-daily basis. I’ve meal-planned in the past, but life can thwart that detailed timetable in a heartbeat, so this time I’m aiming for a happy medium. Instead of making multiple supermarket trips a week, I do one online shop for staples such as lentils and pasta, five days’ worth of mix-and-match proteins and veg, plus some garlic, fresh herbs and tinned goods like coconut milk, chickpeas and chopped tomatoes. Then I can be flexible as the week progresses and pop some things in the freezer if they aren’t going to get used.
For the nights when I’m too tired to cook, I buy a Charlie Bigham’s Fish Pie and Tikka Masala. They’re the closest thing I’ve found to a ‘from-scratch’ dinner without me having to put the effort in.
Handy and reliable kitchen tech genuinely saves me hours and effort. I use my food processor to whizz up raw veggies for a speedy soup, my pressure cooker can poach a whole chicken to perfectly tender in 30min, and my stick blender blitzes batters, mayo and marinades in seconds.
Mornings are often fraught: getting ready for work and school, assembling breakfast… there aren’t enough hours to get it all done.
Instead of the usual dawn dash, I try something different. While my Bigham’s fish pies cook for later, I make some brekkies for the next few days, opting for dishes that are speedy to throw together and can sit in the fridge overnight.
I stir up a coconut, chia and oat bircher muesli, to serve with almond butter and berries come morning: I mix 4 tablespoons of chia seeds with a handful of oats in a large jar, adding a 400ml tin of coconut milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I give it a quick stir, screw on the lid and pop it in the fridge to thicken and set.
To add to the breakfast spread, I pre-boil some eggs and cook up a raspberry compote to go with the bircher or some Greek yogurt.
Tidying up after I’ve cooked? Not fun, especially with kids in the mix. Rather than dirty loads of pans, I get creative with some one-pot recipes. I make a big sausage and tomato stew that’s done in one casserole dish and gives me enough leftovers to freeze for another meal. The next day, I dust off a favourite recipe for a vegetarian traybake – you just roast veggies in a large tin, add a drained and rinsed tin of chickpeas and some smoked paprika, then top with halloumi and grill until golden.
On nights when the cooking is a little more involved, I make a concerted effort do the dishes and clean up spills as I go, so there’s no stubborn crusted-on food to deal with.
Instead of choosing snacks that require plates (and create more washing-up), I opt for healthy treats that I can just grab by the handful. I buy bags of my favourite nuts – almonds, hazelnuts and pecans – and roast them in the oven. Then I store them in a container so they’re ready whenever anyone gets peckish. Toasted coconut flakes or a square of very dark chocolate satisfy my sweet tooth, and I keep a bag of mini poppadoms in the cupboard for when I crave crisps – they’re just the ticket with Charlie Bigham’s Tikka Masala too.
All in all, I’ve found that a few little changes can make a huge difference. Planning ahead or choosing a time-saving dinner isn’t hard if you put some extra thought in. Don’t underestimate the power of the ready meal either – they can be a lifesaver when you’re weary but need sustenance. It’s been awesome to get some time back to spend on myself or with my family, and it’s motivated me to be more organised in the future.
Save time in the kitchen, without sacrificing nutrition and taste, by enjoying Charlie Bigham’s ready-made home meals
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