Learning and transitioning to a real food way of life can lead to some initial frustrations. Even though I knew how to cook most things from scratch, it was something that I did when I had time, and when I didn't I relied on fast food or overly processed foods on the days that I didn't have the time or energy. I listed some of my time saving tips in this post and will add some more here.
***Create your own fast food. Come up with a list of quick meals that you can easily pull together at home and keep the ingredients for those meals on hand. Here are a couple of my meal suggestions, but these will be different for every family. Knowing what your family likes and keeping some basic ingredients on hand and you can have a real food dinner on the table before the pizza guy can deliver.
The goal here is to anticipate those crazy nights when you don't have a ton of prep time and already have a plan in place. If you have a plan and keep the ingredients on hand, it is much easier to resist the drive-thru.
Chicken Noodle Soup: I always chicken in my freezer that has been cooked and shredded and frozen in 2 cup portions and I try to never run out of chicken broth. I usually have homemade egg noodles in the freezer too, and combined with the broth and chicken and even some veggies, homemade chicken noodle soup can be a pretty quick hearty meal.
Breakfast for Dinner: This is something that I like to do and can make very quickly. I always have eggs and some type of veggie in the fridge. A scrambled egg dish cooks in just a few minutes in the skillet, or add even more veggies and make a fritter in the oven. My freezer comes in handy here too, when I make waffles or pancakes, I always make extra and freeze them and they are ready to be eaten after a very quick defrost in the toaster.
Quick Spicy Chicken Chili: once again starting with cooked chicken in the freezer, add a cup of chicken broth, the chicken, 2 cups of salsa and 2 cans of white beans to a pan and simmer for just a few minutes.
Fried Rice: Basically I do this when I have a lot of left overs in the fridge, enough to save, but not enough to serve as a meal. I cook some rice or take out a pouch of already cooked that I have frozen, then add a bunch of veggies and cook til tender. Top with a little Tamari, and it is much better than carry out rice.
***Cooking for the freezer/pantry: I am not talking about the plans where you spend one day shopping and then another entire day of cooking and you have a month's worth of meals ready to go in the oven. I have never had that much freezer room to make those plans work. I am talking about cooking a little extra when you are cooking. For instance, if you are cooking chicken for a meal, then cook some extra, let it cook, chop or shred it, cool the freeze it.
I am an avid canner so I have several soups and meal options that are on my pantry shelves. I spend a couple of hours once a month or so making a canning project, which sounds like a lot of time, but I can have 14 meals ready for my shelf in those couple of hours. You can do the same with freezer meals if you are not a canner.
Prepping: I prep a lot of my food when I get home from the store. I will wash all the berries and veggies, go ahead and chop an onion or two, cut up carrot sticks, wash the fruit, etc. It is just one quick step more than just putting it away and on crazy nights, having those things done helps you get dinner on the table a little faster.
Packing lunches: Dinner left overs make up much of our lunch menu. After dinner, I pull out the lunch containers and go ahead and make lunches right then. I would be putting away the leftovers any way, and by going ahead and getting lunches ready, I save time in the mornings and have less dishes to wash.
Use a crock pot: If you have one night a week that you are always pressed for time, designate that day as a crock pot day. When you get home from the store, prep everything for that crock pot meal and then place it in the freezer. The night before cooking, set it in the fridge to defrost, then in the morning, place it in the crock pot and let it cook while you are at work. I always loved coming home from work after a long day, open the front door and know that dinner is already done.
Enlist help: Designate part of dinner to different family members or have one sous chef responsible for helping you on designated nights. Even little kids can help chop veggies, tear lettuce for a salad or help in some way. I have used knives similar to these with kids as young as two.
It does get easier the longer you do it and you will find your own tips that work for you!