Consumer Reports offers these keys to preparing faster, tastier meals:
Design for efficiency. If you’re remodeling the kitchen, follow the design basics, but tailor them to your family’s needs and routines. For example, the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s guidelines call for kitchen walkways to be at least 36 inches wide. “But for a busy family, that passage needs to be 42 or even 48 inches wide for people to move freely,” says Paula Kennedy, a certified master kitchen and bath designer in Seattle.
Think ahead. One of the top cooking gripes in Consumer Reports’ survey of 3,435 subscribers about their experiences cooking weeknight meals was that it takes too much planning. Making double batches of recipes means one less meal to think about. Stews work for dinner, and pancakes can be frozen and reheated for breakfast.
Minimize maintenance. Some materials and finishes are harder to care for than others. Quartz countertops are rivaling granite in part because they don’t require periodic sealing. Stainless steel appliances remain popular, but if fingerprints are a concern, you might consider a new smudge-resistant finish, such as GE’s Slate.
As for flooring, vinyl held up best in Consumer Reports’ tests against scratches and dents, plus the latest designs mimic natural materials. If you want real wood, opt for a factory finish, which tends to last the longest.
Contain the clutter. In the kitchen, try to put things close at hand, says Jennifer Lava, a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. For example, dishes and flatware should be kept in a cabinet next to the dishwasher; cutting boards and sharp knives belong near the food-prep counter.
Creating a separate landing spot, ideally just off the kitchen or along its perimeter, for mail, school papers, and the like will help keep counters clear.
Make it a family affair. Look for ways to enlist other members of the household. Look for age-appropriate food-prep tasks, such as washing vegetables.
As for the meal itself, don’t underestimate the importance of sit-down family dinners. In one study, just an additional 3.5 minutes at mealtime was enough to mitigate the risks of child obesity.
Little helpers make food prep easier
Toaster oven: Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P, $150. Its quartz and ceramic heating elements eliminate the five-minute preheat required with other toaster ovens; corn muffins and pizza came out very nicely.
Food processor: Breville BFP800XL/A, $400. Whiz through meal prep with Consumer Reports’ top food processor. Chopping, slicing, shredding, and grating were all superb, and the 16-cup container lets you process large batches.
Immersion blender: Cuisinart Smart Stick CSB-75, $35. These devices save time by letting you blend soups and such right in the pot. This model from Cuisinart combines solid performance with an outstanding price.
Blender: Vitamix Professional Series, $750. This Vitamix whips up a superb smoothie, frozen drink, and even hot soup.
Single-serve coffeemaker: DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Genio EDG455T, $130. It was tops in Consumer Reports’ tests at brewing a single cup quickly and consistently.