Feeding our families is an important part of life for a lot of us. Join chef Kelly Senyei and me in this latest episode of the Productive Living series as we talk about how to do that efficiently and cost-effectively–and have a little fun on the way.
Making meal preparation a part of your productive day: helpful suggestions and recipe ideas
Kelly Senyei is a professional chef and television host who appears regularly on The Food Network Kitchen and The Hallmark Channel. In her new book The Secret Ingredient Cookbook: 125 Family-Friendly Recipes with Surprisingly Tasty Twists, Kelly offers delicious, accessible recipes that each feature an unexpected star ingredient. Over the past year, we’ve been cooking a lot more and at this point, may have cooking fatigue. When writing her new cookbook, Kelly was conscious of that, and also paid attention to the cost of preparing her recipes and how much time it would take.
Kelly lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and three young sons, ages 4, 2, and 5 months.
The intersection of food and family
On Kelly’s website, in her book, and on her podcast, she talks a lot about the intersection of food and family. Kelly’s single most favorite person on the planet is her mother, who is the inspiration for Kelly’s career. Growing up, food was always at the core of everything Kelly’s family did. Her mother always had a hot meal on the table and the family ate together every night. The importance of food and eating together was instilled in Kelly at a young age and she is now continuing that tradition with her own family.
Now that a lot of us have been working from home for quite some time, the line between our professional life and our home life has been blurred, and it’s even easier than before to overwork. Cooking and sitting down for a meal is the perfect excuse to put our phones away and focus on each other. Kelly’s recipes are budget-friendly crowd-pleasers that take a half-hour or less to prepare, and don’t have a laundry list of ingredients.
Meal delivery services have also become increasingly popular and for good reason, but Kelly’s recipes are focused on ways you can cut down on meal prep during the evening “rush hour” in your home by providing lots of make-ahead tips. One of Kelly’s favorite recipes is Chicken Milanese, which can be prepared ahead of time and easily paired with other sides. They can be pan-fried or put in an air fryer as a healthier option.
Kelly’s tips for efficient meal planning
Preparation is key when it comes to getting meals on the table throughout the week. Currently, Kelly offers over 25 weekly meal plans on her website and her favorite part of these plans is that they each come with a grocery list, which makes the meal planning process even easier. All the ingredients for the recipes are affordable and easily accessible. Kelly is also a fan of grocery delivery services to make the process even smoother and faster. When it comes to meal planning, it’s important to stay efficient, prep ahead of time, and utilize modern technology and services.
Keeping meal prep simple and efficient
For those of us who are strapped for time or who feel we aren’t the best cooks, Kelly suggests to first start simple. Build up your confidence by making something simple and quick so you feel good about moving on to something a bit more complicated.
Kelly also encourages us to use store-bought shortcuts. That doesn’t necessarily mean buy a frozen meal, but if there is a product you can purchase that will shave off a few minutes of prep time, like a prepared rotisserie chicken, then go for it!
Kelly talks about these tips and more in her new cookbook, along with ways to add some secret and extra nutritional ingredients to your dishes. For example, she has a turkey and meatballs recipe that features cinnamon and a macaroni and cheese recipe (featured on the cookbook’s cover) with pumpkin as a secret ingredient. Kelly’s kids love it!
Kitchen staples to have on hand
When it comes to meal prep and cooking, we don’t need to have all the fancy gadgets and machines in our kitchen. Kelly herself is not a fan of single-use gadgets because they take up too much space and they aren’t always worth the cost. She instead likes to invest in very high-quality, simple, and multi-purpose tools that guarantee efficiency in the kitchen.
- A high qualify chef’s knife, perhaps from either Wusthof or Shun
- A heavy bottom stock pot, similar to a Le Creuset Dutch Oven (try a medium size to start)
- A cast-iron skillet (a 10-inch size is recommended)
If you invest in high-quality and multi-use kitchen tools, they will last for years and serve you and your family well.
How Kelly uses time blocking to stay productive throughout her day
At the end of the day, we all have different goals and objectives for ourselves, but getting food on the table is still important. One of Kelly’s most effective tools is the concept of time blocking. It’s so easy to get distracted throughout our day, especially because of social media. Kelly sets aside dedicated chunks of time throughout the day to accomplish her tasks and get as much done in one day as possible. She finds that when she utilizes time blocking, she is able to focus better and isn’t pulled in so many directions. Kelly also uses this technique for meal preparation, by blocking out time to prep ingredients and put dishes together. If Kelly strays from her time blocking it’s okay because at least she has a roadmap.
Kelly is often asked how she does it all, since she has so much going on and two young children as well. To be completely honest, she doesn’t get it all done! She often has already reached 10,000 steps by 4:00 pm. She relies on time blocking, setting her priorities, and staying as present as possible as a mom in order to keep a balance. She feels that as a business owner, she is setting a good example for her kids, showing them that you can start with just an idea and build it into a successful business.
Kelly has her good and bad days and accepts that she won’t always be successful at everything. It’s important for her to enjoy the journey, though, because she knows this season of her life will go by quickly. Kelly’s dad often says “Life is not a dress rehearsal”, which she lives by.
What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?
Kelly has “a day” quite often but she knows that tomorrow she can start fresh. On bad days she tries to redirect as quickly as possible and stay focused on the mindset of enjoying the journey and accepting the bad days, but also trying to find the joy and humor in everything.
Kelly’s last words for the listener
Don’t overthink it when it comes to getting a homecooked meal on the table. Keep it simple–have a general game plan and give yourself a starting point. And don’t be so hard on yourself! If you try a new recipe and it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t let that stop you from trying again. A recipe is just a template, tweak it however you need to in order to make something delicious.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Connect with Kelly
- on her website
- on Instagram
- on Facebook
- 0n Pinterest
- on LinkedIn
- on YouTube
- on Twitter
- send Kelly an email
- listen to Kelly’s podcast
- buy her brand new cookbook
Productivity tools Kelly recommends
- Kelly is a big fan of the Snooze function in Gmail. If you’re a “minimum inbox” fan like she is, it allows you to file emails with a scheduled date of when the email reappears in your inbox. This helps her to streamline email workflow and prioritize to-dos accordingly.
- Kelly does a lot of her creative ideation, especially for the podcast, in a program called Milanote. It allows you to storyboard concepts and themes, create to-do lists, and visualize a project on both the macro and micro scale.
- Kelly runs her whole company using DropBox. The company has thousands of assets in terms of photos, videos, graphics, and documents. DropBox allows her to create a very organized filing system to keep track of the 12+ years of content she has created. It also allows for easy searching and chronological sorting, so the team can get quick, easy access to content whenever it’s needed.
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Royse City, Texas