The best timesaving systems come from the people who need them most. Here, a celebration of streamlining tips from (and for) busy women everywhere
Cut Kitchen Clutter
We have a special spot on the kitchen counter where everyone can put half-filled coffee mugs that need to be reheated, water glasses to be used again later, or sippy cups that can be refilled. At the end of the day, everything that's still out goes in the dishwasher. It cuts down on kitchen clutter, and it also avoids shouts across the house of "Are you done with that coffee yet?"
Presort the Family Laundry
Clean laundry is only half the battle - it still needs to be sorted and put away. Save those steps by keeping washer-and-dryer-safe mesh bags (27-by-36-inch mesh bag, $8, www.stacksandstacks.com) in each kid's room - one for lights, one for darks. Throw the bags directly into the washing machine and dryer, then hand them back to the kids. If they're old enough, they can do their own folding.
Minimizing Trips to the Garbage
While I'm preparing a meal, I have a big bowl on the counter. I put all my chopping, cutting, and peeling discards into it, then make one trip to the garbage instead of 10.
Quick Breakfast Smoothie
Put all your fruit, milk, silken tofu, or yogurt in the blender pitcher and store the pitcher in the refrigerator overnight. (You can even prechop a banana. It will brown, but that will not affect the flavor of the shake.) In the morning, set it on the blender and press a button for breakfast.
Put the Kids to Work
After too many years of hearing "What's for dinner?" and "That again?" I finally decided to turn over the role of meal planner and cook to my family of seven (two adults, including me, and five children, ages 4 through 20). Now, every Saturday morning, each person (excluding the four-year-old) chooses a night that suits his or her schedule, fills in a dinner menu, and adds the needed ingredients to the grocery list.
The rules are simple: a different menu every night, and only one pasta dish per week. Everyone's food issues (allergies, picky taste buds) must be addressed. Every menu must be healthy and include vegetables. I retain the title of shopper. The kids have become quite adept at planning menus. And since there is also dish-duty sign-up, I have become quite adept at relaxing on weeknights.