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If you love cooking, then you know the joy of sharing a meal with family and friends – something that’s not always easy to do with our busy lifestyles!
And as much as we might enjoy cooking, the entire process takes a lot of time.
Meal planning, grocery shopping, preparation, cooking, and cleaning all interrupt our precious hours of free time.
No one wants to be in the kitchen all day and night. And who has the time to go to the market or grocery store every single day of the week?
If you’d like to find ways to limit how long you are in the kitchen, here is a compilation of 30 of the best time-saving tips from professional chefs and home cooks.
By adopting these into your daily cooking routine, you can spend a bit more time with family and friends, enjoying the fruits of your cooking labors!
30 Time-Saving Kitchen Hacks and Ideas
- Plan Ahead
- Pre-Cut Your Produce
- Portion out Snacks
- Set the Table for the Next Day
- Leave Out Pots and Utensils You’ll Need for Tomorrow
- Keep a Clean and Well-Organized Work Area
- Strategize Where You Put Frequently Used Utensils
- Arrange Your Cookware Storage Areas for Convenience
- Use a Recipe Stand
- Invest in a Good Set of Knives
- Buy a Slow Cooker, Pressure Cooker, or Both
- Minimize Prep Time with a Food Processor
- Organization Is Your Friend
- Pre-Mix Your Favorite Spice Combos
- Grow Your Own Kitchen Herbs
- Freeze Fresh Herb Paste
- Build a Supply of Canned Beans
- Keep Quick-Cooking Starches in the Pantry
- Go All in for Onions and Garlic
- Frozen Vegetables
- Frozen Fruit
- Eat Your Fruit and Veggie Skins
- Make Larger Recipe Portions
- Boil Eggs While Making Another Meal
- Make Your Own Salad Dressings
- Stock Up on Homemade Stock
- Make Breakfast and Lunch after Dinner
Planning and Preparation
Have you ever finished a long day at work or running errands only to realize you have no idea what to make for dinner?
Even if you did have a recipe in mind, you know your fridge is practically empty – except for that quart of milk with the questionable expiration date, and the pantry nearly barren…
And the last thing you want to do is stop for groceries on the way home!
The solution? Spend some time planning in advance and prepping for the entire week’s meals ahead of time.
Adding a few smart strategies into your schedule can save valuable time, money, and energy in the long run!
1. Plan Ahead
On the weekend, or before your work week starts, schedule some time in your calendar for meal planning and grocery shopping.
First, take a quick inventory of what’s on hand in the kitchen, and plan some meals around what you already have. Then, fill in any ingredient gaps on your shopping list.
Keep an ongoing grocery list of kitchen staples, adding items as they get low so you don’t run out during the middle of a hectic week.
When planning your meals, give some consideration to what’s available among the local and in-season produce at the farmers market, and stay up to date with any special offerings your butcher or fishmonger might have that week.
When you’re aware of what specific seasonal ingredients are in stock, you’ll save time that would have otherwise been wasted trying to find items that are hard to source, or that are only available during a specific period.
Post your meal plan for the week on the fridge, write it down on a chalkboard or markerboard, or save it to your phone or computer.
And stick to the plan! Not having to think about what to make for dinner each night is a great stress reducer and it will help to keep the week as streamlined as possible.
2. Pre-Cut Your Produce
Complete some prep work with your produce for the week, and store it in the fridge in airtight containers so everything’s ready to go for your soups, salads, snacks, and main dishes.
This way, you’re only pulling out the utensils and tools used for slicing, dicing, grating and chopping once – and only cleaning up once – for all of these items!
Review each recipe you plan to make to make sure you are prepping each fruit or vegetable correctly, whether it needs to be peeled, sliced, chopped, minced, or diced.
While we don’t recommend doing this ahead of time with more delicate produce like berries, apples, avocados, or tomatoes, which should be cut fresh as needed, other hardier items can withstand short-term storage after they make friends with your knife.
Carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, peppers, cucumbers, celery, squash, pineapple, mangoes, and melons are a few examples among the many fresh produce items that can be cut and stored in the refrigerator a few days in advance.
3. Portion Out Snacks
Preparing and portioning out a variety of snacks will help with any midday snack attack, a glorious life saver for both you and the kids.
For refrigerated snacks on the sweet side, make individual portions of overnight oats, homemade yogurt, or chia seed pudding.
4. Set the Table for the Next Day
Don’t put everything away after the dishes are clean!
Set aside the tableware, dishes, and cutlery needed for the next night’s dinner. You can even set the dinner table completely if you know the family will be out and busy all day so you won’t be using it.
If you use the dinner table throughout the day for more than just eating – like for paying bills, doing homework, playing games, and so on – stack everything you use for dinner towards the end of the table or on a kitchen counter.
Everything will be out of the way, but it will still be ready to go come dinner time.
You’ll like this plateware set from Made In Cookware. Each item is fully glazed, top and bottom, so you can safely stack your plates and bowls without any risk of scratching.
5. Leave Out Pots and Utensils You’ll Need for Tomorrow
Using the same technique for setting the table ahead of time, you can also assemble your arsenal of pots, pans, appliances, and utensils that you’ll need for cooking the next day.
This is particularly helpful when you are short on space and need to store certain appliances in other areas of the house, like in your pantry or downstairs.
Grab only what you need for each recipe to set yourself up for success.
6. Keep a Clean and Well-Organized Work Area
For convenience, efficiency, and safety, it is essential to maintain a clean and organized work space in your kitchen.
Before starting your slicing and dicing, review the status of your kitchen:
Make sure whatever you will be using – countertops, appliances, cutting boards, stovetop, oven, and utensils – are clean and free of any debris, and that your floor is clean and dry.
Keep one wet and one dry towel close to you for wiping purposes, and set up your trash can – or dump bowl – in an accessible spot.
And don’t forget to check your own status! Wash your hands before you start working, remove any jewelry, tie your apron tightly, and make sure your shoes are laced tightly.
Tools and Utensils
Consider investing in a few good pieces that you know you will use often, and store them nearby and within reach.
If your utensils are easily accessible, this will save you from having to dig through multiple kitchen drawers, wasting time in the process.
Here’s more on the topic of tools and utensils:
7. Strategize Where You Put Frequently Used Utensils
Keep the cooking utensils you use the most by the stove. These are the pieces you want to get your hands on quickly when cooking, including spoons, whisks, spatulas, tongs, ladles, and slotted spoons.
Find a fun and funky piece of pottery or a wide-mouthed jar for storing long-handled items, and get into the habit of storing them there after every single use – you won’t soon forget them, and they will always have their permanent location.
You can even match your storage vessel with your other cookware, like this Le Creuset utensil crock from Sur La Table, available in assorted colors.
Le Creuset Utensil Crock, available from Sur La Table
You can also store your knives in a block or on a knife magnet beside the stove or by your chopping block.
Alternatively, many of these can be hung from hooks or a rack mounted to the wall or ceiling.
8. Arrange Your Cookware Storage Areas for Convenience
Arrange the items in your cupboards and other storage spaces so larger pieces are easy to access, not stashed behind delicate wine glasses that could shatter with one false move.
You may also need to store larger items completely outside of your kitchen area, depending on the space you have available.
If storing appliances in your basement, it might be best to keep them in the original packaging for cleanliness and more organized storage.
9. Use a Recipe Stand
Decide on a dedicated spot for reading recipes close to your usual work area – and don’t change it!
Splurge on a beautiful cookbook stand that you’ll want to use every time you cook, like this olivewood cookbook holder from Sur La Table. Playfully is designed to look like a cutting board, it’s fun, stylish, and functional.
Olivewood Cookbook Holder, available from Sur La Table
You’ll feel more organized once you establish this key location, ready to conquer any recipe.
This way, you’re not constantly moving your cookbook, computer, tablet, or phone around as you are prepping and cooking.
And since it will be elevated slightly from the work area, there will be less risk of it getting messy, or of having to stop midway through the cooking process to clean off the gunk!
10. Invest in a Good Set of Knives
A good set of sharp knives can help to safely speed up your work in the kitchen.
You can choose a variety of knives that are designed for specific cutting tasks – or stick with the essentials that can be used for multiple purposes, such as a chef’s knife and a paring knife.
And be sure to keep them sharp by maintaining a consistent sharpening and honing schedule.
11. Buy a Slow Cooker, Pressure Cooker, or Both
The slow cooker and pressure cooker are two distinct appliances that both offer practical cooking assistance for busy households.
The slow cooker is a dream for both lazy and busy cooks! Many slow cooker recipes simply have you adding all of the ingredients to the appliance, and letting them cook for hours.
This convenient cooking method helps you significantly cut down on prep and cleanup time. And consider how much your family would love some juicy pulled pork for dinner, for example.
As another fabulous time saver, the electric pressure cooker makes fast work out of a range of ingredients, from vegetables to starches to meats.
For incredibly quick and easy recipe suggestions, review our collection of how-to guides for cooking pasta, rice, and chicken in the pressure cooker.
You’ll soon have an entire collection of go-to recipes to make during even the busiest of weeks.
Buy one appliance, invest in both, or find one that can do it all!
12. Minimize Prep Time with a Food Processor
A good food processor can be your fellow prep chef in the kitchen, so it’s one of those purchases worth saving up for when you decide you’re ready to buy a new one.
Whiz your way to soft and spreadable nut butters, sultry sauces, smooth spreads, and more.
And if you buy a food processor with multiple attachments, you can save even more time on prep work by enlisting your appliance to do all the grunt work of chopping, shredding, and slicing in seconds.
Your refrigerator, pantry, and freezer are important storage locations to stock up on a variety of essentials.
Making and having these basics on hand will be a big help when preparing your favorite recipes.
13. Organization Is Your Friend
Look inside your fridge, freezer, or pantry. What do you see?
If you see a chaotic mess of unlabeled containers, bags half filled with mystery food, and containers or cans of food you don’t even remember buying, it’s time for an organizational makeover.
To start, pick up the professional food industry habit of dating and labeling – EVERYTHING.
As soon as you open a container, make and store a meal, or prep a food item in any way that needs to be stored afterwards, it’s important to date and label it.
180-piece Chalkboard Waterproof Labels with Liquid Chalk Marker, available on Amazon
For a touch of aesthetic flair, use beautifully designed, and reusable, chalkboard labels. Try this 180-piece waterproof set from Amazon!
Make sure the text is legible and keep what you write simple: you just need a brief description of the item in the container, as well as the date when you prepped or opened it.
And make sure all labels on everything you store are always facing towards you for fast identification.
To go one step further, you can keep a dry-erase marker board or list next to your fridge, freezer, or pantry as a way of continually updating your inventory – that way, you’ll know exactly what items are in your storage area and it’s easy to check at a glance.
14. Pre-Mix Your Favorite Spice Combos
It’s quick and easy to make your own spice and herb blends tailored to your tastes for use in your favorite meals.
And when made in bulk, you’ll have enough to last you for months, as long as you store them properly in airtight containers in a cook, dark spot.
Garam masala, pumpkin spice, taco seasoning – most of us have favorite blends that we use on a regular basis. Mix up batches of spices to use in your own tried-and-true recipes, and have some fun with different combinations.
15. Grow Your Own Kitchen Herbs
Nothing beats the flavor of fresh herbs!
If the winters in your area don’t allow for outdoor growing, pick up small 4-inch pots of fresh herbs and keep them on a windowsill that gets some light.
You won’t need to rush to the store for a tiny, overpriced packet when you can simply pick some fresh at home.
16. Freeze Fresh Herb Paste
If you bring in a big harvest or buy your herbs at the grocery store, but you only need to use just a little at a time, don’t let the rest go to waste!
Use what you need for the week’s menu, and then freeze the rest to use for future recipes.
An easy way to do this is by finely mincing the herbs, mixing them with olive oil, and evenly pouring this mixture into ice cube trays. Once frozen, store them in labeled airtight containers in the freezer.
These little frozen flavor packets are great for adding to soups, stews, and sauces.
17. Build a Supply of Canned Beans
Canned garbanzo, navy, and kidney beans all work well as the meatless base protein for many dishes, and they’re indispensable for making quick vegetarian meals.
18. Keep Quick-Cooking Starches in the Pantry
You can make a number of fast and filling recipes with many types of grains and starches, which can all be stored in your pantry.
A valuable staple with a reasonable cooking time, keep quinoa in the pantry as an alternative to grains that take longer to cook on the stovetop. Use it in our gluten-free tabbouleh recipe with lemon and herbs for a bright side dish.
Bulgur and farro are also quick and easy to use when you purchase quick-cooking options at the grocery store.
19. Go All in for Onions and Garlic
Garlic and onions are two shelf-stable alliums that, when left whole and uncut in a cool and dry place, can be stored for a longer period of time compared to other fresh produce items.
They are both go-to ingredients that augment the flavor profile of savory recipes.
Keep them on hand as your trusted culinary allies to provide a strong foundation of flavor in a variety of dishes – your dinner will thank you for the tasty addition!
20. Frozen Vegetables
Freezing or purchasing pre-frozen vegetables is another great time saver. A handful of frozen peas, corn, carrots, or broccoli works in a pinch in so many different recipes.
Vegetable medleys are versatile and come in a wide variety of combinations – check out the freezer section of your grocery store to see what selections are available.
21. Frozen Fruit
The same storage idea described above also applies to fruit.
If you are holding onto some fruit that is a little past its prime – we see you, slightly mushy strawberries – don’t seal the fruit’s fate just yet by tossing it in the trash can!
Fruits that have seen slightly better days don’t need to be thrown away or composted – they can still be used in other ways, as long as they aren’t rotten or moldy.
Consider slicing and freezing this extra fruit.
A stash of prepped and frozen peaches, mangoes, or berries is the answer to make whipping up healthy smoothies every morning a breeze.
You can also use them to make sweet fruit syrups, perfect for drizzling over desserts and mixing into cocktails and other types of drinks.
You’ll love these easy ideas to stretch your time as you are cooking in the kitchen.
22. Eat Your Fruit and Veggie Skins
As long as you have thoroughly washed and scrubbed the skin of your veggies, there’s no need to peel many varieties of produce for every recipe.
Plus, you’ll consume more nutrients and healthy fiber by eating the skins of apples, eggplant, carrots, potatoes, yams, squash, parsnips, and young beets.
When making stock, don’t waste precious time in the kitchen by peeling your vegetables – keep the skins on your carrots and the papery outer skin and peel on your onions. You’ll be straining all of this prior to storing and using the stock anyway. Clean peels can be reserved and used on their own to make stock as well!
The next time you make applesauce, consider mashing the apples by hand with the skins on – you might appreciate the added texture.
23. Make Larger Recipe Portions
Ah, the wonders of prepping meals in bulk!
Cook extra portions of chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, pork, and grains to repurpose later in the week. The leftovers will work well in salads and sandwiches.
Sauces and soups also freeze well – so take advantage of the available freezer space to prep larger batches of foods you enjoy.
24. Boil Eggs While Making Another Meal
You don’t typically use all of the burners on your stovetop when preparing a simple and quick meal, right?
Take advantage of an extra burner to do some easy food prep that you can complete as you simultaneously prepare other foods.
The next time you’re making dinner, hard or soft boil half a dozen eggs using one of the back burners.
You can use them throughout the week for breakfast, lunch, or a quick snack.
25. Make Your Own Salad Dressings
Make a basic oil and vinegar salad dressing that can be switched up with seasonal herbs and berries for tasty vinaigrettes.
We have a basic herbed vinaigrette recipe in Foodal’s vinegar guide to help you get started.
26. Stock Up on Homemade Stock
If you want to start making basic go-to ingredients completely from scratch, this is still possible when you have a busy schedule.
Consider making homemade stock. Broth is simple to prepare, easy to store in the freezer, and it can easily be made in bulk for a long-lasting supply throughout the year.
Make your own tasty soup stock from the bones of beef, poultry, or seafood. You can also make a vegetarian version, featuring a medley of fresh vegetables as well as scraps you would have thrown away.
Save a portion in the fridge that you know you’ll use throughout the week, and freeze the remainder in two different portion sizes: one for adding to sauces and other dishes calling for a small amount of stock, and a larger size for when you have the time to make soup.
27. Make Breakfast and Lunch after Dinner
Packing breakfast and lunches for the next day can be a speedy process when you immediately piggyback from dinner prep.
Make a quick batch of overnight oats or chia seed pudding for breakfast, and assemble salads and sandwiches for lunches before putting everything away for the night.
This way, you’re still energized from dinner prep – you’re already on a roll, so why stop now? And you won’t have to take everything out again later, or clean the kitchen a second time.
Speaking of cleaning up…
No one likes to clean a messy kitchen.
Make this dreaded chore a little easier by applying our easy time-saving techniques, perfect for anyone who is busy… or lazy!
28. Fill a Sink with Hot Soapy Water
Do your dishes as you use them to avoid having to tackle a huge, messy pile all at once. Cast away that overwhelming nightmare by cleaning while you cook.
Fill a divided portion of your sink, or a large container or bowl placed in the sink, with hot and soapy water. Add used cookware and utensils to it to begin soaking as soon as you finish using them. This makes so many items easier to clean, like blenders, frying or saute pans, and baking pans!
While you have some time waiting for parts of your meal to cook or bake, start cleaning pots, pans, and utensils while you are still in the kitchen. This is also an excellent time plan your attack for putting items in the dishwasher.
29. Compost, Recycling, and Garbage
Keep everything you plan to compost, recycle, or throw away in the trash organized while you are cooking.
Have your open compost pail ready for veggie scraps by the sink, and toss everything else that you consider garbage into another bowl that is next to your prep area. And cheers to you for reducing food waste in your home!
Maintain a clean area in your kitchen for temporarily holding recyclable items like cans, cardboard packaging, and plastic or glass bottles. You may also want to invest in a divided trash can that allows you to easily separate recycling from the garbage before bringing it outside. This dual compartment brushed stainless steel trash can from simplehuman is the perfect option, available now on Amazon.
simplehuman 15.3-Gallon Dual Compartment Trash Can, available on Amazon
When all of the preparation is done and your food is cooking or baking, separate and dispose of the garbage and recycling if you need to bring it out to the curb or garage.
Hosting a party is a great way to stay connected and swap recipe ideas with friends and family, and to share food items lovingly prepared by those you love most!
You don’t have to do all the cooking by yourself!
30. Host Meal Swaps and Canning Parties
Get together with neighbors, family, and friends for a quarterly meal swap get-together.
Plan ahead and double up on a dish in your menu plan for the meal swap, so you’re not spending extra time cooking it. Make something easy and shareable like enchiladas, a big baked ziti, or a large pot of soup – our minestrone is so simple!
And at harvest time, host a canning party!
Buy in bulk when items are on sale, or mark a date on the calendar when that big bumper crop of zucchini or cucumbers is ready to bring in. Share in the washing, chopping, and preparation of delicious homemade canned and jarred goods such as garlic dill pickles, stewed tomatoes, canned fruits, jams, and jellies.
This can be a lot of fun, and it’s a great time and money saver.
And there you have it, 30 of the best time-saving kitchen tips.
There’s no need to sacrifice a home-cooked meal when you can find ways to work more efficiently in the kitchen.
With all of this time you’re going to save, you can actually relax now – at least for a little while!
It’s important to stay motivated. Remember your goals, stick to a steady food prep schedule every single week, and maintain a clean and organized kitchen.
On the busiest days, you’ll be so relieved to come home to a clean kitchen, a fridge full of prepped and ready-to-go ingredients, a freezer stocked with fruits and veggies, and a pantry brimming with nonperishables.
Dinner will be a snap!
How about you? Do you have some great kitchen hacks you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.
Looking for seconds? If you want more help in the kitchen, these articles will help to keep you feeling full, happy, organized, and sane:
- 7 Benefits of Cooking from Scratch at Home
- How to Get a Picky Child to Eat Healthy
- How to Use Your Refrigerator’s Crisper Drawers
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published March 15, 2015 by Lorna Kring. Last updated on February 22, 2023. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos provided by Sur La Table and Amazon.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.