If you enjoy cooking, then you know the joy of sitting down with those you love to share a meal together. Something that’s not always easy to do with our increasingly busy lifestyles.
And, as much as we might enjoy cooking, it all takes a lot of time. Meal planning, grocery shopping, preparation, cooking and clean up all cut in to our precious hours.
No one wants to be a kitchen slave. And who has the time to go to the market every day?
If you’d like to save a bit of time in the kitchen, here’s a compilation of 30 of the best time saving tips from professional chefs and every day cooks. So we can all spend a bit more time with family and friends, enjoying the fruits of our cooking labors.
Planning and Preparation
Have you ever finished a long day at work only to realize you have no idea what to make for dinner? And even if you did, you know darn well that Mother Hubbard’s cupboards are bare… it’s a sinking feeling, and the last thing you want to do is stop for groceries on the way home.
The solution? Spend a couple of hours advance planning for the week – it can save valuable time, money and energy in the long term.
1. Plan ahead.
On the weekend, or before your work week starts, schedule some time into your calendar for meal planning and grocery shopping.
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.
If you’re trying out new recipes, make sure you read them all the way through to ensure you have everything needed. And keep an ongoing grocery list of kitchen staples, adding items as they get low so you don’t run out mid-meal.
When planning your meals, give some consideration to what’s available for in-season produce and meats. The flavors will be more robust, and you’ll save time trying to find hard to source items.
If you’re stuck for meal ideas, Google some of the items you have in the pantry plus ‘recipe’ for a bit of inspiration.
Post your meal plan for the week on the fridge and stick to it. Not having to think about what to make for dinner is a great stress buster.
And don’t go shopping when you’re hungry, or you’ll be tempted to stock up on convenience items…not the best for the budget or the waist.
Cocoa Puffs may seem like a good idea when your walking down the cereal section with your tummy rumbling, but trust me, they’re not.
2. Wash fruits and veggies before putting them away.
No doubt we’d all love to buy organic, but this doesn’t fit into every budget and sometimes the selection of organic produce is limited. And even organic fruits and vegetable should washed before consuming. They’re grown with fertilizers and soil enhancers and have been handled by a variety of workers.
Half fill a sink with cold water and add the following:
- 1 cup white or cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp. baking soda
- The juice of half a lemon
This is going to fizz-up like a grade 8 science experiment, so don’t be alarmed. Place all your produce in the solution and let them sit for 5 minutes, turning any bobbing pieces to fully cover all surfaces. Scrub the skins of root veggies with a brush so you won’t have to peel them later. Rinse, and dry leafy greens in a salad spinner, air drying the rest on a tea towel before storing.
3. Cut up your veggies once or twice a week.
For soups, salads and main dishes cut up your veggies for the week and store in the fridge in air tight containers. This way, you’re only pulling out the utensils and tools used for slicing, dicing, grating and chopping once – and only cleaning up once.
* Don’t precut avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers or green leafy veggies that will bruise, discolor or weep. They need to be added freshly chopped.
4. Portion out snacks.
Before putting the groceries away, prepare and portion out snacks. Measure up trail mix, cut cheese into cubes and slice carrots and celery into sticks for quick and handy access.
5. Pre-set the table.
If your dishwasher’s on daily, don’t put everything away. Set aside the tableware, dishes and cutlery needed for that night’s dinner. Stack them on the table, out of the way until dinner time.
6. Leave out tomorrow’s pots and utensils.
After the evening meal clean up, pull out the cooking pots and utensils you need for tomorrow’s dinner. Stack in an out-of-the way spot on the stove or at the end of a counter top.
7. Have a clean, well-organized work area.
For convenience and efficiency, keep your work space and chopping block somewhere within the ‘golden triangle’ formed by the fridge, stove and sink.
Tools and Utensils
Arrange your tools for easy access. And investing in a few good pieces will shorten prep and cooking time.
8. Have frequently used utensils by the stove.
Find a funky piece of pottery or a wide mouthed jar for storing often used utensils beside the stove. Good for wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, ladles, slotted spoons etc. – the pieces you want to get your hands on fast when cooking. Alternatively, you can hang from hooks or a rack mounted to the wall or ceiling.
9. Arrange your cupboards for convenience.
Have your cupboards arranged so that larger items of cookware are easy to get at, not stashed behind pieces of your Granny’s good china. Slow cookers, food processors, woks, pots and pans may not be as pretty to look at, but you want an effective arrangement to save time.
10. Use a recipe stand.
Have a dedicated spot for reading recipes close to your chopping block – this way, you’re not constantly moving them to create more counter space.
11. Invest in a good set of knives.
12. Use a slow cooker.
A fabulous time saver, put in all the ingredients in a Crock-Pot before leaving home in the morning and come back to a delicious meal. But, be wary of slow cooker recipes calling for canned soup, as they’re not the healthiest choice. Instead, make your own soup stock and freeze a supply for slow cooker dishes.
13. Purchase a high quality food processor.
The work horse of the kitchen, a good food processor is one of those purchases worth saving for… click on this link to read up on a couple of our recommendations.
Having these basics on hand is a time saver when making your favorite recipes.
14. Pre-mix your favorite spice combos
Thai, Indian, Mexican… most of us have favorite dishes that we use on a regular basis. Mix up batches of spices for your tried and true recipes and seal in spice jars. Remember to label them and store in a cool, dark spot.
15. Grow your own kitchen herbs
Nothing beats the flavor of fresh herbs. Parsley, basil, rosemary, oregano and savory are all easily grown in pots, even on a small apartment balcony. If the winters in your area don’t allow for outdoor growing, pick up small 4” pots of fresh herbs and keep them on a windowsill that gets some light. Find a greenhouse in your area that sells direct to the public, or pick some up in the produce section at your favorite grocery store.
16. Freeze fresh herb paste.
If you buy herbs, use what you need for the week’s menus then freeze the rest. Mince up your favorite combos and mix with olive oil or tomato paste, and freeze in ice cube trays. After they’ve set, store in labeled air tight containers in the freezer. These little flavor packets are great for soups, stews and sauces and you don’t have to buy a full bunch of herbs for just one recipe.
17. Keep a supply of canned beans on hand.
Garbanzos, navy, and kidney beans all work well as the foundation for one-pot dishes and they’re indispensable for quick, meatless meals.
18. Quinoa in the pantry.
Another valuable staple with a reasonable cooking time, keep quinoa in the pantry as an alternative to starchy vegetables, grains or pasta.
19. Freezer tomatoes.
Freeze whole tomatoes on a tray then store in zip lock bags, these are great for adding texture and flavor to sauces. Add the whole, frozen tomato to your cooking pot and the skin will slip off easily while cooking.
20. Staple veggies.
Keep these basic veggies on hand as they add flavor and texture to a variety of dishes, and they store well – garlic, onions, carrots, celery, yams and kale. Read more about storing garlic.
21. Frozen vegetables.
Yes, fresh is better, but these work in a pinch and at least you’ll be eating your veggies. Vegetable medleys are versatile and come in a wide variety of combinations.
23. Freezer fruit.
Have some fruit that’s a little past it’s prime? Freeze whole bananas (skin on), peach and pear wedges and kiwi etc. to add to your smoothies.
24. Freezer citrus juice.
Good for lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits that no longer look appealing. Squeeze juice, freeze in ice cube trays then store in zip lock bags.
Here’s a few easy ideas to leverage your time in the kitchen.
22. Eat your veggie skins.
If you’ve cleaned your veggies as outlined in Tip #2, there’s no need to peel your root veggies. Plus, you’ll consume more nutrients and healthy fiber by eating the skins of carrots, potatoes, yams, parsnips, and young beets.
23. Double up cooking portions.
Cook extra portions of chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, pork, rice, and quinoa and re-purpose into another meal for the week. These extras also work well in salads and sandwiches for lunches.
Our recipe for honey mustard pork chops is super easy to make in bigger portions!
Apply the same idea to dishes that freeze well. Cook extra portions of lasagne, shepherd’s pie, pasta sauces, soups etc. then seal and freeze.
24. Hard boil some eggs.
When making dinner, on a back burner, boil up half a dozen eggs for lunches, snacks, and salads.
25. Make your own salad dressings.
26. Stock up on stock.
Make your own tasty soup stock from the bones of beef, chicken, turkey and ham. Freeze in two portion sizes – one for adding to sauces and other dishes calling for stock, and a large size for when you have the time to make soup.
27. Make lunches before you clean up dinner.
Portion up salads and make sandwiches for lunches before putting everything away so you’re not taking it all out again later.
28. Fill a sink with hot soapy water.
Clean pots, pans and utensils as you go, multi-tasking while waiting for something to cook.
29. Compost, recycle and garbage.
Have your open compost pail by the sink for veggie scraps, and toss everything else into one sink. When all of the preparation is done and dinner’s cooking, separate and dispose of the garbage and recycling once only.
30. Meal swaps and canning parties.
Get together with neighbours and friends for a monthly 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 for it.
And at harvest time, have an antipasto or canning party – share in the washing, chopping, and preparation of making delicious home-made canned foods such as pickles, stewed tomatoes, antipasto, 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 30 of the best time saving kitchen tips. 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.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.