Many people have a desire to eat healthier. They go out and purchase all kinds of beautiful produce, tote it home and tuck it into their fridges and pantries. Then, all hell breaks loose and that beautiful bounty is quickly forgotten. Instead, its take-out or delivery for dinner. Sound like you? I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past. The thing about healthy eating is that it requires you to actually spend some time in your kitchen cooking meals. Convenience food is notoriously high in salt, fat, sugar, preservatives and other nasty stuff you are better off without. So, this week I’m going to share some time-saving tips you can use to get more accomplished in whatever time you have to spend in your kitchen.
This one sounds like a no brainer, but, if I handed you a new recipe right now, would you know exactly where to find each item in your kitchen? Would you be able to navigate efficiently through your kitchen to prepare that meal, without having to dig through cupboards and drawers to find that elusive garlic press or the measuring spoons? If you would be able to, awesome! You’re clearly more organized than I was starting out. If not, let’s get to work.
Start by having a look at your counters. Are they set up in a way that makes sense? Do you have an area with open space where you can put down a cutting board to chop fruits and vegetables? Are small appliances placed in areas where it makes sense to use them? Think of the flow, if it works for you, great! If not, shift things around so they make sense.
This goes for cupboards as well. Keep spices together, preferably near the area you will use them the most. Keep your most-used tools in an easy-to-access area. No more digging through cupboards. Even your fridge and pantry can use a spruce once in a while. You never know what forgotten ingredients you may find hiding in there.
Cook Once, Eat Twice (Or Thrice!)
When you’re cooking a family favourite, don’t cook just one portion. You can save a ton of time by making a double or triple batch and putting some away for later. I rarely cook anything without planning to eat it at least twice. Whether it’s leftovers for another night that week or put in the freezer for a busy night down the road. You’re spending the time to make the meal anyway, may as well make it count! Future you will be a happy camper. 😉
Prep After Shopping
When you get back from the market don’t just unpack your groceries and walk away. Take some time to wash your produce, then pack it up based on the way you intend to use it.
Wash your greens and store for salads and smoothies. Wash and chop the veggies to send in school lunches or to snack on at home. You’ve saved some time here by washing and prepping before putting your produce away. Now all of those ingredients will be grab-and-go all week long.
As a nice bonus, you’ll be more likely to actually consume said produce before it turns into a science experiment in the back of your fridge.
Use the Right Tool for the Job
While you’re prepping your grocery haul, make use of some time-saving tools to make the seemingly endless chopping go faster. A food processor is great for grating things like beets and carrots to top salads for the week. It can also tackle some slicing and dicing for you.
A mandolin is also a great and inexpensive tool to speed up your veggie prep. Just be careful, those blades are no joke. I speak from experience here. There are also some countertop choppers where you can place your veggies on a bladed plate and then push or slap the lid down over it. This style is great for dicing onions without all the tears.
Plan for Quick Meals
Busy weeknights are sometimes inevitable when you have a family. It can help to keep a list of quick and easy meals that you and your family love. Then, make sure to keep all the ingredients on hand for those go-to quick meals. This way, you always have something to fall back on when time is short. Keep things like canned beans and frozen veggies on hand for a quick stir-fry or to top a baked potato.
Prep for Success
Start your week by making batches of certain basics you’ll use all week. A batch of grains, beans, hummus and a salad dressing will leave you set up for quick meals most of the week. If you’re so inclined, you can also prep smoothie bags or overnight oats for those busy mornings where you might be tempted to leave the house with nothing more than a coffee in hand.
Batch cooking can be a huge time saver and can be a saving grace when your week goes sideways. To learn more about how to plan and execute it, check out my guide to batch cooking.
Use That Freezer
Whenever you make something that takes a lot of time to cook (like beans), make more than you need and freeze them for later. I generally pack them away in 1.5 cup portions, equivalent to a 15 oz can of beans. The same goes for labour-intensive soups or long-cooking grains. You can freeze your grains or beans packed flat in a freezer bag so they don’t take up much space and thaw quickly.
Make a Meal Plan
Take a few minutes on the weekend to plan out your meals for the week, then hang your list on the fridge. This will keep you from struggling to decide what to make for dinner each night. It’s also a great way to ensure you’re only buying what you need, so you’ll save money as well. Plus, if you have older kids, they can be tasked with some of the dinner prep when they get home from school.
Some Packaged Is Okay
If you know you’ll be too busy to prep, you can purchase some veggies prepped and cut for you. Bags of cut broccoli, cauliflower, or pre-washed greens are widely available now. These are great time-savers. Some grocery stores even sell fruit and veggie platters. These could work for you if you know you won’t have time to prep produce for the week.
Canned beans are also another great time saver, just aim for the unsalted variety. Drain, rinse, heat and serve with some rice and steamed veggies. It doesn’t get much easier than that. You’ll pay a little more for these options, but they work great in a pinch.
Make Your Mix
I love to make spice mixtures ahead of time. Whether they are made for a specific meal I have in mind or something I can grab at any time to season a meal. For example, I make a tex-mex blend and keep it in a container in my spice cupboard. This can be used in chili, tacos, fajitas, or even to season roasted veggies.
You can do this with any flavour profile you like, Italian, Indian, Greek, whatever you use often. Grabbing one container instead of 6 different spice jars really saves time.
You can also mix the dry ingredients of any baked goods that you make often ahead of time. Do you find yourself making pancakes, muffins or quick breads regularly? Mix up the dry ingredients and store them labelled in your pantry. Then just add the wet ingredients, mix and bake.
Okay, so those tips will help you save time if you plan in advance, but what can you do to save time while actually cooking?
Use a Scrap Bowl
When you are cooking or prepping for a meal, keep a big bowl on your counter for the kitchen scraps. Vegetable peels, cores, tops, etc. This will keep you from making multiple trips to the compost while you are chopping. Just empty it when you are done.
If you are feeling frugal, you can also simmer some of those kitchen scraps to make your own vegetable stock too. If you don’t have enough to make stock right away, you can transfer them to a freezer bag and pop them in the freezer. Then add to them each time you cook until you have enough.
Mise en Place
This is a french term for putting things in place. A common strategy of the pros, ingredients are prepped, chopped, and measured out prior to actually beginning the cooking process. This way, once the stove is on and your attention is required, you don’t have to stray in order to prep the next ingredient.
This makes cooking a breeze, especially for those who aren’t experienced in the kitchen, as your full attention can stay on the pan while you cook.
Even if you aren’t into doing a full mise en place for every meal you cook, it’s always smart to pull out all of the ingredients and tools you need prior to starting a recipe. You’ll save a lot of time as you won’t be wandering around looking for ingredients and tools as you go.
Wash as You Go
If you are making a few different recipes at once, it’s handy to keep some warm soapy water in the sink. This way, you can give measuring spoons, measuring cups and other cooking utensils a quick wash and rinse as you go. This helps to avoid the mountain of dishes that will be waiting for you once you’re done.
A Watch Pot Never Boils
Tired of waiting for a big pot of water to come to a boil for your pasta? You can put the lid on your pot to help it come to the boil faster. Alternatively, use an electric kettle to get the water to boiling, then pour it into your pot to continue on the stove.
Many people love to use slow cookers. You can add all the ingredients in the morning before you head out the door and come back to a home-cooked meal just waiting for you. This is a really good option if you’re returning home with ravenous children who won’t want to wait for a meal cooked from scratch.
Another great time-saving tool is a pressure cooker. You can cook grains, beans, soups or stews in a fraction of the time. You will need to wait a little while for the pot to come to pressure and for pressure to release after cooking, but if you’re in a serious hurry you can always use a quick release once the cooking time is up.
My favourite thing about pressure cooking is that it’s hands-off. I can set it up and then walk away and do something else while the meal is cooking. No more babysitting beans while they simmer for an hour on the stove.
For an added bonus, many electric pressure cookers will also function as a slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer and more. Very versatile indeed.
The Bottom Line
Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. I love to put on some music while I cook, it definitely keeps me in good spirits while I put together some healthy eats for the fam. So, crank up the tunes, dust off that apron and get cooking. These time-saving kitchen tips should have you cooking faster than ever before!
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