I thought that the week we’re all recovering from the dreaded “spring forward” weekend might be a good time to share a few tips to save time in the kitchen.
Speaking of saving time, I’ll spare you a bunch of chit chat about why we all need time saving tips. You’re welcome.
Top 10 Time Saving Kitchen Tips
1. Make a weekly menu
I know – every list like this one includes this tip. But it really is VITAL to maximizing your time in the kitchen – and I find that a lack of time is the #1 culprit for derailing healthy dinners.
There are countless menu planning tools out there. Binders, apps, subscription services, and much more. Even something as simple as a handwritten list of dinners on a scrap of paper or Post It Note (my preferred method) can be helpful – just make a plan that works for you!
2. Include leftovers on your menu
Go ahead, mark that down. Leftovers = a legitimate dinner. Having just one less meal to cook and fewer pots and pans to clean gains me at least an extra hour to do other things. Who couldn’t use an extra hour?? I find it especially helpful on days when I have afternoon errands to run or we have evening commitments.
Spruce things up on day 2 by sprinkling a little cheese on top of the main dish, serving a different vegetable than you did the night before, or throwing together a simple fruit salad.
3. Keep a “running” shopping list
When I sit down to plan my menu, I take a kitchen inventory and add any needed ingredients to my shopping list. But, I also keep that list open for editing throughout the week.
For me, that means a paper list in a kitchen drawer that I can run and scribble an item down on at any time. This helps get all those non-menu items (like pantry staples and random household items) on the list so I’m less likely to have to make a second trip mid-week when I need more salt or Q-tips or whatever.
4. Incorporate no cook or low cook meals
Once or twice a month, I serve super easy and healthy “meals” that require literally 20 minutes to prepare and leave almost no dishes to wash. This could be a salad bar, baked potato bar, or sandwiches. One of our favorites is smoked salmon with crackers, along with cheeses and fresh fruits and vegetable slices. I might buy sparkling juice or a fancy block of cheese to add a special touch to the meal, or serve it on a picnic blanket in the den as a fun treat for the kids.
5. Advance prep ingredients
It’s such a help to have ingredients washed, chopped, and ready to go when you walk into the kitchen. You can either buy pre-washed, chopped, and ready to cook items like fruits and veggies, or set aside some time when it’s most convenient for you (early morning, afternoon nap time, etc.) to prep the dinner ingredients.
If you’re really organized, you can streamline multiple meals by making a list of foods to prep and pre-measure once or twice during the week. Each can be stored in a labeled container until ready to use (Sharpie on a Ziploc style bag, or masking tape and a Sharpie on glass containers both work well).
6. Turn off your phone
I’ll occasionally turn on some worship music or listen to a podcast online while I cook, but I mostly find that media (especially social media) while I’m cooking is a huge distraction. It either slows me down, leads to me messing up the recipe somehow, or both!
7. Wash the dishes first
I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of days where I have a dishwasher full of clean dishes, and a sink full of dirty ones before I even begin cooking dinner! I find that taking a few minutes to quickly clear the counters, sink, and dishwasher really helps things run smoother while cooking and cleaning up.I
If I don’t follow this piece of advice, I find myself more frustrated with the lack of counter space and faucet access while I’m cooking, and it takes me twice as long to pre-wash and load the dishes into the dishwasher in my after dinner slump than in it would have in my pre-dinner rush!
8. Use paper plates and plastic utensils
While we’re on the topic of dishes, try not to do them! I confess that, in recent months, we’ve eaten about half of our meals on paper plates. Yes, that’s a lot of trash, and no it’s not cheap (Costco prices aren’t too bad and I figure I’m saving on all that dishwashing water).
I’m learning to accept that, in every season of life, there will be compromises. During this busy stage of mothering young children, cooking from scratch, and learning to juggle our part-time homeschool routine with working from home, I’m doing well just to consistently cook healthy meals – if they need to be served on paper plates, so be it! 🙂
9. Allow (older) kids to help
While it’s important to allow younger kids to participate in the kitchen for other reasons, we all know it’s not time saving. On nights when I’m short on time, my little guy gets to watch a show or play with a toy that’s been at the top of the closet for a while. He gets to “help cook” on other, more leisurely days.
The big girl, on the other hand? I’ve got a short list of tasks she actually enjoys, is good at, and that really help speed things up. Things like washing produce, pushing buttons on the microwave, and setting the table.
10. Stock fast and easy “emergency backup” dinner ingredients
When all of the above aren’t enough, have a backup plan in place!
We all have “those” nights when sports practices go long, traffic was particularly bad, or mom’s just tired. I find that keeping quick prep items on hand that are nearly as healthy as our usual fare really helps prevent that frantic I-don’t-care-what-it-is-just-get-someone-else-to-make-it phone call for a dinner delivery.
Here are some of my favorite “emergency backup” dinners:
Breakfast for dinner
Breakfast is a nice change of pace and I always have ingredients on hand – pastured eggs (usually with this stirred in), breakfast meat, sourdough bread for toast, or pantry staples and a couple apples to make these Apple Ring Pancakes.
• Frozen containers of homemade soup or chili (best if they don’t contain potatoes or pasta) – place container in a large mixing bowl and run slightly warm water over it for several minutes, then transfer to a pot on the stove. Heat over low medium heat, breaking the frozen soup into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon as it heats. Once it is nearly defrosted, increase to medium heat, stirring often, until ready to serve.
• Some prepared soups are also good backup options (we like Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup and Tabatchnick Split Pea Soup). Choose those with a short list of identifiable, “real food” ingredients as much as possible.
• Adding crostini, fresh fruit and veggies, and a salad to round out the meal.
My family loves grilled cheese sandwiches, so that’s my go-to sandwich dinner. I might incorporate some leftover meat or sauteed onions to make it interesting, and I always serve it with a salad or fresh veggies as well as something fun like healthier potato chips or microwave “baked apples. “
This Easy Pulled Pork recipe also freezes well and can be quickly defrosted for pulled pork sandwiches.
Fresh baby spinach and salad greens are staples in my kitchen. For us, including protein like boiled eggs, cheese, or leftover roasted chicken/meat are essential for making a salad satisfying enough to pass for a full meal.
I also use fresh or dried fruits, nuts, and our favorite homemade salad dressings.
In addition to smoked salmon I already mentioned, we’re in love with the smoked link sausage from our local farmer – seasoned, smoked, and ready to reheat and serve. It has become my replacement for those store bought rotisserie chickens I used to rely on. It’s so convenient, much healthier, and we like the flavor way better.
I’ve also bought Trader Joe’s grass fed organic beef roast a couple of times and I’ve been pretty pleased with the clean ingredient list and the flavor, for a “convenience” item.
I can literally defrost and heat either of these in less than a half hour. They’re great with simple sides like brown rice and steamed (frozen) vegetables, both of which can be prepared on the stove while the sausage is in the oven.