Home cooked meals are infinitely healthier than packaged alternatives. But between shopping, planning, prepping, cooking and cleaning, keeping meals on the table can be quite time consuming.
How can a busy mom (or dad) find the time to cook nutrient-dense meals instead of resorting to take-out or prepared foods? Well, let me share what I’ve learned along the way with these 20 kitchen hacks that will help you save time (and your sanity) and get a little more joy out of mealtimes.
Kitchen hacks #1. Have a list for shopping
Creating a shopping list (and remembering to bring it to the store!) will enable you to buy everything you need for the week instead of needing to run out for one or two items one or two extra times. To save even more time, try creating a reusable shopping list. You probably put most of the same items on your grocery list each week (or however often you go) and this way you can save time by not having to write out a new list each time you need to go to the store. One idea is to type up a list of typical grocery items you buy and print it before heading to the store (with the needed items highlighted perhaps). Another option is to print just one list and laminate it. Then use a wet erase marker to check or underline the items that need to be purchased.
Kitchen hacks #2. Meal plan
We all know that meal planning is helpful to save money and time in the kitchen but it’s hard to find time every week to create one. That’s why I signed up for a meal planning service called, Real Plans. It creates a shopping list on your phone so no more forgetting it at home! Score! It also makes personalized plans so you can exclude food allergens or food groups altogether like grains and dairy if you’re on Paleo. The recipes are absolutely delicious and the service is cheap (only $6/month!)
Kitchen hacks #3. Read the recipe well before cooking
I must confess, I’m guilty of not doing this. I will sometimes just scan at the ingredients and think I have all of that, no problem and then a half hour before dinner I realize I needed to soak something, chill something or otherwise do something that takes a lot more time than I have. If you read through new recipes before starting (or, preferably, when you print them out) then you already know what you need to do and how early you need to start preparing. This is also helpful in deciding which recipes are just too time consuming.
Kitchen hacks #4. Use a slow-cooker
Gotta love those slow-cookers! Spend a few minutes in the morning (or the night before) chopping the ingredients and then just let the slow-cooker do the work. If you do prepare your ingredients the night before, either take the pot out of the fridge to warm to room temperature before putting it on the heat or store the ingredients in another container in the fridge and then add the to the room temperature pot. If you take a cold pot out of the refrigerator and put it on heat it could crack.
Kitchen hacks #5. Make enough for leftovers
You’re already making a meal anyway, right? Might as well double it and use the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. After dinner, dish out the leftovers into individual containers that can be thrown into a bag in the morning.
Kitchen hacks #6. Utilize your freezer space
While you’re at it, why not make another batch and freeze it for a dinner next week? Some suggestions for foods that freeze well: burritos, enchiladas, pot pies, pasta bakes, breaded chicken, oven fries, soups, meatloaf, chili, lasagna, calzones, spinach pie, mousaka. You can also chop the ingredients for your favorite slow-cooker meal and freeze them in a bag. Then just take it out and throw it in the pot! Many baked goods can be frozen as well for a quick breakfast or snack.
Kitchen hacks #7. Simplify meals
Choose recipes that have 6 ingredients or less, or adapt them to have fewer ingredients. To make your life even easier, choose recipes (or adapt them) to use common ingredients that you usually have in your house or that are also in one or two other recipes for the week. You can use some online recipe databases that help you do this easily, like epicurious.com and allrecipes.com.
Kitchen hacks #8. Learn to juggle
There is an art to preparing an entire meal where everything is finished at the same time and nothing is overcooked. But it is an art well worth mastering. If you can learn how to juggle a few dishes at once you will save a lot of time. Here are a few tips:
- Diversify your cooking methods. If you are planning a roasted chicken then include sides that can be made on the stovetop, in a toaster oven, or another method (rice cooker anyone?).
- Work backwards. When do you want to have dinner? If the chicken takes 1 hour and the potatoes take 20 minutes and you’d like to have dinner at 6pm, then put the chicken in at 5pm and the potatoes in at 5:40pm. (If a train leaves Baltimore going 55MPH…)
- Write it down if it helps. You can write a timeline of what needs to go in when and other things you need to do throughout the meal prep.
Kitchen hacks #9. Keep cabinets organized
If you know where everything is then you always know exactly where to find an ingredient. Also, you can easily tell when you are running low and need to buy more in advance.
Kitchen hacks #10. Prep ingredients in advance
If you set out all of your ingredients, chopped, peeled, and juiced in small dishes before beginning to cook you will reduce your trips to the refrigerator or pantry to just one. Think about washing, cutting, and storing your veggies for the week to make it easy to grab and go for various recipes. Same goes for trimming fat off of meat.
Kitchen hacks #11. Clean as you go
Keep a sink full of soapy water to soak dishes as their made. Keep a wet rag on hand for quick clean up of spills. By the end of the meal you will have way fewer messes to clean up and your dishes will be half done (since the soaking does most of the work).
Kitchen hacks #12. Keep a well-stocked pantry
If you already have everything you need for most meals then you won’t have to make unexpected trips to the grocery store. A well stocked pantry also provides flexibility for changing meal plans to include what you just feel like having that day or to use up produce that will go bad otherwise. (See which foods you should have in your pantry at all times for easy, fast meals here.)
Kitchen hacks #13. Keep a container for food scraps on the counter
Instead of having to put scraps into the proper bin each time you chop something, throw all of those scraps into a bowl that you can toss or compost at the end. I keep two bowls out: one goes to the compost and the other goes to my chickens.
Kitchen hacks #14. Use one-pot (Instant Pot!) recipes
Do I need to say any more? If you can prepare a meal in just one pot, preferably the incredible, fast-cooking Instant Pot, clean up becomes half as time consuming. Plus, one-pot meals are typically simpler and require fewer steps. A huge win!
Kitchen hacks #15. Keep cookware where it is most used
Keep your most used utensils in a jar next to the stove. Keeping often used utensils at arms reach saves time because you don’t have to go searching for your favorite spatula or wooden mixing spoon. Keep pots and pans near the stove, strainers near the sink and knives and cutting boards near each other if you can.
Kitchen hacks #16. Use easy pantry recipes in a pinch
This one has saved me many times! If you make an effort to always have the ingredients for one or two quick meals then you always have a healthy dinner that can be made in 20 minutes.
Kitchen hacks #17. Have a snack tray in the fridge
Spend some time each week chopping veggies and fruits, divvying up hummus, salsa or nut butters into snack containers, or preparing other healthy snacks in easy to-go containers so that when someone needs to pack a lunch or snack they can just grab something from the tray.
Kitchen hacks #18. Designate a spot on the counter for “in use” cups
No one has to ask anyone else whether they are done with a cup and you don’t have to wash a million cups a day. Consider tagging each cup with a small sticker or mark for large households.
Kitchen hacks #19. Make breakfast the night before
Put smoothie ingredients into the blender and store it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, throw a few ice cubes in and blend. Or soak some oats, nuts and seeds for granola. Just add some maple syrup in the morning. Chia pudding is easy to make before bed and is a quick and easy breakfast choice. You can also cook oatmeal in a crockpot overnight or even do an egg casserole.
Kitchen hacks #20. Keep an ongoing shopping list
Whoever uses the last of something can write it on the list (I keep mine on the fridge), that way you don’t have to spend an hour trying to figure out what you need to buy at the store. If you choose to use a laminated reusable list, this task will be even easier!
And because you guys are so awesome, here are some bonus tips:
Speed up ripening
Most produce will speed up ripening when put into a brown paper bag with an apple. Apples and many other fruits give off Ethylene gas which speeds up ripening (and browning if you’re not careful).
Remove squash skin without peeling it
Cut a squash in half and removed the seeds then roast in the oven until soft. After it cools you can scoop out the squash easily.
Save time peeling ginger
By keeping your ginger in the freezer there’s no need to peel before grating.
Use fewer measuring cups
If you can, use the same measuring cup without washing it. Use it for dry ingredients first then oils and then sticky ingredients like honey.
Learn how to properly chop veggies
I chop veggies in half the time it takes my husband (sorry hunny) because he simply doesn’t know how. Here’s a quick little video tutorial.
What are some of your kitchen hacks?
How do you save time in the kitchen? Share with us in the comments below.