By Becky Gaunt
Chefs on television make it look so easy. Perhaps that’s why cooking shows are so popular. That being said, there are plenty of ways to ease the burden at home. Whether you love to cook or despise it, everyone benefits from saving time in the kitchen. Some people don’t enjoy cooking because it’s too much work, and too time consuming. Other people enjoy cooking but simply don’t have the time to spare when balancing work, family, and other activities. Utilizing an assortment of kitchen hacks to save time in the grocery store, prepping for a meal, storing items, and cleaning up the kitchen can make it less painful. It might even become an enjoyable experience.
1) Create a Shopping List
If you don’t enjoy grocery shopping, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to sit down and prepare a list in advance. However, a list can save you time at the store so you don’t find yourself running back to aisles you already visited or standing in one spot pondering which kind of beans you meant to buy. Another way to save time is to have an already prepared permanent list. Include all the items that you buy on a regular basis. If you prefer pen and paper, print out multiple copies to which you can simply add on additional items or cross off regular items if you don’t happen to need them that week. Another option is to use the Notes app on your phone and just put an X next to items you already have.
2) Use a Slow Cooker
One of the best tools to save time in the kitchen is a slow cooker. There are thousands of recipes ranging from the simplest preparation with only two ingredients, to the complex for more motivated chefs. Throw all the ingredients in and set to cook for the recommended amount of time while you go about your business. Since some recipes take upwards of eight hours, you can throw it all in before work and the cooker will keep it warm until you get home. No standing over the stove stirring, or listening for the timer. It’s also less clean up as you won’t require multiple pans and pots. You can even opt for a second slow cooker or a double slow cooker to prepare side dishes simultaneously. Just dish it out when ready to eat.
3) Lay Out all Ingredients in Advance
Just as you go to add the cheese to your scrambled eggs, you realize it is still in the fridge. By the time you find the cheddar in the drawer, the eggs are overcooked. It’s time to put the cream cheese in the casserole dish. Except you forgot to get it out and it’s still too solid to spread. There is nothing like losing your momentum by having to stop and root through your spices to find the basil or discover that you are missing a vital ingredient all together. Save time making a meal by laying out all the ingredients and cooking tools in advance. That saves multiple trips into the cupboards, pantry, and refrigerator. It also means you won’t find yourself in the quandary of getting half way through a meal before realizing you left the butter at the store.
4) Egg Carton on the Shelf
Keeping the doors of the fridge organized can be a royal pain, especially since that’s the part that is always moving and potentially causing things to slide or fall over. Additionally, most everyone knows the pain of having multiple bottles with just enough content left to make you feel wasteful if you toss them. Then these bottles slow you down as you pound the bottle to get the last of the horseradish sauce out. Solve two problems at once by cutting an egg carton in half and placing one of the halves into the shelf of the refrigerator door. Then place your ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard and any other near empty bottles top-end down into the individual egg cups. The shelf stays clean and organized, and bottles are ready to be emptied quickly.
5) Minimize Ingredients
One of the best ways to lessen time in the kitchen is to stick with simple recipes which require no more than five or six ingredients. There are many recipe websites, cookbooks, and cooking shows which capitalize on the theme of minimalist cooking, so it is easy to find recipes. First, this saves time in the store hunting for 20 items for one dish. Second, you are less likely to find yourself digging through and cleaning out expired and barely used spices. Third, prepping the meal takes a lot less time. The final bonus is that the fewer ingredients you use, the more likely you will have less to clean at the end of evening. Honestly, who wants to spend the money on 10 different spices you’ll barely ever use anyway?
6) Read the Entire Recipe
It may not seem like a time-saver at first, but always read the entire recipe before starting to cook. It can save you time in potential misinterpretations, in case of poorly laid out directions. Or, you may realize you want to make some tweaks of your own. For example, you may decide to bypass browning the meat before placing it in the slow cooker with the other ingredients. Although olive oil was on the ingredient list, it was only intended for the browning process. Without reading the recipe in full, you may unwittingly add the oil to the crock pot. In another example, the first part may give instructions for the main course of the recipe, while a second part gives instructions for the sauce. If you haven’t read it through, you may not realize you could be doing things simultaneously.
7) Make Extra
Leftovers save time like no other kitchen hack. Throwing something in the microwave is faster than cooking from scratch, dialing take out, or sitting in a drive through. For that reason, adding a little extra prep time to cooking a meal by making more saves time in the long run. This is especially easy to do with Crockpot or one-pot recipes, such as stew or a casserole. Just double the recipe and throw everything in the pot. Just be sure to check the size of the cooking pot meets the recommended size for that particular recipe. If you have a smaller pot, don’t increase the recipe by more than the pot can hold. Invest in microwaveable and freezer safe containers to save your food in so that all you have to do is remove the lid the next day, or defrost it, and heat it up.
8) Trash Bowl
Where do you keep your kitchen trash can? Under the sink? In the pantry? Maybe it’s easily accessible as you cook, but maybe it’s not. Cooking can generate a lot of food scraps and garbage. Wasted time really adds up if you are constantly stopping to walk over and throw those peels away, then the wrapping on the ground beef, followed by some greasy paper towels, and safety wrappers just removed from the new bottle of oregano. Save time by using a trash bowl you set on the counter within easy reach and throw everything in there. Tossing fish bones and onion peels into one spot for one trash dump saves multiple trips to the trash can. Plus, it prevents cross contamination of germs. For recyclable items, you can hang a bag off a cabinet near your cooking area and toss it when you’re finished.
9) Store Cookie Dough
Though it is more time consuming to make cookies from scratch, the result is inherently more rewarding. Make use of the extra effort by doubling the recipe. This is a particularly great hack during the holidays when people are spending more time baking for festivities and visiting relatives. Cook the amount you want then roll the rest of the dough into individual balls. Place them on a plate with baking parchment paper and freeze. To save space, once they are frozen, you can put the dough balls into a Ziploc bag. The next time you have a hankering for homemade cookies, the hard part is done. All that’s left is to place them on a cooking sheet and pop them in the oven. Due to being frozen, they will likely require a couple extra minutes of cooking time.
10) Easy Eggs
Eggs are an easy whole nutrition food protein that make quick meal preparation easier. Make a few hard boiled eggs at the beginning of the week so they are ready to grab from the refrigerator as a snack or addition to a salad. Also, while scrambled eggs aren’t necessarily complicated, the thought of pulling out a pan, standing over the hot stove, and then having to clean it, might be a deterrent. Instead, whisk a couple eggs with milk in a small bowl and place in the microwave. Then add cheese, bacon bits, chopped pepper, or anything else you like. It is also possible to cook a poached egg in the microwave. According to GeniusKitchen.com, simply crack it into a bowl of water fully submerged, cover, and cook for two minutes. Or, use a microwave egg poacher.
11) Chill Your Chicken
This might seem counter-intuitive, but if you need to slice chicken breasts or other cuts, put them in the freezer for 10-20 minutes prior to doing so. Or, if the chicken is already frozen, slice it up before it is completely thawed. Raw chicken can actually be a huge pain to slice because it is slippery and a bit mushy. Keeping it still enough to keep the pieces reasonably even can be a challenge. The freezer firms the chicken enough to make it easier to keep in place and chop into proper portions. As an added bonus, your fingers will be less sticky. Make sure your knives are properly sharpened and that all surfaces are thoroughly cleaned afterwards as raw chicken carries the risk of salmonella, listeria, E. Coli, and other pathogens.
12) Single Pot Meals
The thought of scrubbing multiple pots and pans, as well as spatulas and wooden spoons, is massively unmotivating when making dinner plans. Single pot meals save time while cooking and while cleaning up after the meal. Much like the Crockpot, everything goes into one container for cooking, but it’s great for things that don’t take that long or for last-minute ideas. A simple Google search for “one pot meals” yields enough results to cook for a lifetime. Choose a traditional dish like macaroni and cheese or chili which have hundreds of variations on the Food Network website suited to every palate. Or try something more exotic from Martha Stewart’s website like Irish beef and stout stew, chicken fennel and artichoke fricassee, or butternut squash baked risotto. Your no-longer-dish-pan hands will thank you.
13) Clean All the Vegetables at Once
On the day you hit the store, you might be feeling really motivated to cook balanced meals for the week. However, after a long day of work, the thought of washing, peeling, and dicing is so draining you would rather run the risk of tossing rotten veggies. One way to save time throughout the week is to clean and chop all the vegetables at once. Make it one big job completed in one fell swoop and get it out of the way for the week. Once prepared, store the vegetables in air-tight containers and refrigerate. Now they are easily accessible for snacking, which helps alleviate other unhealthy choices. Plus, meal time prep is a fraction of what it would have been if you had to handle this tedious job for each individual meal.
14) Keep Tools & Utensils Accessible
This tip is very similar to the previous ones about getting your ingredients out in advance and using a trash bowl. It saves little bits of time throughout the cooking process that add up over time. If you use all three tips together, they add up to a pretty immense time saver. Don’t keep all your cooking tools, spatulas, wooden spoons, tongs and the like stuffed away in drawers. It is a waste of time to constantly dig for them every time you need something. If you use an item only on rare occasions, by all means put it away, but those items you use regularly are better off in an attractive holder on the counter-top, easily accessible from the stove and wherever else you find you complete most of your meal prep.
15) Use Good Knives
Chopping up your food, whether it be meat or vegetables, will take much longer, look sloppier, and require more physical exertion if you are using bad quality knives, or if they are in need of sharpening. Quality knives aren’t cheap so be sure to take good care of them. The website thespruce.com has several tips for making your knives last. If you use a knife block for storage, buy one into which they slide sideways so they aren’t resting on the sharp edge. Keep knives sharpened because dull knives require you to use more force and increase risk of slipping. Although many knife sets are labeled as dishwasher friendly, hand washing is better for them. Finally, wood and bamboo are the best materials for cutting boards as ceramic and marble have no give.