If you haven’t already figured it out, the real food lifestyle takes time. There is just no getting around that. When you are cooking from scratch, making many things that you used to just go out and buy in a box, a packet or a bottle, it does keep you in the kitchen for longer periods. For some people, it just isn’t worth the extra time and effort. And, as much as I believe that it is totally worth it for me and my family, I still don’t want to spend my whole life in the kitchen either. Believe it or not, I don’t even LIKE to cook. That was one of those big deals I had to get over before I could make a commitment to this lifestyle. Thankfully, I have discovered a few time-savers, both big and small, that can definitely help cut down on kitchen time and make this whole real food thing more palatable. Some of these things take a little more time on the front end, but you realize that time, and more, later on. Here they are, all 15 of them:
1. Have raw and cooked ground beef frozen (separately, of course) in 1 or 2-lb. packages, ready to thaw and put in a recipe. I watch for sales and often buy 10 lbs. of beef at a time. Then I come home and immediately repackage most of it into freezer bags. The rest, I brown on the stove, and THEN freeze. That way, I have meat that is already cooked for days that I am really busy—thawing cooked ground beef is faster than raw, and pre-cooking saves that extra step.
2. Have raw and cooked chicken frozen in 1 or 2-lb. packages, ready to put in a recipe. Just like the beef, I buy chicken on sale and repackage it for freezing. Often, I buy whole chickens, cook them first in a big stock pot, take out the chicken and remove it from the bones, and then return the bones to the pot and make stock. Then I shred or chop and freeze the cooked chicken for use in casseroles or recipes later. You can also cook chicken breasts and pieces to cut up and freeze for later. It is super handy to have chicken cooked and ready to go into a recipe you are making, especially on days when you are running short on time. Plus, if you make stock, you can freeze that and have it ready also.
3. Have chopped onions and bell peppers in the freezer (in separate bags), ready to use. Again, I watch for sales, and then spend some time one day chopping. You can flash freeze them first by spreading them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and putting them in the freezer for an hour or two, but lately I have just been skipping that step and throwing them in bags. I LOVE having onions and peppers already chopped and ready to throw in a recipe, or in my scrambled eggs.
4. Menu plan. If you plan ahead what you will be eating, especially on those days that you know are going to be busy, you can have your ingredients bought, frozen stuff thawed, and everything ready to go. Planning in advance can lower your blood pressure too.
5. Make seasoning mixes and blends ahead of time. I try to keep at least 2 taco seasoning mixes prepared at any given time (that is what my taco soup recipe calls for), as well as jars of pumpkin pie spice, Italian seasoning, curry powder and other blends. Then they are ready to use and I don’t have to spend extra time measuring out multiple spices while I am cooking.
6. Make a double or triple batch of something when cooking. Some people plan whole freezer cooking days, but I haven’t found the time for that . . . maybe one day. But I do like to make a double portion of many of my recipes so that we either have lots of leftovers, or so I can freeze them for later. It doesn’t take much, if any more time to double your ingredients, and then you’ve made extra meals!
7. When washing produce, wash it all at once. If you make wash water for your celery, for example, and have avocados, apples and broccoli that need to be cleaned too, do it all at the same time. That way you get the most out of your wash water, and you have all your produce washed and ready to eat/cook when you need it. Some people wash all their produce when they bring it home from the store, and that is another good idea.
8. Have the right kitchen tools for the job. Unfortunately, due to budget limitations, this isn’t always possible—I am down a food processor right now and it is kicking my rear. But if you can get certain key kitchen implements, your job will go faster. Whisks will blend and incorporate both dry and wet ingredients faster than a spoon. A mini chopper will take care of dicing an onion much faster than you can do it by hand. A pastry blender will cut butter into flour faster than 2 knives will.
9. Keep your kitchen organized. If you know and can find what you have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, you won’t have to waste time digging through, looking for things (and you won’t realize at 6:10pm that you don’t have that can of RoTel that you thought you did for your recipe). Also, try to put the pots and pans, cooking utensils, and other necessary cooking items in cabinets near the stove so they are within reach when you need them. I also keep my spices and seasonings next to the stove, for better flow and fewer steps when I’m cooking.
10. Keep your kitchen clean and uncluttered. If you keep your dishes washed and put away and keep stuff off the counters, you will have more work space and cooking will go faster and more smoothly.
11. Keep your recipes organized so you can find what you need quickly and easily. There is nothing more frustrating than having to spend the first 10 minutes in the kitchen digging through a pile or card file of recipes looking for something—except for looking and not being able to find it (yeah, been there, done that!)
12. Use your dishwasher (if you have one). Did you know it’s actually more economical to run a full dishwasher than to wash dishes by hand? It uses less water AND saves time.
13. Buy cookware and implements that are dishwasher safe, so you can put more in the dishwasher!
14. Use parchment paper under sticky, gooey foods. OK, this is not the most eco-friendly one, but that is not what this list is about. 😉 Nobody likes to scrape and scrub baked-on goo, and it takes forever to do it. If you are baking sweet potatoes, for example, or making coconut oil fudge, it will save you a lot of time (and headaches!) if you will put parchment underneath those kinds of things. And, depending on what kind of food you are cooking, you can tear up the used paper and put it on your compost, so it’s not completely non-eco-friendly!
15. Don’t wash all the dishes. There are many things you can simply rinse quickly under water, and then put in your dish drain, or dry and put away. If you use a measuring cup for flour, rinse that baby. If you use a bowl for dry ingredients, run water over it and move on! If you use a teaspoon measure for salt, put that puppy back in the drawer! Salt doesn’t stick, so it’s not even dirty—I don’t even rinse in that case! On the other hand, if the item gets raw or cooked meat on it, or anything that comes in contact with that kind of thing, you always need to wash it well, with soap and hot water.
Let me say that I don’t always heed my own advice. These time-savers work, but they take some self-discipline and planning. I have allowed myself to get way behind and unorganized in many of these areas and need to get back on track so that I can find my sanity and reduce my kitchen time. Seriously though, if you implement these ideas, you will save time in the kitchen. I can almost guarantee it.
Do you have any other suggestions, tips or strategies for getting out of the kitchen more quickly? I would LOVE to hear them! Please share!