David Bakke lives in Atlanta and enjoys cooking meals at home for himself and his family. He writes about saving money and staying organized at Money Crashers Personal Finance.
As a single father and small business owner, my free time is both valuable and precious. I practice time management skills to balance my business and personal life, but I’m always looking for additional ways to free up time for myself and my son.
One place I tend to spend a lot of time is in the kitchen. For me, it’s crucial to cook fresh, healthy meals, so pre-processed foods are simply not an option for saving time. Fortunately, with just a little common sense and good planning, I can spend less time in the kitchen and more time doing the things I enjoy most – without sacrificing quality or wholesomeness in the meals I prepare.
Here are some tips for how to spend less time in the kitchen:
1. Cook Base Ingredients in Bulk
This is a simple but often overlooked way to reduce cooking time. Cook items you eat often in bulk – such as beef, chicken, rice and beans, or pasta – and freeze the leftovers for later use. If you’re freezing cooked pasta, drizzle a little oil over it to prevent sticking when you defrost.
2. Consolidate Trips to the Fridge
It may surprise you, but too many trips to the refrigerator can be a serious time-waster. Rather than running back and forth each time you need an ingredient, set out all needed ingredients prior to cooking. Then, when the prep is complete, return everything in one trip.
3. Transfer Cooked Recipes Directly Into Storage Containers
Instead of letting your dish sit in the pan in which it was cooked, remove the portion you’ll need for the meal and transfer the rest into a storage container. To prevent food from drying and sticking to the surface of the pan, wash the pan immediately, or at least soak it in water for easier clean-up later on.
4. Clean as You Go
Rather than letting pots and pans pile up, clean them while you wait for a dish to finish cooking in the oven or on the stove top. Don’t leave the cleaning until after the meal, as by then you’ll need to deal with the scrapings and leftovers that have dried and stuck to the surface.
5. Buy a Food Chopper
There are plenty of small, inexpensive models of food choppers on the market that will allow you to chop vegetables in a fraction of the time it would take to do it by hand. As with your other dishes, clean your food chopper immediately after use so residue won’t dry and stick to the surface.
6. Use Non-Stick Spray
I am a self-confessed PAM cooking spray addict. Spray it liberally on all cooking surfaces to make clean-up a breeze. Also, if you cook lasagna or other casserole-type dishes that need to be covered with aluminum foil, coat the underside of the aluminum foil with cooking spray. When the dish comes out of the oven, the foil will easily remove without taking the top layer of your dish with it.
7. Cook One-Pot Meals
From soup, to chili, to stir-fry, to casseroles, there is an abundance of delicious one-pot meal options. One-pot meals save time and effort because they leave you with fewer dirty dishes to wash and are usually quite simple to cook. This frees up time to tidy the kitchen, set the table, or simply relax and enjoy a little downtime.
8. Use Frozen Vegetables
Frozen veggies come pre-cut and are often cheaper than fresh vegetables, which makes them a great way to save time and money in the kitchen. Plus, because they are flash-frozen soon after harvest, they retain much of their nutritional value.
To prepare an easy one-pot meal, pour a bag of mixed frozen vegetables into the bottom of a colander. Then, cook an appropriate amount of pasta and drain the pasta over the veggies when it’s done. Once the pasta is fully drained, the veggies will be thawed and lightly cooked. Finally, toss in your favorite sauce for a decent, healthy, and very quick meal!
Most of these tips are simply a matter of common sense. However, it still takes a little effort to adjust habits you’ve built up over the years.
Identify which tips will save time in your kitchen and post them on your fridge. A gentle reminder to cook meals in bulk, to gather all ingredients in one trip to the refrigerator, or to clean as you go could be all you need to save 20 minutes or more each night. An extra 20 minutes might not sound like much, but I could easily enjoy a few relaxed sips of good wine and my favorite music during that time.
Do you have any additional tips to save time in the kitchen?