I’ve written before about the time it can take to cook and why I think it’s really important to make time for it, but at the end of the day, there are only so many hours in the darn day. In fact, I probably get the most emails and have the most discussions about time. These days, people just have a hard time finding the time to cook everyday.
So I thought I would brainstorm a few ways that everyone can save a few minutes (or in some cases a few hours) in the kitchen. Hopefully they are helpful!
1) Use leftovers in today’s dinner. Leftovers can sometimes be better if you use them in a new dish rather than just nuke them in the microwave. Try to think about a few ways to make a quick new meal out of leftovers instead of heating up an old meal. Leftover rice can go in a fried rice or stir fry. Leftover pasta can be baked with some cheese on top to make a great dinner.
2) Weekly or even monthly calendars are necessary. Planning just a bit allows you to do the first tip even better. I’m not the best at keeping paper schedulers so I do all my planning in a google calendar.
3) Chop for the days ahead. If you know you are cooking three meals throughout the week with onion, just chop enough onion for all of the dishes and save the extra chopped stuff in the fridge. It’ll be just fine a few days later. For most veggies, you won’t know the difference.
4) Double it. Or Triple it. Should go without saying but for some dishes it’s just as easy to make twice as much. So that makes for easy meals for the next few days!
5) Small cooks fast. Some meals it’s important to have large veggie chunks, but for a lot of meals you can cut your time down on the cooking just by cutting your meat or vegetables into smaller pieces.
6) Learn to love soup. It might sound counter-intuitive because soups can take a long time to actually make, but the great thing about soups are that you can make a huge amount, freeze it, and it thaws easily. Add a grilled cheese or quick salad and pre-made soup can make for really simple and fast meals.
7) You gotta get organized! I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at organizing my pantry and fridge. I’ll also be the first to admit that it costs me time because I’m pretty much always searching for something that I know I have. I’ve seen some people even go so far as to alphabetically organize spices, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get there. Some basic organization though can pay good dividends.
8) Categorize by cooking time. This is an idea I’ve been playing with, but have yet to actually test. Instead of organizing your recipe cards alphabetically, I thought you could organize them by total cooking time. Then if you need a 30 minute meal or a 15 minute meal, you have a group to pick from! It might be a good idea to copy your cards for this because it might be helpful to have an alphabetical list sometimes also.
9) Get a crockpot. Love it. Ok. This is another rule I don’t follow. For some reason I don’t have a crockpot. It’s on my list though don’t you worry. There are so many meals that you can make while you are doing other things and the crockpot does all the work. Then you have a great, warm dinner waiting for you!
10) Frozen is fine. Fresh is always best, but for most dishes frozen veggies work very nicely and can save you a lot of time. Some veggies that freeze very well are peas, corn, spinach (for dips and stuff especially), broccoli, cauliflower, and edamame (soy beans).
11) Keep a few flavor burst ingredients handy. There are a few ingredients that are really easy to add to standard dishes like pasta that make them taste like an entirely different dish. Thinks like sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers, real Parmesan cheese, and roasted red peppers can save serious time and add big flavor to recipes.
12) Get some helpers. Nothing like getting your spouse or kids in the kitchen to help out. They’ll be learning something and you’ll have a spare set of hands.
13) Try some food hacks. Here’s a fun little list of 10 Food Hacks that might save you some time. Some are ridiculous but some are helpful.
14) Learn to do it right! A lot of time is wasted preparing things incorrectly. Spend a few minutes to learn the best way to chop a veggie and you’ll save yourself lots of time. For starters, here’s a good knife technique video (under two minutes), and I’ve started to post occasional write-ups on ingredients and the best way to prepare them (Mango, avocado, and onion for example).
15) Pick the right dish! Should go without saying but have a good list of go-to quick meals. For a good starting point, check out Mr. Bittman’s 101 10 minute meals. (Have to be registered with NY Times to view. It’s free though.)
Here’s a few of my favorite quick or many-use dishes to get you started!
5 Under 30 minute meals:
5 Meals that Pay Dividends:
(Dishes that might take a bit longer to make, but will save you time in the future because they can be eaten for many meals.)
1) Peanut Butter Granola Bars
2) One Pound Burritos
3) Texas Caviar
I’m sure I’m missing some tips…