Our Top Ten Kitchen Time Savers
Looking for ideas to save time in the kitchen?
Everyone wants to save time these days. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and unhappily, dinnertime is a frequent casualty. We end up ordering pizza or relying on the drive-thru to fill empty tummies, when we would much rather offer our families healthful, home-cooked meals.
We’ve collected ten of our best, tried-and-true ideas for saving time in the kitchen so that putting a hot, wholesome meal on the table is not a chore at the end of a long day.
- Plan Meals: When you take an hour on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon to plan meals for the week, life becomes easier. Yes! Yes! It’s an old idea but it has staying power because it works. It’s best to plan meals that can be stretched for one or two days (roast chicken one night, chicken-noodle casserole the next; red beans and rice one night, bean tacos the next).
- Make More than You Need: It’s really no more difficult to double the amount of chili or tomato sauce when you make it. Freeze the leftovers for later in the month, or stow them in the ‘fridge for later in the week. This trick applies to lasagna, roast chicken (roast two or three birds at once), rice and beans, corn chowder, and beef stew, to name a few other ideas.
- Prepare Burgers: Pulling already-formed burgers from the freezer and defrosting them all day in the refrigerator or more immediately in the microwave is a good way to get a meal on the table in short order. Form the patties when you get home from the market, using ground beef or turkey. Some home cooks season ground meat ahead of time, freeze it, and then, once it’s defrosted, form burgers or meatloaf later in the week or month.
- Prep Fresh Vegetables: One of the most time-consuming kitchen chores is chopping vegetables. Really! If you know you’ll need them later in the week, chop onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and other veggies all at the same time early in the week. Refrigerate them in plastic tubs or plastic bags. If you feel very ambitious, chop even more veggies and freeze them. Be sure to label the containers with the contents, date, and amount.
- Use Frozen Vegetables: As wonderful as fresh vegetables are, frozen are a very good substitute. These days, they are flash frozen at the peak of freshness and may be more nutritious than tired fresh ones. Plus, they are already prepped. Vegetable mixtures (often called “medleys”) are terrific for stir-frys. If you add frozen veggies to soups or stews, no need to defrost first. Just dump them in the hot mixture and let them heat up.
- Wash the Lettuce: This may not seem like a “time saver” but it’s always better to buy heads of lettuce and wash them in a lettuce spinner. Wash as much lettuce as you’ll need for a few days and store it in the lettuce spinner, topped with a damp paper towel. It will last for three or four days. Even bagged and “pre-washed” lettuce leaves should be washed for safety, and so you’ll save money by buying loose heads. If a head of lettuce looks droopy, tear the leaves apart and let them soak in a bowl full of cold water and ice cubes. After an hour or so the lettuce will be refreshed and crisp.
- Buy Rotisserie Chicken: Most supermarkets sell these handy, cooked chickens, which taste surprisingly good for an easy meal. Just add salad (or veggies) and rice. Buy an extra chicken and expect to pull three or four cups of shredded meat from it. Perfect for chicken salad, casserole, or soup later in the week.
- Grate Your Own Cheese: It saves time to buy pre-grated or shredded cheese but it saves money to buy the cheese in blocks — and they keep for weeks. When it’s time to grate them, stick them in the freezer for 20 or 30 minutes to harden a little for easy grating. Spray the cheese grater lightly with vegetable oil spray, which makes it even easier to use.
- Prepare to Cook Chefs call it mise en place, or “everything in its place.” For most cooking and baking, it helps enormously to put all the ingredients (prepped, if called for) in small bowls, on plates, or even in muffin tins in the order they are used. This way, you are not searching for the thyme or heavy cream when the pot is simmering. It’s right there, ready when you are.
- Create a Work Space: It’s so easy to let our kitchen counters fill up with appliances, bottles, jars, and other items. Take a good look at yours and de-clutter the areas where you prepare food. Knowing your work space is clean and clear makes the prospect of cooking far more appetizing for even the most seasoned cook.