6 quick kitchen tricks

6 quick kitchen tricks

Have you ever read the book Cheaper by the Dozen?  Though the dad in that book is a little extreme, I have always secretly identified with his eternal quest for greater efficiency in the home.  I am always on the lookout for ways to save time, and thought it might be fun to share some of the ways I save time in the kitchen.  I’d love it if you add your own ideas in comments, below.  Who can’t use a few good time-saving strategies?

1. I double-batch whole meals at least a couple times a week. It only takes a few extra minutes to measure out more ingredients or chop more veggies or meat while the kitchen’s already a mess. Leftovers can go into the fridge to serve at lunch later in the week or in the freezer for a different week entirely.  Common examples include big pots of soup or chili, or pans of enchiladas to stash in the freezer.  Time savings per meal: at least 30 minutes per meal, especially when you consider there’ll be much less mess when serving that second meal.

2.  You don’t have to double batch a whole meal to save time, however.  Even doubling one portion of the meal can save prep work a different day.  For example, when I am cooking meat for a meal like tacos, fajitas, or Molly’s chicken, I will often cook more meat than I need for that meal, setting aside the extra to use a different day  in a soup or a stir fry. (Remember to set that extra meat aside before the meal, however, so your family doesn’t just gobble up the extra.) Other examples of this tip include making extra pizza dough one day so kids can easily make their own pizza another day, or making extra rice and setting it aside for fried rice another day.  If your rice AND your meat is already cooked, it’s perfectly possible to get a meal of fried rice onto the table in 20 minutes flat.  Time savings:  20 minutes per meal

Creamy Chicken and Potato Soup3. When I am beginning dinner, I always think about which part of the meal will take longest to cook and start there. Since I have lots of meals that take less than 30 minutes to get to the table, that often means starting rice or pasta cooking. On spaghetti nights I  get pasta water heating first, then cook ground beef and simmer sauce while noodles cook.  If the meal is a stir-fry, I’ll get the rice going in the rice cooker, then chop/cook the chicken, then work on the veggies while the chicken (and rice) chicken cook.  I love having multiple pots going at the same time– it feels so efficient. Time savings: at least 10 minutes per meal.

4. Especially when meals are labor-intensive, I get help! The other day I had 10 pounds of potatoes to peel– we were bringing mashed potatoes to a potluck.  I started by putting the water on to boil, then asked 5 kids to peel three potatoes each.  (We have lots of peelers!) It was a tiny bit of work for each of them, but getting their help made the job at least 20 minutes shorter than if I’d worked alone.   Even tiny kids can peel carrots or garlic.  Elementary age kids can set them table and pour drinks.  Bigger kids, with training, can do almost any part of cooking that I can.  And whatever you do, always say yes to a kid who wants to make cookies.  When they’re little, it feels like more mess than it’s worth, but they get efficient quickly, and there’s not much in the world that’s nicer than fresh-baked cookies that you didn’t have to bake yourself.  Time savings: probably at least 5 minutes/child/meal, but this varies by your child’s age. 🙂

5.  If you need a quick side dish to fill out a meal on a busy day, crank your oven t0 475 and chop whatever fresh veggies you happen to have into bite size pieces.  Almost any veggies are wonderful roasted;  I’ve roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, whole peeled garlic cloves, Brussels sprouts, green beans, asparagus, and broccoli.  Toss your choice of veggies (cut into similar sizes) in a couple tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet.  Then spread them out evenly across the pan, top with a few grinds of salt and pepper,  and roast for 10-15 minutes, or until veggies are getting browned bits and are cooked to your liking.  Yum!  You may even convert a veggie hater in your house– this is the only way my husband will eat Brussels sprouts.  Time savings:  depends on what you would’ve made instead. 🙂  This recipe takes about 10 minutes of prep time.

6. One last tip for frazzled mommas:  often I’ll decide at the last minute that I want baked potatoes for dinner.  Problem is, they take an hour to bake, and they’re just not the same when cooked in the microwave.  But there’s a way to shave half an hour off that cooking time.  Just preheat the oven to 425. (convection is best, if you have that feature) Then wash and poke potatoes, then zap them in the microwave 2 or 3 potatoes at a time for about 3 minutes.  By the time the oven is hot, the potatoes have already begun the cooking process in the microwave, which means they’ll only need another 25-30 minutes in the regular oven.  But they’ll end up cooked as nicely as if their whole cooking time had been in the regular oven.  Time savings: 30 minutes per meal.

OK– your turn!  What are your best quick kitchen tricks?

For more affordable and quick recipes, check out my cookbook: Family Feasts for $75 a Week
.

{ 9 Comments }

  1. My slow cooker. As my family has now left home but sometimes arrive and need feeding at short notice. l find it useful when ever l make a stew, casserole or similar to make a large one. which l use for one meal and put the rest in several freezer containers for another time.The slow cooker uses little power and takes several hours to cook. l sometimes put meat and veg in the cooker switch on first thing in the morning, when l’m going to be out all day and it will be ready to eat when we get back in the evening. Cheaper cuts of meat taste great with this treatment..

  2. tia bennett says:

    I like to always have browned ground beef, shredded chicken, taco meat and meatballs in my freezer. I do freezer cooking once every couple months too, but having these staples in the freezer prevents me from running through the drive thru, or spending more on a ready meal at the store.
    When I am running out the door for work in the morning, I can throw the frozen browned ground beef in the crockpot for chili or soup. I can pull out taco meat and it will be thawed by the time I get home.
    It is a huge time saver for me.
    Thanks for your blog, I love learning new frugal tips!

  3. My daughter and I make dozens of beef (or turkey)and rice burritos at a time when ground meat goes on sale and individually wrap each one after baking. Awfully nice to have those in the freezer with a house full of teens.

    • Rebecca, do you have a recipe?
      I have a bunch of turkey mince (aka ground turkey) lurking in my freezer. Awaiting a good idea!

  4. Someone gave me a rice cooker when our first daughter came home, and I love it! I put in jasmine rice, turn it on, and I can run kids around or whatever I need to do. The Tiger cooker automatically turns to “keep warm” setting when the rice is done. It’s the perfect partner to the crockpot.

  5. Jennie C. says:

    I love the baked potato idea!! I also definitely need to do more training of the children.

    Making double is my best tip, but some other things I do to stay sane………

    -I print a blank monthly calendar for each month and make a loose meal plan for the month. I include meals I already know about – church potlucks, b-days, travel, etc and then fill it in from there. For example, on days we have piano in the afternoon, I plan for something that can be made ahead or put in the crockpot, etc. I also think about what I have that needs to be used up, etc. To help in planning the menu for the month, I started by making a list of all the main meals I cook, broken up into categories (beef, poultry, soups, vegetarian, sides etc.) and refer to this for ideas. I also try to work on the calendar when I’m especially hungry, otherwise nothing sounds good to me and it takes much longer to do. I’m much more creative when I’m hungry. : )

    Having the monthly menu, is a huge help in making ahead, grocery shopping and in general helping to make things run more quickly in the kitchen. I often switch what is listed for a given day, but having the starting point is a HUGE stress reliever for those days when I just don’t know what to make. I just do what the menu says!

    -I also love to buy bone in chicken breasts when they are on sale. I bake up LOTS of them on lg. jelly roll pans after seasoning with a variety of general spices (salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, oregano, onion and garlic powder) and then debone, chop and freeze. I had a time recently when we were getting ready to move and I wanted to take advantage of a sale, but didn’t have time to chop. So, I did the cooking and put the lg. chunks in a bag and had to chop as I needed it, but it was still a big time saver to not have to cook up the chicken every time I needed chicken…

    -Though I would love the quality time with my children and teaching them to cook is important, during this especially stressful time in our family, doing any cooking I can while they are in bed at night is the best thing I can do. I can get so much more done without them. Not ideal, but a reality right now!

    Thanks for all you do! : )

  6. A tip I read once that I think sounds awesome, especially for a working family, is when you get home from work without a plan for dinner, you turn on the oven, because so many things require an oven, either for roasting or finishing something off from the stove. Then, while it preheats you figure out your menu and prep and then you have a hot oven faster.

  7. Always looking for tips when cleaning, here are a few for the kitchen:
    Huge time saver and water saver: Instead of letting dishes sit in the dishwasher for long periods of time because not full enough to run – use what I call ‘my magical wand’. It has saved me tons of water and countless hours trying to get hardened dishes clean over the years. It is one of those gadgets that you put the dish detergent into and then while holding wash the glass or plate. THIS IS THE MOST USED ITEM IN MY KITCHEN.
    Also use the ‘in the corner piece’ on your vacuum (after washing it) to go around the edges, drawers, and the drawer under the stove to clean all the crumbs that have accumulated – get rid of the wet rag!
    Finally, get rid of the clutter, and what better place than the kitchen to start. It is amazing all the stuff you don’t need in your kitchen. Pare it down to the basics and put everything else in boxes for three months. If you didn’t miss it during that time; you can probably get rid of it for good.