I’m going to go out on a limb and say that time is just as important as money when someone is deciding to go all in with real foods.
One of the most popular questions members of Traditional Cooking School ask is: “I try to make my own yogurt and kombucha, I really want to learn sourdough for all our baked goods, I would love to do more fermenting, and we’re trying to eat out less, but can you please tell me how to do all this and still spend time with my family?!”
Or, “I’m on a budget and would really love to incorporate more whole foods into my family’s diet, but I’m homeschooling 4 kids and need help with meals that taste good and don’t take hours to prepare.”
14 Things You Can Do Today To Save Time In The Kitchen This Week
I’ve been there — in the kitchen for 12 hours straight only to come out with a few quarts of yogurt, a loaf of bread, and dinner for that night. It’s not a fun place to be. When cooking traditional foods from scratch only makes you think of all the other things in life you’re missing out on, it’s time to learn how to make life easier on yourself.
I can help — here are 14 simple things you can do TODAY to save time in the kitchen this week.
That’s right — an investment you can make today that will pay dividends tomorrow (and the next day and the next!). I also include estimated times for each step so you can take advantage of any extra blocks of time you have!
Idea #1: Make a meal plan.
Estimated time: 30 minutes to 1 hour.
This may be the single most important thing you can do above everything else. Meal planning gives you control. Get as detailed as you like on this. If you really like having a plan, write down what you want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and assign each meal a day. But you don’t have to get that fancy if the devil’s in the details for you. Make a list of seven or eight dinners you’d like to have this week and make sure you’ve got the items on hand to make them.
For the days when you’re running like crazy and don’t have much time to cook, use your slow cooker meal. Save new recipes or recipes that require more prep work for days when you’ve got the time to devote to them. Just having an idea of what you’re feeding your family throughout the week will save you time (and money too, if you resort to eating out more than you’d like!).
Idea #2: Soak and cook a big batch of rice.
Soaking time: 8 to 10 hours. Hands-on time: 30 minutes.
Put some rice to soak before bed tonight, cook it first thing in the morning, and you’ll have a quick side dish to add to meals throughout the week. Or make rice the main course in Asian fried rice or stir-fry (using pre-chopped veggies, see below).
Growing up, my mom always made extra rice at dinner time and left it unseasoned. After she heated it up the next morning and added cream, butter, and sugar, it was a favorite breakfast dish for us that I now realize was extremely frugal and convenient for her.
Idea: While waiting on your rice to cook, work on your meal plan and shopping list or put some bacon in the oven (see below).
Idea #3: Wash and chop your produce.
Hands-on time: varies depending on how much produce you have. Break it up into two or three 15 to 20 minute sessions if desired.
Properly washed and stored, fresh produce can last days in the fridge. Take it one step further and pre-chop hardy veggies like carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, onions, broccoli, and peppers. Store each vegetable in a jar, bag, or covered bowl and scoop out what you need as you need it.
If you plan a chicken pot pie, root veggie tartiflette, and a soup or stew this week, you can save yourself a step and lots of time by starting your cooking session with veggies ready to go.
Additionally, you can wash several heads of lettuce, dry, tear, and store in large bags for salads that are easy to throw together. Produce you SHOULD NOT chop or slice ahead of time include white potatoes, apples, bananas, and berries.
Idea: Little children can be a big help with washing produce. Have them stand on a chair at the sink and let them play in the water while the fruits and veggies practically wash themselves!
More info: A handy guide to washing produce.
Idea #4: Boil eggs.
Hands-on time: 5 to 15 minutes.
Does that sound too easy? Boiled eggs will last 3 to 4 days in the fridge and can be eaten at any time of day for a quick and nourishing protein source. If you have an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker, boil eggs in just 5 minutes!
Grab a couple for breakfast, add to a salad, or have them ready for your kids to grab when snack time hits.
Idea #5: Pre-cook bacon in the oven.
Baking time: 30 to 40 minutes.
If you’re anything like me and find excuses to add bacon to everything, having it cooked and ready to go is a major time-saver.
How to do it: Lay slices in a glass dish or on a cookie sheet with a lip, pop in the oven, and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until cooked to your desired crispness. (And save that bacon grease!)
Pre-cooked bacon can be served with breakfast as the star of the morning, or you can chop it up and use it in dishes all week long. We love adding pre-cooked bacon to our salads, on top of baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, and soups, and to jazz up roasted veggies like Brussels sprouts.
Idea: While you’re waiting for the bacon to crisp up, wash and chop veggies, make a batch of kombucha or a few quarts of yogurt, or boil eggs.
Idea #6: Cook once, eat twice (or 3 times).
When you make a meal, give yourself the gift of leftovers. We usually have the previous night’s dinner for lunch the next day. Having something already made to re-heat in the oven is a lifesaver on a busy day. When freezer and batch cooking aren’t realistic for you, this is the next best thing.
Idea #7: Make and freeze several batches of pancakes and/or waffles.
Soaking time: 12 to 24 hours. Sourdough time: feed starter at least 12 hours before. Hands-on time: 1 to 2 hours.
Once frozen, soaked or sourdough pancakes and waffles can go straight into the toaster from the freezer. This is just as convenient as the boxed and frozen version, but much more nutritious and frugal! Additionally, use pancakes or waffles as the “bread” for a quick lunchtime sandwich. Or sandwich a fried egg and some of that pre-cooked bacon in two pancakes or waffles for a breakfast sandwich. Pancakes or waffles spread with nut butter and jam are a yummy and easy snack.
Idea #8: Bake several dozen muffins.
Soaking time: 12-24 hours. Hands-on time: 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how many dozen you bake and how many muffin tins you use.
If you’re going to take the time to soak flour or sourdough and bake muffins, don’t just bake a dozen. Bake 5 or 6 dozen! Freeze them and take out a dozen at a time to give you breakfasts or snacks throughout the week. If you use sprouted flour, you can shave even more time off prep!
Idea #9: Make a large batch of marinara sauce.
Hands-on time: varies according to your recipe. Look for a recipe that requires minimal hands-on time and a long, slow simmering time.
Use a portion for dinner tonight over some einkorn or brown rice pasta or cooked spaghetti squash. Portion out the rest and either store in the fridge for a homemade lasagna later in the week, or freeze in quart-sized portions for quick spaghetti dinners another week.
Idea: If you are going to stand at the stove anyway, use the simmering time to knock out some pancakes or waffles, bake bacon, boil eggs, or brown ground meat (see below).
Idea #10: Brown ground meat with onions.
Hands-on time: 30 to 45 minutes, including chopping onions.
Whether you use grass-fed ground beef, venison, or bison, brown several pounds at once with some diced onion. Divide into portions that suit your family. Pull out a portion to make a quick soup or chili, another one for taco night by adding seasonings, or add a portion to your homemade marinara for an easy Bolognese sauce. Any portions that you don’t use by the end of the week can be frozen for later use.
Idea #11: Grate cheese.
Hands-on time: 10 to 15 minutes.
If you have a family of cheese lovers like I do, a lot of favorite meals incorporate cheese in some way. Hopefully, you stopped buying pre-shredded cheese a long time ago, as it is way more expensive than blocks of cheese and has yucky additives, like cellulose powder.
Idea #12: Thaw the week’s meat.
Hands-on time: 3 minutes.
Remove any cuts of meat you’d like to use this week and place them in a dish in the fridge to prevent leaking. Planning ahead like this will keep you from running a sink full of hot water to thaw your steaks at the last minute.
Idea #13: Whip up a salad dressing.
Hands-on time: 5 to 15 minutes.
A salad can be thrown together in a short time if you already have washed and torn lettuce in your fridge and a bottle of homemade salad dressing ready to go. Add some of that pre-cooked bacon, already boiled eggs, and pre-shredded cheese, and you can have a meal on the table in minutes. My go-to dressings are this Caesar and this Creamy Probiotic Ranch. I can whip it either in less than 10 minutes!
Idea #14: Give yourself permission to rely on some convenience foods once in a while.
Hands-on time: Nada.
Let’s face it — even those of us who’ve been doing this for a long time don’t always have our act together. And we’ve all had babies, gotten sick, or had those days when getting in the kitchen is the last thing on our list. Give yourself permission to occasionally splurge on some convenient, healthy foods that can pick up the slack for you.
If you’ve found the preparation of real and traditional foods to be too time-consuming in the past, I hope you’ll give these tips a try. Let us know if you feel a little less overwhelmed!
What simple, time-saving kitchen tips can you share with us?
...without giving up the foods you love or spending all day in the kitchen!
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