Everyone is busy hustling everyday, cooking can be a chore but albeit an important one as it directly relates to our health. This post has strategies you can use to spend less time in the kitchen without compromising health.
Whether we like it or not we spend a large part of our day cooking in the kitchen or thinking about what to cook next! Cooking becomes a mundane chore and burden if not planned well.
I am always looking for ways to spend less time in the kitchen while serving nourishing healthy meals to my family that do not cost me my sanity.
In short, am chasing a unicorn here!
Well if you can relate, here is a list of strategies that have helped me reduce the time I spend in the kitchen and spend it with my loved ones instead.
Plan and stock up with staples
We all are no strangers to the benefits of meal planning that are all over the internet..
I don’t do weekend meal planning.. there I said it…. please don’t hate me..hear me out…
Let’s be realistic you are probably reading this because you are short on time and who’s got an hour every weekend to meal plan.
My Meal Plan Fiasco Story
In a perfect world I would love to have a meal plan in my wonderful meal planner that I bought but never used. Guilty as charged here. I know people who swear by meal planning, I tried to implement it too but it wasn’t a good fit for our lifestyle and family.
I would end up with a fridge filled with leftovers or cooking something completely different than the meal plan.
Alternate approach that works better for me
So the rule I swear by is that when I go to bed I always know what we are having the next day for all our meals whether it’s using the leftovers, cooking something fresh or taking something out of the freezer. It does not take me more than 5 mins every night before I go to bed, I usually do it when cleaning my kitchen at the end of the day.
This ensures that I do not waste any time in the busy mornings starting at the empty fridge. Trust me, been there, done that.
Make sure you have a stocked pantry and fridge with your staples that you usually buy every weekend.
Why the alternate approach works better for me?
Its much quicker, 5 mins every night is less than 30 mins for weeknights
Before you end you day just have a look at your fridge and pantry to decide what you are cooking the next day and this will save you the weekly meal planning time and also you won’t be caught off guard wondering what to cook.
Another pro of this method is that you can take into account change in schedule, leftovers etc. which you don’t always know at the time of meal planning a week before.
Maintain a running grocery list in your phone shared with your partner that any of you can update in real time. This alone has saved us a ton of time and pain, we use Google Keep for our grocery shopping list.
Meal Prep by using these quick food preparation tips
Instead of spending an hour meal planning over the weekend, spend that hour prepping the grocery for the week.
Make sure you batch all your meal prep tasks together based on the type of task i.e. do all your chopping at the same time or do all washing of veggies at the same time.
If there are any fruit or veggies to be kept in the fridge, clean them well and store them in the fridge to be used later during the week.
You can chop and keep the veggies in the fridge so they are ready to go when needed. Doing your chopping in bulk saves you clean up time and is much faster.
Prepare any condiments or items that you need during the week over the weekend-
My kids love basil pesto and we love to make our own so usually during the weekend we shall get the groceries and everyone will help prep them. Kids will help me get the basil leaves off the stem and clean it for me to use.
If something you need to use the next day is in the freezer then move it to the fridge before you go to sleep so that its ready for use the next day when you need it.
If you are cooking lentils, beans or chickpeas you can save significant cooking time by soaking them overnight.
Try to get help and delegate the meal prep work, like kids can help with getting the leaves off the herbs.
Check out this blog post with more meal prepping tips and ideas
Be efficient, manage your time well when preparing a meal
Whenever you enter the kitchen try to be efficient with your time and plan your activities well.
- Set a timer-
Have a goal for how much time you want to finish the cooking in and try to achieve it. Be mindful and don’t set it too low or too high and try to time box your activities,makes us move faster.
- Plan –
You should know what you are cooking and how much time it takes. Follow simple tips like when you get the ingredients out, do them all at the same time.
If there is some prep work needed then try to have it done before you start cooking.
- Prioritize –
If something needs more time the start it first.
For eg: If you are going to use the oven then preheat it while you are prepping the ingredients
While you are waiting for the cookies to bake, load the dishwasher or while you are waiting for the microwave to be done wipe the counters
Make Ahead Freezer Meals
Even with all the meal planning and prep in the world, life happens and there are going to be days when you want to breathe and not cook… is that just me 😉
For days like this that come far more than I would like to admit, freezer meals save the day.
When you are cooking, be mindful and try to double up the recipe and you can freeze them for busy (or lazy ..we all got those and need those) days.
However, when freezing food there are some basic things that one needs to keep in mind like:-
- Freeze them in portions sizes that you will use them in
- Do not thaw and then freeze again
- Label date well and stack your freezer food in the order you want to use it
Invest in your kitchen
There’s nothing wrong with being wise with our hard earned money, however money is just a means to the end.
Save or ask for gifts as kitchen tools that you think will save you time in the kitchen. It can be as simple as a sharp knife or a kitchenaid mixer(i know you want one ;))
I chopped things manually until I was 32 and thought that was the best way to do it, well I was completely wrong…
A good food processor is a workhorse of the kitchen and worth every penny. I don’t have a fancy top of the line but a modest one that gets the job done.
A good food processor that can cut down the chopping time significantly and thus spend less time in the kitchen.
Invest in a sharp good quality knife as it would really make a difference in your chopping time
Here is a list of some of the cooking contraptions and gadgets that I have invested in over time and really love them.
Maintain a master list of time quick weeknight recipes
While we have recipes marked by ingredients, the need of the hour is recipes classified by their prep and cooking time.
We need to be able to timebox our cooking so that we can have that quality time with loved ones we crave for.
When in rush have a set of go to recipes that are quick and efficient and take less than 30 mins( or even less) to put together start to finish.
One pot recipes are a blessing when it comes to time saved cooking as well as cleaning..
Some of our go to one pot recipes are :-
- Veg Biryani – 30 mins
- Paneer Butter Masala – 15 mins
- Dal Makhni – 20 mins (requires overnight soaking)
- Kidney Beans – 20 mins (require overnight soaking)
- Kadhi – 20 mins
You can check the complete list here of one pot and other quick weeknight meals
Use cooking hacks and tips
They are wealth that needs to be shared and documented for us and for future generations that would need it.. You can tell I am passionate about these 😉
Over time there are so many tips that our mothers and grandmas knew about. While all our recipes are well documented, tips and tricks are not.
Some that I use almost everyday are:-
- Adding salt to onions when cooking them, makes them cook faster
- Put some lemon peel to an aluminum cooker while cooking, makes them shiny and clean
- Add some water to your pan before you add milk and it won’t be as hard to clean
- Keep your milk pan and use it later when making tea, so you have to clean it once
These have definitely helped me spend less time in the kitchen slogging and sweating.
Chasing perfection is time waster
Done is better than perfect
Perfection is a thief of joy and time for sure. Perfection is so relative and temporary that it seems like a mirage we waste so much of our time chasing.
- If meals taste good and are healthy then don’t get too hung up on how they look. We are cooking for family and not Pinterest 🙂
We need to give ourselves some grace, start small, move forward and celebrate small wins. Keep moving…we got this! 🙂