Do you struggle to put together a cohesive meal? Do you find yourself running behind at meal times, rushing to throw something together, and you end up so hungry but the meal is just not ready yet…so you grab something sweet or order takeout instead?
Then this post is for you. Let me share with you some tips and tricks for throwing meals together as effortlessly as if you’d been doing it all your life. And I’d love to know if you have any time saving hacks in the kitchen. Please share them in the comments!
We Could All Use Some Extra Time
As much as I love being in the kitchen and cooking, real life says I can’t spend all of my time there. There are chores, gardening, and kids. There is time with friends, errands, and work. There’s the need to play, relax, and wind down. So whether you’re getting ready to go out of town, you’re starting a new job, your kids are going back to school, or life is just plain busy, let me share with you some time saving tips in the kitchen.
We will cover how to plan ahead and how to shop your pantry and freezer before heading out for more groceries. Then we will learn how to batch cook and how to store all of that extra cooked food. We’ll look at the importance of labelling and, to finish off, how to put it all together.
Are you in? Let’s get started! And don’t forget to comment below if you have any other helpful tips.
Tip #1: Planning Ahead
If you haven’t meal planned in the past, check out my previous post on How to Meal Plan Like a Pro. I highly recommend reading through that post to get lots of ideas, but if you’re short on time, here are some quick tips.
The first is to make a list of foods and cuisines you like to eat. Next, find some recipes to go along with those foods. Shop your freezer and pantry first. Do you have some of the ingredients to get you started? Fill in the gaps with a trip to the grocery store.
Look at the ingredients of those recipes and choose some ingredients that you can make ahead. Cook the beans, sauté the meat, or roast the veggies from the recipes. Try to lump this all in one or two days to actually feel like you are saving time.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with cooking the same thing every week for a month. This helps streamline the process and gives our family a chance to enjoy some favorites. However, to avoid getting stuck in a rut, I change it up after a few weeks. I leave one dinner per week open in case we eat at a friend’s house or want to try a new recipe. I’m eager to see how well this weekly/monthly meal plan flows.
Tip #2: Batch Cooking
The next major tip is batch cooking. Unless it’s a new recipe and I’m testing it out to see if I like it, I almost always batch cook things like beans, meat, muffins, and grains. I always make two loaves of bread, I always make at least two days worth of smoothies for myself and family, and I always make enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch (for at least a couple of us).
I like to measure out portions of quinoa, rice, meat, and beans into lightly oiled muffins pans. After freezing them, I pop them out with the side of a butter knife and store them in freezer bags. This makes it easy to grab a few when I need to add them to soups or lunches. Or I thaw them out and add them on top of a salad.
This gives me a lot of options when it comes to putting together a meal and feeding my family. Dinner is often just a thaw away from being ready.
Tip #3: Pre-Mixing & Pre-Chopping
I like to add different powders to my smoothies: moringa, spirulina, mangosteen, and monkfruit to name a few. In order to save time in the morning, sometimes I mix the powders ahead of time and then scoop up a measured amount into the blender. Other powders you can pre-mix are cocoa powder, whey powder, and collagen powder.
Other times I will look over the recipes I plan to make that week for dinner. Garlic and onions are often the foundation of my cooking. Instead of pulling out the cutting board, knife, and vegetables night after night, I will instead calculate how many onions and garlic I need per recipe and chop the correct amounts. Then I store those amounts separately in the fridge until I need them for a particular recipe. This also works for any recipes that call for celery, carrots, and ginger.
If you eat salads, separate and wash the lettuce the day you get it. Keep it stored in a salad spinner or in a bag/container with a paper towel. Chop any hearty veggies you like in your salad, such as carrots, cucumbers, celery, and radish ahead of time. Cut tomatoes and avocados only right before you add them to your salad. I usually just drizzle on extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar when I’m ready to eat my salad, but if you like a heartier dressing, you can make that ahead of time as well.
Tip #4: Storing & Labelling
Once you batch cook, pre-mix or pre-chop, it is important to correctly store and label your containers and bags. How many times have I stashed an unlabeled container in the freezer, telling myself I would remember what it is later? Too many times to count. Now I keep my masking tape and permanent marker in the kitchen for easy labeling.
Store things like muffins, portioned out grains, beans, and meat in freezer bags. Write the label on the bag and press out as much air as you can before sealing and freezing it.
Store broth and soup in quart sized containers. If you use glass jars, be sure to leave at least two inches at the top so the jar doesn’t break when frozen. Label with masking tape and a permanent marker.
Store pre-mixed powders for smoothies in a glass jar or glass container. Label what is in it as well as how much to measure out per smoothie.
For pre-chopped vegetables, store in a glass container or bag in the freezer. Label which recipe it is for. Pre-chopped vegetables can also be frozen and then sautéed straight from the freezer without compromising the quality.
I also use my old-fashioned ice cube tray for a lot of freezer storing. This works well for things like canned coconut milk, tomato paste, pesto, and herbs mixed with olive oil. Simply freeze it in the tray, then remove it and store in labeled freezer bags. It makes it easy to add coconut milk to my smoothies, tomato paste to my soups, pesto to my eggs and herbs to any recipe.
Tip #5: Putting it All Together
So now that you have all of your bits of food cooked, measured, stored, and labeled, here is an example for how you would put it all together.
For breakfast: I pull down the blender, add some filtered water, frozen coconut milk cubes, pre-mixed powder, frozen berries, nut butter and some ghee. Not having to measure out the powders saves time. Freezing the coconut milk keeps it from going bad in the fridge.
For Lunch: I put together my prepared salad ingredients: washed lettuce, and chopped veggies. I top it with some thawed wild rice and beans that I had pre-portioned and frozen in a muffin pan. I finish with fresh tomatoes and avocado, along with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar.
For Dinner: If I batch cook sourdough bread and freeze a couple of loaves, I make sure to set that loaf out to thaw in the morning. I also move a jar of broth from the freezer to the fridge the night before. I put together a soup using the onions, garlic, and vegetables I had previously chopped along with meat pre-portioned out, herbs that had been frozen with olive oil in an ice cube tray, and the thawed broth. When the soup is finished, I slice the thawed sourdough bread, toast it, and butter it. Dinner is done.
These are ways that help me be more efficient with my cooking. Which ones stood out to you as especially useful? What tips do you have for saving time?
I hope you this helped you in your cooking journey.
Until next time,