8 Ways to Save Time in the Kitchen

Frozen Lime Juice

Last week, I posted about freezer meals, which are a GREAT way to save time in the kitchen. I have a few more tips I’ve learned over the years that I want to share in case you aren’t already doing them! These are great for everyone, but particularly helpful for those of you who don’t have a lot of time to devote to food prep but still want to cook frequently and have a clean kitchen.

  1. Prep your veggies and meat when you get home from the store
    If you know you’re going to be making a soup, stir-fry and a roast later in the week, wash, peel and cut all of your vegetables ahead of time. Trim and divide all of your meat right away. Prepping ahead of time can cut your cooking time in half when it comes time to make the meal. When my kids are running around like crazy at 5pm when I’m trying to get dinner started, being able to pull everything out of the fridge already cut up is a HUGE time-saver and saves you a lot of clean-up time on cooking nights, too.
  1. Make a double batch when you’re cooking
    Whether you’ll use an extra batch for leftovers the next day (that’s usually what happens around here!) or freeze them for a future meal, making a double batch of whatever you’re cooking will give you an easy second meal for no extra work!
  1. Plan to make “take two” meals
    I try to make one meal a week that can be turned into a second meal (and not as leftovers). For example, when we make crock pot chicken tacos (4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, one large jar of your favorite salsa and a ½ cup of water on low all day, then shred), I use the leftover chicken in quesadillas, salads or soups at least one more time over the next few days. Great way to stretch your dollar.
  1. Buy limes and lemons and freeze the juice in covered ice cube trays
    A GREAT tip from A Bowl Full of Lemons (have you read her blog? You should!) on Instagram @abowlfulloflemons. Her example used lemons, but we cook with lime juice a lot so I used limes first. So many great recipes call for lemon or lime juice (guacamole, garlic-lime fajitas) but we don’t always have limes on-hand. Until now! Buy 10-12 lemons or limes on sale, juice them into a bowl, and pour into a covered ice cube tray (most are about 1oz, or 2 tbsp) and pop into the freezer. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and drop them into a zip-top bag and return to the freezer. Pull a few out any time you need lime or lemon juice! I’ve heard this works well too with olive oil and herbs but haven’t tried that one yet. Next on my list!
  1. Bake extra potatoes to keep in the fridge or freezer
    If you’re baking or grilling potatoes, you might as well throw another few in because they take a long time to cook and they’re cheap, so they’re a GREAT candidate for bulk cooking. What can you do with extra baked potatoes? Baked potato soup, hash browns for a weekend breakfast skillet (we’ve been LOVING this lately!), potato skins, potato salad…or any recipe that calls for already cooked potatoes. This will save you so much time later. Baked potatoes will last 5-7 days in the fridge and 6-8 months in the freezer. Just store them in zip-top bags and pull them out whenever you need them!
  1. Freeze cookie dough if you don’t want the whole batch at once
    My kids LOVE to bake cookies, but I don’t like having a bunch of cookies calling my name all week from the counter. Over the last year, I’ve started to freeze the batch in thirds (bake a third, split the other 2/3 and freeze in cling wrap). When they want fresh baked cookies (they especially love to cut out sugar cookies and decorate), I just pull some out of the freezer and pop it into the fridge the night before and we can make cookies the next day. Alternatively, you can also bake the whole batch and freeze the baked cookies to pull out six one at a time for yourself. If you have more self-control than I do. 😉
  1. Run your dishwasher each night
    This tip is for everyone with a dishwasher!  When I had my first baby five years ago, I was so overwhelmed with dishes. BOTTLES EVERYWHERE. Then sippy cups everywhere. Since then, I fill and run my dishwasher every night and then empty it first thing in the morning. When you have an empty dishes throughout the day, just put them directly in the dishwasher. This will totally stop all accumulation of dishes on the counter (or couch, or floor) throughout the day.
  1. Clean up as you go
    I hate sitting down to a meal and looking into a big messy kitchen because then all I can think about is having to clean it up. Instead of letting dishes accumulate on the counter or in the sink while you’re cooking, clean up as you go. Discard of scraps right away, put cutting boards and prep bowls directly into the dishwasher (or if you don’t have a dishwasher, into the sink to be washed), and wipe down your counters. It truly only takes a minute but saves you so much time after a meal.

Know someone who could use these tips? Feel free to pin, post or share! What are your favorite tips in the kitchen? Feel free to share below in the comments!


Stocking the freezer

The cycle is pretty much the same two to three nights a week in our house. I have an ambitious plan to make a nice, home-cooked meal and have it on the table when my husband gets home from work. Four or five o’clock rolls around and it’s time to start prepping, but with three unpredictable small kiddos, I just can’t always step away to get started. One of two things happens; either I make nothing and we do a fend-for-yourself night, or I start cooking after he gets home and we eat super late. Both of those scenarios stress me out.

I’ve pinned a bunch of freezer meal ideas on Pinterest, but I’ve never tried them, and I’m always worried I’ll make something in bulk and then not like it. I decided to jump into the freezer meal world and just start easy and simple. The older I get, the less fancy I try to be (should it be the other way around? Oops). I decided to pick three meals we already make and like, and start there.

Stocking the Freezer

Here are the things you need to think about when you plan to cook in bulk for the freezer:

  1. Space available to store food
  2. Containers/food storage items
  3. Time available to prep and make food
  4. Cost

Once you’ve determined what you have to work with, pick a few meals you already cook and like. I have learned that starting small and easy makes new things less intimidating. I picked Beef Stew, Chicken Fried Rice and Chicken Pot Pie for my three meals. I think they freeze well and they also have a lot of crossover ingredients that make prep really easy (carrots, onions, etc). You save time and money when you can stretch ingredients over several meals.

First up, making a shopping list. Inventory what you already have and then create a list of what you need, including quantities.
I recommend prepping everything the day before you actually cook/assemble so that it doesn’t take up one big block of time. I cooked the chicken in the crock pot with chicken broth or water all day, then removed and shred for the chicken fried rice and chicken pot pie. I peeled and cut the carrots and onions, diced the celery and made rice in my rice cooker. I put everything in airtight containers in the fridge so that it was all ready to use the next day.
Containers FreezingBeef Stew

Once it was time to make the meals, I started with the one that would take the longest – the beef stew. I always sear my stew meat before throwing it in the crock pot. It gives the meat more flavor and locks everything in. I might become more adventurous in the future (and feel free to use your own recipe!) but I just took a beef stew seasoning packet from the store, threw the beef, carrots, onions and potatoes in the crock pot, mixed the seasoning packet with 3-4 cups of beef broth and poured over the food. I cook 8-10 hours on low to make sure the meat breaks down properly.

Once it was done, I ladled into 32oz freezer containers, label with the expiration date and put them in the freezer. Easy! When it’s time to call on this freezer meal, just pull it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the night before you want to eat it, then about half an hour before dinner time, throw it in a pot on the stove with about ½ cup of water and cook until heated through. If you want to cook directly from the freezer, just give yourself more time on the stove.
Chicken Fried Rice
Next up was the chicken fried rice. After years of watching hibachi chefs make this one, I just tried to replicate what they did. Cold rice, diced carrots and onions, a scrambled egg and some of that shredded chicken are all ready to go. I cook the vegetables on a hot griddle in a little butter first, then add the rice, chicken and egg right right in, mix everything together, sprinkle with garlic salt and a little pepper and then pour soy sauce over the mixture. Once it’s all done, I put them into those same 32oz containers and label with an expiration date. Done! Thaw in the fridge the day before and just heat up in a frying pan to kind of re-fry the rice.
Chicken pot pie is last. I use this recipe (link), pour them into disposable single serving foil bowls or mini meatloaf tins and cover with unbaked pie crust, cutting slits along the top for steam to escape. I cover them with foil and pop them into the freezer, again with the expiration date (for these, I also write “Bake for one hour at 400 degrees” so I don’t forget).

If you’re unsure how long food will last in the freezer, use this guide: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html
I always label with expiration dates instead of “made on” dates because it’s easier for me to know how long I can use food.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with recipes you love or try new recipes! Ask friends and family if they have any recommendations, too. You’ll be happy you have a full freezer on nights you don’t have the time to cook but want a home-cooked meal. Bon appetit!