7 Time-Saving Kitchen Tips From an Insider
I'm always surprised when people tell me that they do not like to cook. Admittedly, this is coming from someone who has worked in several professional kitchens over the years (I actually take pleasure in chopping an onion). The fact is that most people are intimidated by cooking. Believe me, I've heard some creative excuses for avoiding the kitchen:
- "I can't make toast without burning it."
- "You're good at it, you do it."
- "I have a crush on the delivery guy."
- "Grocery shopping is boring."
- "I'm contributing to the struggling economy by eating out."
Of all the excuses, I would say that the number one reason people don't cook more often is that there isn't enough time. True, having a full-time job, a family, or both doesn't leave much time at the end of the day to prepare a home-cooked meal.
Not to worry. There are many ways to cut corners in the kitchen and save time. In my experience, knowing how to save time in the kitchen usually helps people feel less overwhelmed by the thought of preparing a wholesome meal. Cooking shouldn't be a painful experience for anyone.
Here are seven painless time-saving tips from the industry that are effective ways to encourage more home cooking and less eating out. (See also: Save Time, Money, and Energy; and Eat Great)
1. Prepare Vegetables Ahead of Time
This is commonly done in restaurant kitchens to save time, but it also keeps the veggies fresh much longer than storing them whole. Plus, you're more likely to use them before they wilt or rot if they are already prepped. When I buy a head of lettuce, for example, I prep it as soon as I get home and store it in an airtight container. Half of my work is done when I want to make a salad, and chopped lettuce usually lasts up to a week if stored properly. If you choose to do this with any leafy green, be sure to let it dry before storing it in the fridge; keeping wet greens in plastic bags or anything that holds moisture will turn them into mush in just a few days.
You can prep most vegetables ahead of time, except for things like avocados or anything that browns quickly after it is cut. I like to dice onions, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to use for salads, stir-fries, sauces, omelets — basically any main or side dish that I know will take at least 20 minutes of prep work. Try grating carrots instead of slicing them; grated ones tend to last longer and can be more versatile and fun to use. Although you are investing a good chunk of time in prepping all the vegetables that you might use throughout the week, it will save you anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes when you start pulling out the ingredients for your meal. Not to mention the satisfaction of knowing that you are less likely to send the bulk of your veggies to the compost.
2. Preheat the Oven
This is the part of the recipe people love to skip. Even I used to think preheating the oven was a waste of time, until I realized that it truly serves a function. If you put something in the oven before it reaches the recommended temperature for your dish, it will cook unevenly and need more time. This is particularly the case with meat dishes. Turn on the oven as soon as you are ready to start cooking. While you are waiting on it to heat up, you can finish any of the prep work you need to do. It's also helpful to know how long it takes your oven to preheat. If there isn't a setting that lets you know when it's ready, set a timer the next time you preheat it so that you have a better estimate of how much time the entire meal will take. While it may seem insignificant, preheating the oven will save you time and stress.
3. Plan Your Meals
For most people, planning all the meals for the week may feel a little too ambitious, but it will probably save you more time than any of these suggestions. Think about how long it takes to decide what you want to eat after a long day at work when you are already tired and hungry. Then, if you're anything like me, by the time you've decided, you are so hungry that you end up ordering a pizza. You don't have to sit down and write a detailed menu that includes the wine and dessert for every night of the week, but it's a good idea to have a general sense of which meals you are going to prepare. If you are trying a new recipe, give yourself more time than usual. Make it on the weekend or on a night you know you will have some extra time in the kitchen. Meal planning isn't just a time saver; it also encourages healthier choices and better budgeting.
4. Prepare Meals in Advance
The trick to this is being creative. Lasagna does get old, even if it is easy to prepare the night before and stick in the oven when you get home. You can find tons of recipes for casseroles, stews, and quiches online. Try making variations of your favorite pasta sauces, or if you are feeling especially creative, make up new dishes by combining some of your old recipes. Soups are an easy one to try this with, and most dishes can be frozen, or at least stored in the refrigerator for a few days to cook whenever you are ready to eat them.
5. Make Large Quantities
Even if you live alone, making larger portions can save time since leftovers are guaranteed. However, you have to actually eat the leftovers to make this one worth the effort. I had a roommate in college who would make a casserole to have throughout the week, but she hated leftovers. Aside from the lack of logic in preparing a meal specifically for the leftovers only to throw away two-thirds of it, she didn't save any time in the end since she had to make more food. If you are one of those people who gets bored, there are many ways to recreate your leftovers. You can always combine leftovers to make an entirely new dish. You don't have to be a professional chef to go "off recipe" and make your own creation.
6. Get Others Involved
Unless you live alone or prefer to prepare the meals yourself, there isn't any reason you can't let other members of the house help you cook. Get the kids involved too; it's a great way to spend time with them and teach them valuable skills. If they are too young to use knives, let them wash the vegetables or put the salad together. Don't be afraid to delegate!
7. Use Knives Properly
This one may sound like an odd addition to the list. But I cannot tell you how many times I've watched someone use a knife improperly, or use one that is too small or dull and then wonder why it took them 20 minutes to cut a tomato into wedges. You can save a lot of time by simply knowing how to use a knife and which one is best for the job. The common rule for any kitchen is "use the right tool for the right job," meaning you wouldn't use a paring knife to cut meat or a large squash. You don't need a dozen different sizes, but you do need at least one all-purpose chef's knife.
Always use a sharp knife, since it will allow you to chop or slice more quickly. More importantly, using a dull knife is dangerous since there's a greater chance of the knife slipping. And a cut from a dull knife takes longer to heal and increases your chances of getting an infection. However, knowing how to use a chef's knife is as important as keeping it sharp. In case you've never been taught how to use a good kitchen knife, I've picked out a short YouTube clip to help demonstrate my point. Ultimately, if you are struggling with your knife, you are using more time and energy and increasing your chances of injury. It takes practice, but anyone can learn how to use a knife like a professional.