Cutting Your Kitchen Prep Time in Half — Or More!

By Crystal Paine, Contributing Writer

Are you working to ditch processed foods and put more real food on the table? This month we’re running a series called Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better. Our goal is to answer the questions you might have and make the transition a whole lot easier!

Plan Ahead to Save Your Sanity

Meal planning is key to success and efficiency in the kitchen. We all probably know this. But you have to be intentional about it, or it doesn’t happen.

I’ve done different things over the years, but what’s currently working is to set aside time on Saturday morning to plan our menu for the upcoming week. While I’m planning the menu, I also make the grocery list. Then, on Saturday afternoon, I head to the store to do the shopping.

This ensures that we start the week with a full refrigerator and pantry — and that we have the ingredients on hand to make the items on our menu! Then, throughout the week, I just have to work the plan.

My usual set up when planning our weekly menus — laptop, magazine clippings, my home management binder, and coffee!

Here are some menu-planning helps and ideas:

  • Use Pinterest for inspiration. I have a board called Recipes I Want to Try and every time I find a yummy-looking recipe on Pinterest, I pin it to this board. Then, when I’m planning our weekly menu, I consult this board for ideas.
  • Buy a copy of Plan It, Don’t Panic. This eBook is packed with great ideas and inspiration for menu planning.
  • Download meal-planning printable forms. Instead of scratching down your menu on the back of an envelope, print one of these free menu planning forms (there are more here), fill it out, and stick it on the side of your refrigerator.
  • Create a cute board. Make menu planning more exciting with one of these meal-planning boards.
  • Plan according to what you have on hand. Save money (and reduce waste!) by starting your menu plan based upon what you already have in your refrigerator and freezer. I like to use the Ingredient Search Feature on AllRecipes.com to generate a list of ideas.
  • Base your menu on what’s in season and on sale. Check the sale’s fliers for your local stores and see what the rock-bottom sales are for that week. This is a really easy and almost-effortless way to cut your grocery bill.
  • Rotate a 3-month menu plan. If you want to simplify your life, consider taking the time to put together two or three month’s worth of menus and a corresponding grocery list. Then, just rotate these menus. This way, you can keep re-using them over and over again saving you valuable time.

German Chocolate Fudge Bites — so yummy! These can be made ahead of time and kept in the freezer for up to 4-6 weeks.

Double Up Your Efforts to Save You Time

I love to cook and bake. But I often don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen — especially on busy weekdays. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy home-cooked meals. It just means I have to get creative and make the most of my time in the kitchen.

Here are some things that help me save time and effort in the kitchen:

  • Cook it once, eat it twice. Make a big pot of soup for dinner and serve it for two nights in a row. Or, make two meatloaves instead of one and eat one for dinner and freeze the extra meatloaf for later. It takes a lot less time to double a recipe than it does to make it two separate times. Plus, you only have to do the dishes once!
  • Keep your freezer stocked. Take at least two hours on the weekend to make and freeze food for the coming week. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a short amount of time if you set your mind to it, set the timer, and have a plan. If you’re new to freezer cooking, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Freezer Cooking post. You can also read about some of Stephanie’s Real Food Freezer Cooking sessions.
  • Make a week’s worth of layered salads in mason jars. Such a simple way to make eating fresh salads all week a snap!
  • Cook meat in bulk. Never just cook one pound of meat. Make it worth your while by browning multiple pounds of ground beef. Save yourself some effort by browning it in the crock pot.
  • Prep your food as soon as you come home from the store. When you walk in the door from a shopping trip, do yourself a favor and go ahead and brown the ground beef, marinate the chicken, wash and chop all the veggies, and boil eggs… or whatever it is that you’re planning to do with the food you bought. Work as quickly as you can to get this all done — and then go put your feet up and enjoy the feeling of knowing you’ve done much of your kitchen prep work for the week already!
  • Make bulk batches of baking mixes for your favorite recipes. Do you have certain baked goods that you like to make regularly? Take 15 minutes on the weekends to a quadruple batch of the dry ingredients together. Then, when you’re ready to make pancakes or cookies or muffins, half the job is already done. By the way, here’s my favorite homemade baking mix.

Put Your Appliances to Work For You to Save You Energy

We might not live in the age of servants, but we certainly have some fantastic modern appliances at our disposal. Use them to your advantage!

Here are my favorite appliances:

Making Homemade Applesauce in the Crock Pot

Other posts in the series:

Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better

First Steps to Real Food

What Is Real Food?

Confessions of a Formerly Picky Eater

How to Read Food Labels

The Grain Controversy: Should We Eat Them or Not?

Second Steps Towards Eating Real Foods: Switching Your Food Sources

Sweeteners: How They Affect You, Which Ones are Best, and How to Use Them

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Pantry Staples

5 Strategies to Help Your Husband and Kids Transition to Real Food 

7 Foods to Avoid

Finding Real Food in the Grocery Store

20 Easy Real Food Switches and Substitutions {with Free Printable Chart}

First Steps to Eating for Fertility

Keeping Costs Down in a Real Food Kitchen

Raising Kids on Real Food

5 Ways to Get More Fruits & Veggies into your Diet

Food Is Not Cheap: 4 Steps to Budgeting in Real Food

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Baked Goods

Simple Roast Chicken (And Fabulous Side Dish Recipes!)

17 Homemade Spice Mixes {with Recipes & Why You Should Use Them!}

5 Ways Green Living and Real Food are Connected

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Soups, Sauces, and Simple Dinners

Cutting Your Kitchen Prep Time In Half - Or More! {Keeper of the Home}

What are your favorite tips for saving time in the kitchen?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.

About Crystal Paine

More than anything in the world, Crystal Paine loves Jesus and wants her life to be poured out in love for Him. She also loves being a wife and homeschool mom to three (though she definitely has moments when she wishes she could throw in the towel -- if only she could find a clean one!) She's a self-proclaimed minimalist in just about every area but books (because you can never have too many books, can you?) and one of her favorite things is having a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend over a good cup of coffee. Through her blog, MoneySavingMom.com, Crystal seeks to encourage and challenge women to wisely steward their time and resources and live life on purpose.

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Comments

  1. Crissy S. says:

    I love the article, but I’m very ignorant at cooking. I really need a bit more hands-on help or step by step. Any suggestions?

  2. Thanks Crystal for linking to my roundup of meal planning boards. Ironically I have yet to make one myself because I’m stuck in the groove of my current system. Guess I subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach. These are some other great tips…glad to have found your site too!

  3. I LOVE cooking mixed beans ahead of time – so easy and can be added in whole (how I leave them) or mixed up and added in to all sorts of meals. It really makes my meat $$ stretch while still giving that full feeling.
    But, I’m sorry, am I the only one who HATES ebooks? I have to have a real book to flip pages and be able to find what I need. Laptop is OK, but for reading, I have to have the real thing … probably why when my Kindle Fire went missing, it’s wasn’t a big deal.

  4. You touched on my favorite time saving tip. Prebrowning meat! My husband actually does it for me, but even if he didn’t it would save me tons of time. He browns up 5-10 lbs of hamburger and chicken and puts it in 1 lb increments in freezer bags. Then when I am making a recipe with those ingredients all I have to do is grab some out of the freezer.
    I would love it if you would share this at my linky party! (and anything else you have been working on) http://domesticrandomness.blogspot.com/2013/01/friday-fascinations-8-everything-linky.html

  5. The best Meal Planning Resource I have EVER seen, has to be The Food Nanny! Her 2 Week Meal Plan with each night a different theme, like Italian, Comfort Food, Mexican, or Pizza night has saved me do much time and her advice is full of time saving wisdom! I LOVE watching her show on tv/internet, and her book is amazing too! If you ever struggle with meal planning or getting dinner on the table, you have to check her show or book out!

  6. My favorite kitchen prep tip (found on Pinterest, of course!): Throw all those cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breasts into the Kitchen Aid with the paddle. Turn it on medium, and in a ridiculously short amount of time, you will have shredded chicken for tacos, chicken salad, bbq chicken sliders, any kind of chicken casserole :-) No more standing at the cutting board dicing up cooked chicken!! YAY!!

  7. Wow, Crystal,
    This post is great for someone like me because I tend to get overwhelmed by menu planning and bulk cooking. This was concise and to the point- thank you!! And full of helpful, practical info. I’m pumped to get going on this first thing tomorrow!!

  8. Thanks for the great ideas Crystal! I’ll second what Victoria said…involve the kids…involve everyone. My wife and I work together with our older daughter (5) to put good meals on the table. Involving a 5 year-old doesn’t always speed things up but in the long-run it will lead to great things. I also use Evernote and their Food app for keeping up with new recipes. Batch cooking has also been a big help to our family and others. When we hear of friends who could use a meal, we can pull one out of the freezer and have it at their door within minutes. Thanks again for all of these great ideas!

  9. One of my favorite tools in the kitchen is “my kids” without their help with washing and drying all the dishes I could not get half as much done, it took me only a few short sessions to train them to do the tasks, and they enjoy earning money which in turn provides lessons in how to manage money.

  10. Heather, I have many vegetarian ideas on my website, Eatlikearabbit.net. I have no doubt you can find easy recipes that will give you the once-a-month or -week vegetarian meal you are looking for.

  11. Great info! Crockpot meat cooking? Gotta try that! I hope to soon have some tips out for easy clean up! :)

  12. I keep a master grocery list that has the items I buy every week and at least once a month listed in order of that store. We shop at two main grocery stores (Aldi & Meijer), Gordon Food Service, and CVS/Walgreen’s; I keep a list of items under each store name and then leave room for extra items I can add each week, too. I also list the days of the week 2 times on one side of the page so I can fill in the menu for dinner; our breakfast and lunch items are similar each week so I just make a 1-2 word note of what we will have for breakfast and lunch, too.
    I’d love to fix salads in advance but we’ve been eating them for lunch and dinner each day recently and all those jars would fill our fridge for salad times 9 each day! ;)

  13. I received a pressure cooker for Christmas, and it’s been a sanity saver for me on busy nights. I find I”m using either that or my crockpot at least 3 or 4 nights a week.
    A menu plan is also a necessity for me, and on the one that I post in my kitchen I’m sure to make notes about what can be done for the next day. All the gadgets and planning in the world doesn’t help if I’ve forgotten to take out the meat!

  14. One of my ways to save time in the kitchen is to clean as I go. I hate making dinner and having all the ingredients spread out all over the counter. I pull everything out as I need it and then put it directly back into the cupboard. Cuts down on the cleaning – my least favorite part. :)

  15. No new tips for me….but a few good recipes from other bloggers! Thx!

  16. Thanks, Crystal! These are all great ideas. I usually plan for a week and most of the time I cook enough for 2 days. I would love to plan enough for a month or two, then rotate. Can you fix the link above to the 2-3 months’ worth of menus? The link points to allrecipes right now…

  17. Thank you for all this good tips! I started meal planning after Christmas (since I got this amazingly good looking meal planner from my daughter) and yes, it does make such a huge difference! Just love it!

  18. I like to make snacks a head of time. If you make a big batch of hummus or bean dip you can freeze half for a couple weeks and keep what you need for the week in your fridge. Then I pre cut my carrot and celery sticks for dipping. I also pre bake snacks or healthy goodies for when I’m out (I love the ones that aren’t messy for by babies). One that really helps is making meatballs and freezing them. Makes for a quick lunch or even dinner!

  19. So many great tips! I have my own little menu planning method that I use and love. So much in fact that I created a quick e-course to share it. But the basics are similar to what is mentioned in the article above. Menu planning is key to saving money and eating better – I truly believe that!

  20. All great tips and good reminders for me. We moved Dec. 21 and I still haven’t gotten back into the swing of things with meal planning. I use Plan to Eat and love it and also try to plan around what comes in my CSA box each week. I think Winter is a great time for soups, which usually save great in the freezer, so I definitely want to start making double batches and freezing some for later. Also, love using my crock pot! Thanks for the inspiration to get back on track!

  21. I’ve begun to use http://www.pepperplate.com for meal planning. I copy/paste my recipes in to their system, and they automatically sync to my Kindle Fire or a person’s iPod or other device. It does the meal planning there for us, and makes the shopping list as well. Nice! Best part? It’s FREE! :)

    • Thank you for mentioning pepperplate.com! This is just what I have been looking for to collect our “good list”!

    • Thanks so much for sharing that resource!

    • I love pepperplate.com I use it all the time and the best thing besides being free there is an app on your phone or Nook book. My husband also loves it I don’t say every night what do you want tonight to eat we talk about it before we go to the store.

  22. Ugh. I DESPISE cooking meat. It is literally the worst part about meal prep for me. Messy, timely. Bleh. So I ADORE the idea of cooking massive amounts in a crock pot!!! Just so happens, 1lb of ground turkey is thawed and on the agenda today. So I’ll give it a whirl. Next time, I’ll thaw 5 lbs! THANK YOU!!!

  23. ElizabethF says:

    Thank you for the great tips! I already make double batches of lasagna but am looking forward to trying the salads in a jar. My favorite time saver in the kitchen is planned leftovers; using one night’s roasted chicken in another night’s chicken soup or baking a few extra potatoes to serve later as mashed potatoes.
    On another note, were you planning on making the Bread Machine Pepperoni Pizza or Crispy Grilled Zucchini? Simple & Delicious is one of my favorite magazines for recipes and I recognized the page instantly!

  24. Loving these time-saving tips.
    One of the best decisions we ever made was to start meal-planning. Because he loves planning and is sooo good at it, my husband plans out our meals for the entire month on our shared Google calendar. Then we work together to put all the necessary recipe ingredients onto our shopping list, which is organized by aisle in our grocery store. (The aisle-organized shopping list has saved us huge amounts of time, as well!) We make one main shopping trip at the beginning of the month, then another quick trip mid-month to replenish our supply of fresh produce and any other items with a short shelf life.
    I love knowing what we’ll be eating every day and that we have exactly what we need to prepare it.

  25. We use cozi.com for meal planning and gorceries….but you gave me the fabulosu idea of creating different shopping lists there for meal plans…I could do this! I’d love a mostly vegetarian once a month cooking idea….have you seen one?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Freezer Cooking in an Hour: Southwestern Slow Cooker 2-Bean Chicken, Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls var addthis_product = 'wpp-264'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":false,"data_track_addressbar":false};if (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}Yesterday’s Freezer Cooking Session was so simple that it’s hard to even say it qualifies as a Freezer Cooking in an Hour session. And I guess that’s the beauty of letting your appliances do the work for you. [...]

  2. [...] Yesterday’s Freezer Cooking Session was so simple that it’s hard to even say it qualifies as a Freezer Cooking in an Hour session. And I guess that’s the beauty of letting your appliances do the work for you. [...]

  3. [...] Crystal Paine, the head blogger at MoneySavingMom.com was guest posting on another site this week.  She wrote a great piece on saving time in the kitchen. [...]

  4. [...] Cutting You Kitchen Prep Tim in Half –Or More by Crystal @ Keeper of the Home [...]

  5. [...] I’m over on Keeper of the Home sharing a long list of tips, tricks, and ideas for cutting your kitchen prep time in half. [...]

  6. [...] I’m over on Keeper of the Home sharing a long list of tips, tricks, and ideas for cutting your kitchen prep time in half. [...]