Both Corporette and You and Me and Lucy had posts with great time-saving tips this week, and both included lots of tips in the kitchen. I thought I would add my own tips, but focus specifically on the kitchen side of things, mainly because I get asked some version of the following question very frequently: How do you work long hours and yet cook most of your meals and bring lunch every day? I used to get this question before going on a very restricted diet last year, and I still get it now. I think being organized is really the answer. It does not necessarily mean doing a lot of work either, I promise. Here are some things that I do that have consistently worked:
*Strategically prep on weekends – I think this is different for everyone and I really encourage you to find what works for you. For example, the whole concept of washing and cutting up your vegetables for the week SO does not work for me. I like my veggies freshly chopped too much to sacrifice that. I used to “cook-ahead” majorly on weekends and freeze everything, but now I only freeze dishes when there are more leftovers than for a couple of days. I still “cook-ahead” now, but it’s either a quick dish (like a quinoa salad or dip) to bring for lunch at work, or components like tomato sauce or vegetable broth or dried beans that require soaking, cooking and freezing for future uses.
*Rotate weekend prep activities – Some weekends we make meals that generate leftovers that take us well into the middle of the week, but some weekends we don’t and generally keep cooking quick and easy. Those as the weekends I will make a batch of tomato sauce or tackle dried beans or bake some crackers (I love this recipe).
*Find your under-5-minutes meals – Baby spinach is my fast food. Seriously, I love this stuff – it can be turned into a tasty salad, made into a quesadilla, steamed in 3 minutes in the rice cooker, or used to scoop up hummus. Speaking of hummus, that is another fast food for me – I use either canned or pre-cooked and frozen chickpeas (I just run those under water in a colander) and use this recipe.
*Be flexible – while husband and I do a weekly meal plan, we have stopped assigning specific days to specific meals. We just make a list of meals for the weekend, shop for them, and slot them in according to our schedules as the week unfolds.
*Find the appliances that work for you – For me those are a rice cooker (similar to this one), a blender (which I will eventually upgrade to a Vita-mix. I would still love your opinions), a very old Foreman grill (which also needs replacing, any suggestions?), a coffee grinder that I use for spices and flax-seeds, and a 3-bowl food processor and a mini-prep. I use the rice cooker maybe once a week for rice, but more like 3-5 times a week for steaming vegetables. While you can absolutely survive with just a mini-prep or a normal 1-bowl food processor, I find that the 3 bowl set-up makes things go faster when I am making several things. Your appliances should reflect how you eat, not the time savings tips they promise. For example, a slow cooker is useless for me – I eat meat no more than once a week, generally less, and only very lean cuts that do not benefit from a slow cooker. I also do not eat enough beans to justify a slow cooker and, should I feel like making a dish that could benefit from a slow cooker, I can just use the rice cooker.
*Make a master grocery list – I actually have three lists – spring, summer and fall/winter. The contain the staples, so I just circle what I need and add items that I buy less frequently.
General Disclosures & Disclaimers