I love to cook and make meals for the family, but sometimes this can be challenging. We are either going in different directions or have more commitments than we have time. Over the years, I’ve found some kitchen time-savers that allow us to eat real meals, together as a family. Here are my favorites…
Ultimate Kitchen Time-saver: Use a Crock-Pot
I have 3 crock-pots that I use on a regular basis and they certainly get a lot of use! When I first started cooking, I thought of using my crock-pot for soups or main dishes that can all be thrown together. Now, I try to think beyond this and have used the crock-pot to make cakes, yogurt, potatoes, squash, and more. Using a crock-pot takes a little bit of planning. I usually have to take something out of the freezer the night before if I want to cook it the next day, but that’s not too difficult. Here are a few of our favorite Crock-Pot Recipes:
- Crock-Pot Chicken
- Baked Beans
- Pineapple Upside Down Cake
- Stuffed Pepper Soup
- Baked Potatoes
- Sloppy Joes
And don’t limit yourself to one crock-pot. I’ve made baked potatoes in one crock-pot and chicken in another to come home to a meal that tasted like I worked on it all day when in reality it took only a few minutes in the morning to throw in the crock-pot.
Fill it Up, but Not too Much
When I say, fill it up, this really means using the most of whatever space you have when cooking. Some good examples of this are cooking extra of something you are making already. If I want to make baked beans, for example, I am going to use my crock-pot which can hold up to 4 pounds of beans. It will take the same crock-pot to make 1 pound or 4 pounds, even though we may only eat 1 pound at each meal. It will also take the same amount of time. So, with the time it takes to make 1 meal, I’ve made 4.
When I say, “not too much” this means that if you go beyond filling up what you are already using, you’ll probably end up wasting or spending too much time and increasing your kitchen frustration. For example, I decided one weekend to make a ton of “stuff” for the freezer, which became very difficult to manage and took my whole weekend. I traded my whole weekend for a few minutes saved during the week and that was not an ideal trade-off. The idea is to use the time you are already spending, not more.
I usually make double batches of cookies, cakes, and bread too. The extras are sliced in ready to eat portions and then into the freezer they go. In addition to making extra portions of baked good or beans, I also make extras of rice, pasta, meats, and meatballs which brings me to my next Kitchen time-saver – IQF.
IQF – Individually Quick Frozen
When I make extra of items, I put them on a cookie sheet to freeze. This way, they freeze in individual pieces (IQF) which I can then put in a freezer bag or other freezer container. When it comes time to use the item, I can use the whole bag or whatever smaller portion is needed. They cook faster too! Think of the skillet freezer meals that you can buy in the store – you can make your own version of this by having IQF ingredients ready to go in the freezer. I have done this with pasta, rice, chicken, ground turkey, and beans. Freezing tomato paste in small portions is a great idea too. This way, you have a small amount, ready to add to your favorite gravy or soup.
Another great idea using IQF ingredients is to package them together in smaller portions for seniors, a friend that might be under the weather, or someone returning home from the hospital. In a quart size freezer bag, put in a mixture of your favorite combinations – some I like are “broccoli, chicken, shredded cheese” or “rice, beans, enchilada sauce (frozen in ice cube trays), cheese.” These are easy to re-heat in a skillet and so nice to have a homemade, hot meal in circumstances where this might be difficult. This would also be great for singles too. In my world it feels like I’m always cooking for a crowd. I’m not sure that I would enjoy cooking as much if I was doing it only for myself. 🙂
Always keep a full Pantry and Freezer
I stock up on staples whenever they go on sale so that I rarely have to pay full price. This saves money and equally important, time. We always have pasta or another grain in the pantry and frozen vegetables in the freezer. Add a little olive oil and some seasoning, maybe some chicken if I have it in the freezer, and dinner is on the table. By stocking up when I go to the grocery store, I’m not making last minute trips, which takes time I’d rather spend doing fun things, like helping with homework (okay, maybe not fun, but necessary) or writing blog posts (definitely fun!). This is a balance because we love to have fresh fruits and vegetables available too. I usually try to buy only enough fresh items that we can eat in 3-4 days and fill in with frozen for the remaining time. This way we do not have food going bad and we are still enjoying fresh items. To read more about saving money on groceries, check out this post.
I hope you find one or more of these kitchen time-savers useful. They sure have saved me a lot of time for many years. 🙂