Awhile back, I devoted a post to a few tips and techniques (check it out), and I'm back with another set of tips focused on saving time. These tips are not meant to help you get out of work so you can plop in front of the TV, but rather they're intended to help you find time to volunteer, help the kids with homework, give your partner a back massage and fold that extra pile of laundry all before you shut off the lights and set the alarm.
1) Plan a weekly menu
Be disciplined and plan out your multi-day menu before making a grocery run. Start with your fridge and pantry and plan meals around items that will need to be used first. Make a precise list of missing ingredients and stick to this list when you go shopping. All this planning will save you time and money:
- controls impulse buying
- reduces time spent pushing your cart down crowded isles
- cuts down on spoiled food
- saves you trips to the store to pick up random missing ingredients
- encourages homemade dishes rather than dashing out for pizza
2) Make technology your friend
You don't need every imaginable kitchen gadget pushed on you by kitchen stores, magazines and TV shopping networks. But there are a few tools worth paying for that can dramatically cut down on prep time and even save you money.
- Food Processor: Grate or shred your own cheese; make your own pastry dough (in 5 minutes without any preservatives or transfats), make your own homemade graham cracker crusts; rapidly shred or slice cabbage, carrots, zucchini, etc; whip together your own homemade hummus, mayonnaise, salad dressings or pureed soups; or make your own finely ground bread crumbs, flours and sugars. This machine so versatile and so worth the price tag.
- Bread Machine: You can now precisely control what goes into every slice of bread you eat - and you don't have to spend the time kneading, waiting for the dough to rise, punching it down, waiting some more, etc. You spend 5 minutes adding ingredients, then just set the machine and walk away. Two to four hours later, you have fresh bread without preservatives, transfats or artificial anything.
- Computer: This may seem like an odd tool for the kitchen, but more and more, I think it's a necessity. My laptop is always open on a counter somewhere in the kitchen so I can instantly look up recipes, find substitutes for missing ingredients and keep dutiful track of the many, many tweaks I inevitably make to whatever I'm cooking. If you don't keep a computer in the kitchen, you'll either waste time trotting between the kitchen and your computer room, or you'll end up forgetting or not bothering to keep track of what made that last version of homemade hummus so amazing.
- List App: If you own a smart phone, consider downloading or buying a shopping list app for your device. The right list app will help you dynamically track items for your grocery runs without having to re-enter or re-type the list every time. The list app I use (Grocery IQ) allows me to categorize items by store and department within the store, check-off items as I buy them and even track item prices. A good list app will allow you to shop more efficiently and save time creating a shopping list.
3) More tips
- Storage: Store flours, sugars, grains and beans in large, wide-mouth, air tight containers. Scooping from a wide-mouthed storage container is faster and less messy than scooping from paper bags or attempting to accurately pour ingredients. In addition, air-tight containers keep contents fresher longer than paper packaging. I recommend BPA-free Rubbermaid plastic canisters, BPA-free OXO pop-top containers or air-tight, lead-free glass canisters.
- Go Big: Start with a big bowl that may seem over-sized when mixing or tossing ingredients - especially when working with flour. You'll avoid slopping ingredients over the sides and thus avoid time-consuming clean-up.
- Spices: Store your spices in air tight containers in a cool, sheltered area without direct sunlight exposure to best preserve flavor and shelf life. If you don't use a particular spice often, buy in smaller quantities. You may want to write the date of purchase on the bottom of the spice bottle to help you keep track of the age of the spice.
- Bacon: Partially freeze bacon (in its original wrapping or in a sealed, air-tight bag) before you need to chop or slice the bacon. Partially frozen bacon is much easier to finely slice or chop - no slime, no grease, no slippery knife or cutting board. Thanks to my friend Dan for this useful tip.