Meet the Sullivans: Save Time in the Kitchen & at the Store

May 1, 2014

Save Time in the Kitchen & at the Store

I love to cook for my family, but I don't like spending a lot of time doing it. I prefer simple recipes that are taken care of and cleaned up quickly. Who wants to spend all their free time planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning? Not me, and I guarantee none of you do either.

So, I thought I'd share a few tricks or tips I've learned to make planning, shopping, prepping and cooking faster for us ...and my hope is that you'll share (down in the comments section) any tricks you have too!

Use a Scrap Bowl (and maybe even compost it!)

I don't know about the rest of the state / nation / etc., but here in San Mateo County we compost. We have three bins; one for recycling, trash and compost. So I try to utilize the compost as often as possible. It's good for the environment and means less trash in the trash can (somehow we fill it each week -- diaper pail to blame?) / in landfill.We use the BioBag bags stretched over a bowl to collect all the scraps, and then when mealtime is over I tie it up and take it out to the compost and just drop it in. The bags are biodegradable.

Clean As You Go

This is a trick my mom taught me when I was a young girl just learning to cook. I loved making muffins and soup (that was all I knew how to make!), but hated cleaning up after myself. My sweet mom would clean up for me most times, but I think she got sick of that after a while, so she encouraged me to clean as I go, and that tip really makes a HUGE difference. Not only will you have less dishes to clean at the end, but you'll have more space to work with as you continue to prepare the meal. This also frees up clean bowls, etc. to use over again so you won't have to use two bowls for one dish. 

Make Just ONE Trip

Planning out your meals in advance and doing just one (or maybe two for things you run out of mid-week or forgot on the first trip) big shopping trip a week will save you time and money. The more often you shop, the more likely you are to pick up items you hadn't planned on buying or don't need. You're also more likely to use up or overlap ingredients if you plan in advance. I buy one huge bag of spinach to use in a variety of meals (I put it in soups, burritos, sandwiches, smoothies) or we make BBQ Chicken in the slow cooker and use it for BBQ Chicken Sandwiches the first night and on BBQ Chicken Pizza the next. Not rocket science, just good planning.

The Freezer is Fresh

Convenience foods are loaded with preservatives, so you want to stay away from those, but the veggies are a great option. You can keep your freezer stocked with them and never worry about running out of a vegetable for a side dish or soothie. Add them to soups or stir fries too for a quick dinner. I like to keep a package of Asian-style Sitr Fry Veggies and a Southwestern mix of peppers and onions in the freezer at all times. This way I can sauteed some chicken or beef, add the frozen veggies mix, throw in some quinoa or brown rice and call it dinner! I keep crushed garlic from Trader Joe's in the freezer too to keep from having to spend time dicing up garlic for every dinner .. because I use A LOT of garlic.


Double Up

If you're making a soup, chili or casserole that will freeze well make TWO batches. This saves you time in the future and saves on cleanup. You'll be using the same amount of dishes and pots, the same ingredients, doing the same prep, so why not just make a larger batch and split it in two? The is another way to save yourself some extra cash by using these freezer meals instead of ordering takeout or going out to eat. (Need to take my own advice on this one more often!)

Map the Store 

When I make a list for the grocery store I break it down into categories. I always start my shopping trip in the produce aisle so that section tops my list. The dairy section is next, followed by any pantry items I need from the aisles in the middle of the store and the meat department is last. Ordering it this way keeps me from back tracking for things I didn't see when I was in the section of the store the first time around. Right now I'm using my Meal Planning Notepad Set ($10) from Etsy seller The Calling Bird to do my list making. They're magnetic, so the list is easy to access when I want to jot down something to pick up.

Jot It Down

I keep a running list of the pantry items we run out of but may not remember to buy at the next trip. This is where I jot down things we don't buy every week like ketchup, olive oil, spices, chicken broth, when we run out so I can make sure we stock up. I usually write them on the list (see above) when we only have a few uses left in the item.

Timing is Everything

The best way to get through the store quickly and cut down on time spent waiting in the check out like is to make sure you go when the store is not crowded. In my experience, the best times to shop at the grocery store is either really early in the day or later in the evening, past 7pm. This is when most people are at home. I also like to shop during the week too when most people are at work, but I know that doesn't work for everyone.

Find Recipes You Love & Make Them Often

The easiest and quickest (and most satisfying) recipe to make are the ones you know by heart! I have a handful of recipe memorized for when I just don't want to put a lot of effort into cooking. When you know a recipe you spend a ton less time double checking the recipe for the correct directions or going back to the pantry to grab something you forgot to bring out. In my experience, these tried and true recipes are usually the family favorites that everyone gets excited for -- and really, the meals you family enjoys are the most satisfying to cook anyway!

Here are a few we LOVE and that I know by heart: Chicken and Brie Sandwiches with Roast Cherry Tomatoes, Clean Eating Tacos, Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas (my go to "bring a meal to a friend who needs some love" dish) and Stuffed Red Peppers.

So, spill! What are you tips for cooking in the kitchen? Did your mom / dad / aunt / grandma teach you some invaluable secret? Share with me, please! 


Tamara @ The Workout Mama said...

I love all these tips/suggestions!

hello erin said...

Our lovely trash peeps don't trust us to seperation anything anymore. So for a whopping $2 extra a month everything goes into the same bins. But I think those bags would be handy to not have the trash smell like grossness while waiting for the bag to fill up to take outside!

the girl in the red shoes said...

Love these tips! I need to remember to buy the frozen stir fry veggies for a quick dinner!

E Hayes said...

really great post, colleen! I wish the nation would compost, so great that you do (and have to).

Sara McCarty said...

Love these tips. I really need to be better about all of them. I try to meal plan every week, but inevitably have to run to the store a couple more times for random stuff. One trip a week would be amazing. And I am terrible at cleaning as I go. My husband loves to point this out to me too.

Christina @ Still Lucky said...

Great tips! I keep a notepad on the fridge too to jot down things as they run out. Really helps, otherwise I'd forget to pick it up at the store.

Jenny said...

Great tips thanks for sharing! I love to stock the freezer but I need to get some veggie stir fry - great idea!

AllThingsYummy said...

I love the bio bag idea.
I like to buy pizza dough from Trader Joes so I can make pizza at home with healthier ingredients rather than what delivery has to offer.

Alyssa said...

Such great ideas!!! I am going to have to get that crushed garlic! I hate buying things and then they go bad before I use them - thanks for the tips!!