10 Tips to Make the Most of Your Time in the Kitchen

I love to cook. It is one of my favorite things to do. But there are only so many hours in the day, and every day doesn’t allow for me to cook gourmet meals. Sometimes I only have thirty minutes to get it together. And there are days when I just don’t feel like cooking.

It’s because I love to cook that I don’t want it to become a chore. I like to be prepared every week for what I’m going to make for supper during the week. I like to have all of my groceries on hand and I don’t want to make any last minute trips to the grocery store–especially with two small children. I want to enjoy my time in the kitchen!

So I came up with a little list of 10 tips to make the most of your time in the kitchen. Some of these are time-saving tips and some are sanity-saving tips.

1. Create a binder of recipes with your favorite go-to meals that are the easiest to make. I have a binder that has all of my favorite recipes. Some of these are torn out of magazines, some have been passed down from my grandmother, mother and aunts, and some are printed from websites. But these are my favorite meals that are the easiest for me to make.

2. Make sure that at least half of these are 5-ingredient recipes. For more 5-ingredient recipes, go to Cooking Light. Having 5-ingredient recipes cuts down on prep time and hopefully on cooking time. Save the fancy meals for nights when you have more time and you don’t have as much going on. Getting food on the table is one of our nightly chores, but it’s much better when we all enjoy the process.

3. Create a meal plan over the weekend. I use a great printable in my home organization binder to create my meal plan. I sit down with my recipe binder and sometimes bring out some cookbooks if I feel like getting more creative for a special night. I try to find common ingredients so I can cut back on my grocery bill. Extra tip: While you plan your meals, make a grocery list and organize your grocery list by the way the store is laid out. This will help you save time while you’re shopping.

4. Grocery shop on Sunday. I like to make sure that I only have to go to the grocery store one time every week. This helps me save money and it ensures that I am ready for every night of the week before the week even starts. By doing it on Sunday, I can leave the boys at home with Todd so I can get through the grocery store faster.

5. Prep your meal in the morning. One of the ways I can cut back on the time it takes to prepare our meal every night is by prepping the meal in the morning when I wake up. I get the vegetables chopped and put them back in the refrigerator. Or I peel potatoes or put the food in the crock pot.

6. Have at least one crock pot meal in your meal plan. The crock pot makes life and dinner time so easy. Use it!

7. Wash the dishes as you go or ask your husband to do the dishes while you cook. If Todd is home while I’m cooking, he’s my dish man. It makes me feel less overwhelmed if he’s cleaning up behind me while I’m cooking. Then when we’ve both finished eating, we can relax instead spending another thirty minutes cleaning up.

8. Make 4 freezers meals at the beginning of each month. In case of an emergency, you’ll already have dinner ready to go and you just need to thaw and put it in the oven. Sometimes I have a meeting and Todd is home with the kids. Sometimes we have a day where the boys don’t nap and the last thing I want to do is cook. By having the freezer meals ready, we have a few nights a month where we can take it easy.

9. Let your kids pick one favorite meal per week. This keeps them involved and makes it fun for them, too. And they’ll be more likely to help out with dishes and setting the table. There’s nothing more frustrating than cooking supper for your family and then seeing your kids not eat it. This way they know they had a part in choosing the menu for the week and they know they can look forward to their certain favorite meal.

10. Embrace leftovers. Maybe not three nights of leftovers, but at least once. We’re big into eating our leftovers. Especially if it’s a meal we loved. You don’t want good food to go to waste and we don’t want to be in the kitchen every night. You can spice up your leftovers by turning them into another meal completely.

How do you Keep It Simply Smart with your time in the kitchen? Share your time and sanity-saving tips with me for a chance to win $100 to Cooking.com.

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  1. Barb says

    Hi! Thanks for sharing your tips! You have some great ideas! Much like you, I leave my boys at home with my husband so I can do the grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday. I always try to make 30-minute meals (or less, if possible). I always try to change it up from week to week so we don’t get bored. I like to clean as I go so it I don’t get overwhelmed with cleanup at the end of dinner, and my husband pitches in with the dishes, too. Teamwork get the job done!

  2. maria says

    i love the idea of meal planning. and i want to get to using our crock pot more regularly. so hard when it’s hot out though!

  3. Megan says

    I definitely use meal planning! I already have everything on hand when I come home from work and I can get everything together quickly 🙂

  4. says

    I like to cook with chopped onions in most meals. A quick saving tip my mother taught me, is to always keep a chopped onion in the fridge. I use a glass pyrex bowl. It makes it so easy when I’m cooking I don’t have to take time out to chop.

    Also, could you do a post on your meals you freeze? I would love some recipes on meals for freezing. That is an awesome idea!

  5. Cathy C. says

    I would love to see a post on some of your favorite crockpot meals. I make lots of soups, but I’m not very creative beyond that. And, soups just aren’t summery!

  6. Mary Anne says

    I totally plan our meals – when I plan our grocery list – based upon the sales at the grocery store. What I mean is…if pork chops are on sale at the grocery store – pork chops are on the menu that week!

  7. says

    I definitely meal plan…and a lot of my easy go to meals are Monday-Thursday when my husband works late:) And we often will get take-out one of those nights for everyone’s sanity! I also love my crock-pot, I need to pull it out, I haven’t used it as much this summer!

  8. says

    I make what I call “crock pot dump bags” These are meals that are ready to pop in the crock pot.

    I take a freezer bag, and “dump” all the ingredients for a crockpot meal (mexican chicken soup, italian pot roast, buffalo chicken for sandwhiches, anything really…) I put all ingredients in there from meat, to veggies, spices, and anything else that would go in. I label and freeze the bags and that way if I have a busy day planned, I just take a bag, run some hot water over it for a minute (to thaw enough to pour out the contents) and dump it in the crockpot.

    Same as freezer food, but its crockpot ready so our meal is hot and ready when we are!

  9. says

    We have a few fall back meals that come in handy for nights that I just cant get it together. I always have those ingredients in the pantry and they are simple 5 minute meals that take no time to prep and throw together.

  10. says

    I meal plan for each week and do all my shopping in one day, so I don’t have to keep going out to the store throughout the week. I use my crockpot a lot too because it is just so easy to throw dinner on in the morning rather than rushing around to get it fixed in the afternoon. I’m hoping to do more freezer meals for this winter too, but am a little intimidated by prepping it all! Thanks for these great tips on you cut your time in the kitchen!

  11. Gretchen says

    Meal planning has become my kitchen savior. I started about 10 months ago and I am so glad I did. It’s nice to know what you will be making ahead of time and know that you have all of the ingredients already.

  12. Sara says

    I also plan my weekly menu in advance, including lunches. I shop on Saturday and on Sunday inbetween church services I will make a big pot of soup or chili or something that we’ve decided on for our lunches. Making something at home for our lunches helps me out in the mornings when packing lunches as well as saving us money by not eating out and/or buying pre-made lunch items. Definitely a sanity & money saver.

  13. Colleen says

    Great tips! I am always chopping veggies and doing prep work during naptime that way I can easily throw everything together during the witching hour(s).

    I cannot believe how big H and H are getting! They are such sweet brothers!

  14. AKC says

    The crock pot is my go to time saver in the kitchen. I throw everything together early in the AM when the boys are still sleeping and then ta-da dinner is cooked when we are all home and ready to eat later that night. Now if I could just get serious about planning the entire week’s worth of meals on Sundays I would save even more time 🙂

  15. Heather Costello says

    I love to assemble a casserole in the morning especially when a busy afternoon is planned. Then, I just have to pop it in the oven at dinner time. Another way to save time is to brown multiple pounds of hamburger meat or boil multiple chicken breasts at once. Then, separate the meat out into 1 pound freezable bags or how many pounds or chicken breasts a recipe calls for. You can then just pull the bag out of the freezer, which allows you to have one step completed when putting a casserole together.
    When my mom makes spaghetti, she always makes a huge pot of it and separates it into freezable containers for future spaghetti nights! Cooking in bulk really does save time!

  16. Melanie says

    Great tips, Erin, and I hope you will soon post the specifics and some recipes. I am a couponer and stockpiler, so I usually have all or most of what I need for what I bake or cook.

  17. says

    If I am making a more time consuming main dish I try to go easy on the side dishes or vice versa. Then I don’t feel completely bogged down with dinner prep. I also try to have leftovers!

  18. says

    Good tips. I like to stretch myself while in the kitchen, especially right now because we don’t have children yet. I like to make meals out of what we have in the kitchen. We have come up with some amazing meals this way. We also eat ALL of our leftovers. No excuses 😉

  19. says

    I love learning new tips for keeping it simple in the kitchen! Before having my son I would go all out a few nights a week and I really enjoyed it, but I don’t have the time for that now.

    I like to cook a whole chicken one night and use the leftover chickening soup, a casserole or on a pizza the next night!

  20. Marci says

    l am loving my crock pot more and more these days! Planning and grocery shopping on Sunday is what keeps me on track! I love your binder idea, it sure beats digging through a recipe box like I am currently doing!

  21. says

    My favorite tip – cook once, eat twice. If you are going to cook 4 chicken breast, cook eight and save four cooked chicken breasts for another meal. Saves a lot of time!

  22. says

    I always keep staples on hand for our favorite meals. That way if I have an especially busy day and can’t make it to the grocery store, we can still have a home cooked meal instead of eating out.

  23. susan says

    Definitely agree with all of your tips! I really try to do the prepping ahead of time but some days I find it difficult. I always do meals with fairly few ingredients though – that definitely saves on the prep time!

  24. says

    We menu plan for two weeks at a time to cut back on grocery shopping (there’s only two of us so that helps). I plan out meals according to the shelf life of the produce involved and always freeze a few portions of leftovers for those nights where no one feels like being in the kitchen.

  25. says

    Great tips thank you for sharing. I try cook my meat during naptime so that I only have to prepare the veggies at dinner. I also cook larger cuts of meat or I double the recipe so that it will last 2-3 nights. Luckily my husband doesn’t mind eating the same thing several nights in a row:)

  26. Elizabeth Tafeen says

    I love your tips! I am definitely a fan of menu planning. Makes grocery shopping easier and also cheaper!

  27. Amy O'Connor says

    I use meal planning and it not only saves money, but has helped both hubs and I reduce our waistlines!

  28. Lyndsey says

    I meal plan half the time 🙂 But we love leftovers in our house and we have 6 or 8 go to meals that are easy and simple! I also LOVE me some crockpot meals. EASY BREEZY!

  29. says

    I always have a ball of pizza dough in the freezer and a can of pizza sauce on the shelf that I can pull out on nights when I don’t want to really cook 🙂

  30. Marie says

    I look for recipes that don’t have too many steps or ingredients, make sure I have everything before I get started, and clean up as I go. Cleaning up as I go is key because if I finish making the meal and have a sink full of dirty dishes, I am much less excited about cooking!

  31. Brandi says

    I try and do all the prep/everything short of adding heat the night before after the kids go to bed. This isn’t such a big deal in the summer, but during the school year when I am working it is basically a necessity in order to have dinner on the table at a decent time. I also like to do things towards prepping breakfast. I need to utilize the crockpot more, as well as some go to recipes.

  32. Carrie says

    If I’m making a recipe for something that’s normally baked in a larger 9×13″ pan, I’ll often divide it between two smaller 8″ square pans. We’ll eat one pan the night I make the meal, and we’ll freeze the other one for another day! Knowing we always have some good things in the freezer to pull out and eat is helpful and a great timesaver!

  33. Megan says

    I second all of your ideas! My fiance’s schedule is a little wacky and we don’t have a microwave for leftovers, so meal planning becomes more of an aspiration than a reality sometimes. But I refuse to waste, so we always find a way to use everything, sometimes unconventionally.

  34. says

    I love meal planning–makes my life SO much easier!! I usually do a lot of the prep work while my kids are napping. Makes the “witching hour” a little more bearable! 🙂 I’d love to start using my crock pot more though…

  35. Susan R says

    I have several more complex recipes that I’ve converted to freezer meals, ie: homemade lasagna, bolognese, chicken and noodles. Every few months I make double or tripe batches and freeze them in freezer bags!

  36. says

    I have good old standby freezer meals like Italian beef, a basic marinara for pizzas/pastas, a bolognese for lasagnas/ravioli….I also meal plan weekly and keep several types of meat in the freezer (I stock up when it’s on sale); chicken, swai, Italian sausage and skirt steak are some of my favorites…My other big tip is to buy seasonal produce~ you’ll save money and the quality/flavor will be wonderful!

  37. says

    I always like to keep a few certain staples in the pantry/fridge that can always be turned into a quick dinner like cheese, whole wheat pasta, chicken and some sort of frozen or fresh veggies in the freezer! when it doubt, dump it all into a pasta dish.

  38. Jennifer Z. says

    I always prep dinner during naptime, meal plan for the week (and for the month if I’m feeling up to it), and buy prechopped frozen onions. Those onions have seriously changed my life.

  39. Tiffany Winner says

    i save time by buying pre-chopped onions since i use them all the time and hate cutting them anyway


    “I am receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for submitting this comment.”

  40. steph says

    i meal plan too! i also try to plan meals that will use each other’s ingredients so i cut down on waste.

  41. says

    meal plan and make the grocery list at the same time. I also try to do prep the night before when I can…there are just 2 of us, but with hubby figuring out a new job we save time where we can!

  42. HOLLY MARIE says

    I meal plan every Sunday and go shopping with my little family. From there on out it is Dad and Baby time as I prep most of the food I will be using throughout the week. Plus- the slowcooker has become my friend as a new mom- IT IS DIVINE!

  43. says

    I Keep It Simply Smart in the kitchen when it comes to dinner time by cooking ahead of time. When I make won ton, I double the recipe and freeze 1/2 of it for another day.
    amy [at] utry [dot] it

  44. cw says

    I cook meals ahead of time and freeze or when I cook, I make a large amount and freeze the rest for another day.

  45. April V. says

    I like to take leftovers and turn them in to something else immediately. Once everyone has finished dinner, instead of packing up the leftovers separately, figure out what you could make from them and pack accordingly. If you have leftover chicken, chop it up and make chicken salad right away and then put it away. The spices you add will have more time to steep and the salad will taste better for the time it has spent together. Leftover mashed potatoes can be frozen for a later meal side as hash browns or potato pancakes. Veggies can be frozen to add to a casserole at a later date.

    When you are preparing an easily frozen meal (lasagna or chili for example) make twice as much and freeze half for a later date. This also allows you to buy bigger packages of meat which will be cheaper.

  46. Heather says

    Love the idea of a recipe binder! I keep my recipes on the computer and am always running back and forth when I forget the next step. I keep it simple by also planning out a week of meals on the weekend. Definitely helps with time in the kitchen and in the grocery store!

  47. sy says

    I try to do things in parallel as much as I can, when I copy recipes I try to group steps as efficiently as possible. Thanks for the tips and giveaway.
    songyueyu at gmail

  48. says

    I make it simple by having a protein and I try to incorporate fruits and veggies into every meal! Thanks for a chance to win and have a great day!

  49. Betty C says

    I have a recipe binder too but sometimes I forget to add a new favorite recipe. I need to be more pro-active about that. I’ve also realized that I can save a lot of time by using one store that price matches. That saves both time and money. Unfortunately one store has realized how many people are shopping there and getting the competitor’s prices so they have started stocking unusual sizes that don’t work with the price match.

  50. Amanda Sakovitz says

    I plan dinners in the summer a week in advance so I’m not stressing out or rushing around at the last minute.

  51. ewhatley says

    I’m obsessively organized so I make the most of my time in the kitchen by having everything organized, plan meals, do ahead/in bulk as much as possible and shop with a list at the grocery store.

  52. Sarah L says

    I redid the contents of my cupboards & drawers so that I have the things I use most closest to where I use them.
    Thanks for the contest.
    “I am receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for submitting this comment.”

  53. says

    Great ideas! With kids in two different schools this year, I am embracing the idea of meal planning for lunches. We’ve always packed lunches, but the new school doesn’t have a traditional lunch room, so buying lunch isn’t even an option. Planning lunches with my kids means less food comes home uneaten. I am also packing as much as I can the evening before.

  54. LAMusing says

    I make double batches of certain meals and freeze half so I can have a few nights where I just pull it out and re-heat!

  55. Carolsue says

    I cut up red/green/yellow peppers when they are on sale and “flash freeze” them, put them in Ziploc bags for future use for things like Fajitas. Also, I plan the meals a week ahead and freeze leftovers.
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

  56. Denise L says

    I love my crockpot. I even make lasagna in there and have instructions for bread baked in a crockpot. It’s a great alternative for the hot summer months and you’re only dirtying one “pan”. Anything that simplifies clean up is ok with me!

  57. Kari Richards says

    I’ve begun meal planning for 2 weeks at a time. So far so good, we haven’t eaten out because we always know what’s for dinner and I have all the ingredients. Since I have everything for 12-14 meals we can be flexible about when we eat what meal. I hope to move up to monthly meal planning!

  58. Amy L says

    I try to cook as much as I can with our toaster oven. It heats up much more quickly than the big oven, and it doesn’t make the kitchen hot which helps during the summer.

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