I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like I spend half my life in the kitchen. Between meal planning, grocery shopping, putting away groceries, meal prep, cooking, family meals, and clean up, it feels like a good percentage of my time is spent trying to keep this large family fed!
I have stumbled across a few tips over the years that have helped me save countless hours. Here are lots of time saving ideas to help you spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your family.
Once-a-month Grocery Shopping
Once a month shopping is a really good way to save money, but it also saves a lot of time. It does require some planning to prepare a meal plan and make a huge master list but it is well worth it in the time and money saved.
I do my big shop on the first Tuesday of the month because the grocery stores in my area offer discounts that day. The one I go to gives 15% off your total bill on the first Tuesday. I like having to stick to a specific day because it holds me to a schedule and ensures that I actually get my planning done in time! I also try to go to any other stores that I need to on that day to get it all done while I’m already out and be more efficient with my time.
I stock up on non-persishables in particular such as garbage bags, toilet paper, canned goods, and pasta. I also buy my gluten free and freezer items for the month and most if not all of our meat for the month. I buy enough produce for the next two weeks. I do have to make a small stop or two for fresh produce towards the end of the month.
By getting the bulk of my shopping done in one day, I save so much time. I not only save money by taking advantage of the 15% off that day and by buying in bulk and planning ahead, I also save gas and cut down on impulse purchases by not shopping as often.
My friend Jamerrill shares some good tips for successful once a month shopping.
There are so many small things you can do ahead of time that will save you time later.
- After you get home from your once-a-month grocery shopping trip, wash the fruits and vegetables before you put them away.
- If you have time at this stage, also slice up celery and carrots. They can be used as snacks or put in kids’ lunches and most of the work is done so it’s easy to cut them into smaller pieces to be used later in recipes.
- Cook chicken breasts and shred them or cube them and put in resealable freezer bags. These can then be pulled out to use in quesadillas, pastas, nachos, chicken salad sandwiches, stews, stir fry dishes, or on pizza. You can also do this with strips of beef or pieces of salmon.
- Cook chicken breasts with cajun seasoning for on top of pasta, on salad or in sandwiches. This recipe is my absolute favourite cajun chicken alfredo pasta and by having the chicken done ahead, it saves time both in cooking and in dishes. The Husband also likes to take the cajun chicken to work for lunches.
- Fry up hamburger and freeze it in resealable bags for use in spaghetti sauce, chili, soups, or casseroles.
- Cut up green onions or cube green peppers and freeze to use in recipes.
- Do all your chopping for a particular recipe earlier in the day such as in the morning before you go to work or during your toddler’s nap time and then when the busy pre-supper rush sets in, you will easily be able to assemble the meal. Store the chopped ingredients in the fridge in small containers with lids or resealable bags.
- If there is something that you use often in recipes such as onions, pre-chop and keep it ready to go in your fridge.
- Put marinades, spices or rubs in with your meat (chicken, pork chops, salmon or other fish, beef) in a resealable freezer bag and store in the freezer in meal portions. It will marinate as it thaws.
- Buy frozen vegetable medleys. What you may spend in a small extra cost for having things pre-cut for you, you will more than save in time. You can use them for stir fry, soups, stews, roasted or steamed vegetables as a side dish, and more.
Make the Most of Your Leftovers
- Freeze leftover chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, or red wine in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and freeze them in a labelled resealable freezer bag. The wine cubes are great for adding to sauces and chilis. The stock cubes can be used for recipes calling for small amounts of stock or just for adding flavour to dishes.
- If you have a meal where there is only a small bit of leftovers that are not enough for another serving or meal, freeze them in small resealable freezer bags. These can then be combined when you have several and made into a soup.
- I make many of my leftovers into soups. I include the sauces, the side dishes and the main when I create my soups. I never create the same soup twice!
- When planning meals, plan for what to do with the leftovers. Chatelaine magazine offers leftover suggestions for their recipes. This is a great way to help stretch one meal into two. An example would be a meal such as Thai Curried Chicken being turned into a Thai Chicken and Apple Pizza the following night.
I make freezer meals often. My neighbour Christie and I get together for about two full days of assembling the meals (and lots of laughs and delirium as the exhaustion sets in!) once every two or three months. We make enough meals in those days (plus another day for shopping and prep) to last each of our families two months, give or take a few meals. Although every time we are doing it, we ask ourselves why we do this to ourselves, it is always worth it!
After more than ten years of experience making freezer meals and knowing the difference they’ve made in my life, I’ve created a course called Freezer Meals 101 to teach others and let them experience the freedom and peace that comes with this system.
Of all my time saving tips, freezer meals is probably the most effective, but if you don’t have time to devote to doing a full day or two of freezer meals, this suggestion is the next best thing.
- Double your recipes. It takes little to no extra time to make more of the same There are certain recipes that double really easily such as chili, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, sloppy joes, soup. The extra meal can then be frozen. In just one week of doubling meals, you have created a week for yourself of not having to cook!
- Cook an extra roast at the same time as the one you are making for dinner for sandwiches the next day.
- Double batches of cookies or muffins to freeze. Cookie dough can be make into balls and frozen. You can then cook it later for the same fresh-from-the-oven deliciousness without any of the work!
- Double (or for a family our size, triple or quadruple!) waffles or pancakes. Freeze what isn’t eaten flat on cookie sheets. Once frozen, pop into resealable freezer bags and they can be taken out one at a time or enough for an entire family breakfast. I have another little trick that I use when it comes to making these huge batches of pancakes. I plug in an electric griddle in the living room in an evening after the kids are asleep and cook up pancakes while I watch TV or a movie! Strange, but true!
This perhaps should be the #1 solution on this list. Planning ahead, both in meal plan and method gives you a game plan and ensures that you are organized and have everything you need.
Make a weekly or monthly meal plan. There are many ways you can do this. There are some cookbooks that are a great help with this.
Another way to create a meal plan is to make a list of all your family’s favourite recipes and create a rotation schedule that works for you.
If the thought of creating your own menu plan is too overwhelming, there are many blogs that provide monthly menu plans complete with links to the recipes. You can even find ones for specific allergy restrictions.
Here are some of the sites that offer menu plans:
Freezer Meals 101 (freezer meal plans)
The Sassy Slow Cooker (monthly slow cooker menu plans)
Sidetracked Sarah (subscribe to get a free menu plan or pay a small fee, but this is a freezer to crock pot meal plan so it’s worth it!)
Not Consumed (breakfast stations for saving time and energy in the mornings!)
Other Great Time Saving Cooking Tips
- Go through your recipe and take out all the ingredients you need. This saves time and saves you from those moments when you’re in the middle of a recipe and realize (too late) that you’re missing a key ingredient.
- Have a well stocked pantry. This will save on trips to the store.
- Pre-cut snacks.
- Think about recipes that have similar ingredients and make them on back to back days and do all the prep for both the first day. Whenever I make pyrogies, I always double the onion and butter that I fry up to serve with them and then use the extra for my super easy Mom’s Monday Macaroni Casserole recipe the next day. That way, the chopping and frying is already done.
- Clean as you go. Have a garbage bowl (suggestion of Rachael Ray) and add to it as you go.
- Have some music playing as you cook. It will likely give you a bit more pep in your step and speed things up!
- Make use of your slow cooker. My crock pot and I have become good friends over the years. She and I are especially close during busy seasons or on hot summer days when I don’t want to further heat the house by turning on the oven. She is great when I have appointments during the day and can pop in a freezer meal before I leave and come home to the smell of supper cooking. A slow cooker may not be gourmet or glamorous, but for a busy mom, it can be a life saver!
- Make one pot meals. These are often quick to make and they also cut down on the amount of dishes that need to be washed, which also saves time. I’ve been experimenting with different one pot recipes that I’ve found on Pinterest and some have just been so-so, but we have found some real winners that will be making their appearance in our regular menu rotation.