What’s There to Eat? Saving Time in the Kitchen

I recently gave a talk to young mothers entitled, “Is there anything to eat in this house?” We all want to open our refrigerators and find delicious healthy food, but it won’t get there by itself. I spoke generally, trying to break down the different cooking tasks — those things that experienced homemakers hardly think about. Through awareness of what exactly makes cooking time-consuming and difficult, struggling cooks can develop useful strategies for kitchen management.

Most people figure out how to manage in the kitchen eventually. But I also meet some who are floundering under meal preparations, and rely on prepared foods or take-out more than they would like. Even many experienced homemakers never learned how to store food properly, operate appliances efficiently, or use up leftovers. It’s just one more example of how the art of homemaking has been lost.

During the talk I touched on a few ways to save time in each of five categories (with a lot of overlap).

  1. Planning. Making menus (often the most difficult part), preparing shopping lists, locating recipes, and checking that ingredients and utensils are available. More time planning means less time working. Menus take into consideration what we already have on hand, our personal preferences and food philosophy, time of year, quantities (use a cookbook for estimates), budget, needs and abilities of children, time, and storage space. Don’t forget to plan what you will do with leftovers.
  2. Physical preparations. Peeling, washing, chopping, checking for bugs (because they’re not kosher), soaking beans, marinating, defrosting. With planning we can make these steps painless. Chicken can be prepared in advance and frozen or refrigerated, ready to pop into the oven or pan. Onions can be peeled, sliced, and frozen. Wash fruits and vegetables in quantity so they are ready to go. Most foods and food combinations can be cooked in quantities and frozen in small portions. When I make tuna casserole, I double (or triple) everything but the noodles, and store the extra for a quick meal next time. It takes less space than an entire casserole, but that also works.
  3. Cooking. Combining ingredients, boiling, mixing, frying, stirring, checking doneness, making individual portions (like hamburgers), cooling (when necessary for the next step), heating. Avoid time-consuming chores like forming meatballs; make meatloaf unless you have older children available. Use a crock-pot or microwave instead of the stove-top–the food won’t scorch. Any sauce that needs stirring works well in the microwave, and it won’t matter if you get interrupted. Plan the tasks in a logical order–put up water to boil before making salads.
  4. Distractions and mistakes. This includes miscalculations (of quantities, time, utensils, and ingredients), interruptions, spills, and burns (of both people and food). An ER pediatrician said that “100% of accidents are preventable.” Causes include rushing, using too small utensils, doing kid-unfriendly tasks when they are “helping,” transporting open ingredients across the floor, and using cluttered workspaces.
  5. Clean-up. We won’t enjoy our food if the kitchen is a mess. Wear an apron and spread old newspaper on your workspace before starting. Fill a big bowl or sink with soapy water for dirty utensils. Have a sprayer and rag handy for spills and to wipe the stove, appliances and counters when you are done.

Shabbat shalom and happy cooking.

I go into more detail about efficient cooking at CookingManager.Com.

Related: Is Homemade Food Worth the Effort?


  1. Great post. I think the key to getting it right is practice. When we were first married I had very little know how. Making one Shabbat meal was a huge effort and we did use prepared goods like Challah or veggie burgers during the week.
    Even after the first kid my budget and my effort spend fell two years straight as I learned my way around the kitchen and learned more about freezing and storing. I love what you right because I always seem to pick up a new tip.
    Now I feel like I move seemlessly through the kitchen. I can put in challah dough while the kids are eating breakfast. I have my son mix up premeasured ingredients before he eats lunch and will cook while the kids eat, keeping them safe while sauteeing or opening and closing the oven. And I love the crockpot too. Chicken comes out much softer I’ve found. I also throw in legumes I need for the week (like Garbanzo beans) before going to bed. They store find in the refrigerator, so it isn’t a problem making for an extended period of time.

  2. Great tips. Something I’ve learned from experience regarding leftovers: My kids don’t love leftovers, but will eat them, because they know I won’t throw anything even remotely edible out. But certain things freeze really well, so if i’ve overestimated with the meatballs for example, I freeze them right away, and then use them at a later time. Sometimes I only have sauce left, and I’ll freeze that–you can add even small amounts to other recipes such as meat loaf or meat lasagna. For leftover chicken, obviously–chicken salad!
    But maybe you can give a seminar about meats in Israel–I have yet to make a roast in this country.
    Shavua Tov!

  3. mominisrael says

    Sauce and juices from meat are my most valuable leftovers. I don’t cook much beef here, but when I do, I use the gravies for months (just after Pesach I mentioned this in a post).

  4. Hi MOI,
    I really enjoyed this post. Iplan on linking to it at my other blog, Daily Food Tips which is a blog devoted solely to food and whatever is related to it. I can also use the tips you’ve mentioned, with adaptation geared towards my specific needs. Thanks again, and shavuah tov.

  5. mominisrael says

    PS Baila–I could give one for olim on adjusting to Israeli ingredients and lifestyle.

  6. This would be perfect for Kosher Cooking Carnival.

  7. Ever since my wife had the baby (a little before really) I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen, doing a lot of the cooking for the family.
    I have found that, regarding your #5 (cleanup) a lot of time can be saved if you wash what you use right when you finish using it. We are inclined to finish cooking and wash the pots later. In the meantime the stuff dries up and crusts over making it difficult to wash later. Also the buildup of pots becomes daunting and you end up procrastinating because you are scared of the big pile of pots and dishes.
    I have found that if you wash the pot right away, it cleans very easily and quickly – much easier than if you would wait and clean it later. You then have a clean kitchen and no buildup of a big pile of dirty stuff in the sink.

  8. Sign me up!!!

  9. Rafi, that is another option; the only problem is that washing dishes interrupts your work flow. If you have a bin of soapy water ready, you do have to wash a lot of dishes at the end but it only takes a few minutes because they have been soaking.
    Muse–I already sent it in.
    Baila–you’ll have to organize it!

  10. Great tips! Lately I have discovered the joys of cooking extra and freezing some for another meal (or 2). It’s wonderful! I’ll never be one of those women who cooks one day a month and freezes a month’s worth of meals, though đŸ™‚
    I can relate to Sephardi Lady’s comment – when I first got married, my husband had to do the cooking for Shabbat because I hadn’t a CLUE. Now I can make everything- soup, chicken, and side dishes- in a few hours.
    Would you mind sharing your recipe for tuna casserole?

  11. OK, for some reason, Haloscan isn’t taking the html. Link: http://www.dailyfoodtips.com.

  12. Excellent post. I would put a link to it, but my blog is down now:-(