Recently, I returned to physical therapy in an attempt to address my ongoing sciatica. I know this doesn’t seem relevant to the topic at hand, but I promise to bring it full circle if you stick with me. 🙂
In assessing my situation, the therapist asked which activities tend to increase my symptoms. When I shared that standing for long periods of time in the kitchen is what tends to aggravate the pain, she deadpanned “Why do you do that?” We laughed as she asked if I enjoy cooking and I told her “Not really.”
[It’s about to come full circle; are you ready?]
I went on to tell her that what I do enjoy is providing nourishing meals for my family. And honestly, it’s nigh unto impossible to serve truly nourishing food without cooking it yourself.
- Do we still eat out? Absolutely.
- Do we sometimes eat prepared foods? Of course.
- Do I take a few short cuts here and there, even as I prepare our meals from scratch? You bet.
My goal is for most of our meals to be
1). made from nourishing ingredients and
2). prepared in a nourishing manner.
This does require spending a good deal of time in the kitchen, but over time, I’ve found ways to streamline the process.
And in the end, it’s worth it to me to know that (most of) the food we eat is doing more than simply filling up our bellies, it’s truly nourishing our health.
And now, 4 Tips for Cooking from Scratch in Less Time:
1. Multiply every recipe.
One thing that helps me tremendously in the kitchen is to make huge batches of whatever I’m cooking. It might take a little more time up front, but it saves so much time in the long run. This practice allows me to serve my family nutritious, made-from-scratch meals every night, without having to slave in the kitchen every night. My goal is to cook only three, maybe four meals each week, making enough to last us those extra three nights, plus a few lunches.
2. Crockpot, crockpot, crockpot!
No, that’s not a typo, and it’s not an exaggeration. The crockpot is truly one of my all-time favorite inventions: I own three of them and am constantly considering adding a fourth to my collection. I have two huge, oval pots and one medium round one, and at least one or two of them are fighting for counter space at almost any given moment in my kitchen. The round one actually belonged to my husband before we got married one decade ago, and before that I think it belonged to his mother! It’s already enjoyed a long, full life, and is still going strong.
Generally, I try to plan one or two crockpot meals each week. Again, it requires a bit more time up front (in the morning, or the night before), but is so worth it! Check out the list at the bottom of this post for some of our favorite crockpot recipes.
3. Plan ahead.
I make out a meal plan for each week, based on our schedule. On days when we’ll be out and about or when an event is scheduled at our home in the evening, I try to plan on leftovers or crockpot meals for dinner. I also try very hard to do lots of cooking during the week in order to avoid cooking over the weekend. Saturdays are busy, and I prefer not to worry about cooking. Sunday is our day of rest and we have a loose “no cooking” policy for the day.
My meal plans flow much more smoothly when I take a bit of time each evening (or even in the afternoon, or whenever) to review the meals for the next day or so. That allows me to pull necessary ingredients out of the freezer, which is important because we freeze everything from meat to broth to tomato sauce to vegetables. Nothing derails a recipe like realizing the chicken broth I need is still in the freezer, frozen solid inside a glass jar. (Not that I’ve ever done that before. And certainly not on a regular basis…).
4. Use frozen fruit and vegetables
We eat TONS of produce at our house. I do buy many things fresh, but I also love to stock lots of frozen vegetables.
For one thing, they can be just as nutritious as fresh produce because they’re usually harvested at peak season and preserved right away. If you continue with that logic, some frozen produce could actually be more nutritious than its fresh counterpart, especially in winter. For example, I bet that frozen strawberries–which were picked in season–are more nutritious than fresh strawberries you’d buy in the winter.
But truly, the thing I love most about frozen produce is that IT’S SO EASY! Yes, it may be cheaper to buy my own onions and chop them myself. But I HATE chopping onions and it’s time consuming. And so, I always stock many, many bags of frozen, chopped onions. I do try to keep fresh onions on hand, and use them when I have time. When I’m in a rush, though, it’s much easier to grab a bag of frozen onions from the freezer. Open bag, dump into pot or skillet and Voila! Cross that step off your list.
Another of my favorite frozen vegetables is mirepoix. Have you heard of it? It’s just a fancy French name for a mixture of onions, celery and carrots. Again, I do keep fresh celery and carrots on hand. Sometimes I even get ambitious and buy lots of fresh celery in order to chop it up and store it in the freezer. This is much cheaper than buying frozen mirepoix. But it’s also very time consuming. So, I do a little of both. I keep the frozen stuff on hand for when I really need it and as time allows, I chop and store the fresh version.
What do you do to save time in the kitchen?
A Few Favorite Crockpot Recipes:
- Quinoa Crockpot Chili
- Slow Cooked Fajita Meat
- Whole Chicken in the Crockpot
- Ham & Lentil Crockpot Soup