The home goods and food service industries always seem to be trying to find ways to make home cooking easier, because well…we don’t have time for cooking, just like we don’t have time to see friends, spend time with our children, clean the house…but we have time to follow enough pop culture via shows and junk news stories to win at trivia bars. Millennial joke aside, our overscheduled and overbusy lives are cutting into food preparation time, and simply put, a lot of us simply don’t have the patience, not to mention the experience and know-how required from putting time into cooking our own meals. With so many convenience options available, cooking from scratch takes a back seat. Hungry? Grab a Snickers. Want to lose weight? Grab a Weight Watchers box and zap it in the handy dandy microwave. Want to cut vegetables perfectly or store them optimally? How about a plastic device to perfectly slice your [insert produce here] or store your [insert produce here]?
I suffer from a constant need to optimize my lifestyle habits, and I discovered a few useful tips and tricks along the way as I managed my kitchen. As someone who loves cooking, I have been suckered into the brilliant marketers that sell devices that are supposed to save you time in the kitchen…but end up taking up space and being impossible to clean sometimes.
Fortunately, after quite a few years of making my way in the kitchen from a minimalist viewpoint, here are 5 original ways to simplify your kitchen prep time that I’ve discovered from simple trial and error.
- Salad spinners are a magical tool. Not only will they get all the excess water out of your leafy greens so your stir fries don’t turn into sludge, but they are also really good at washing things and contain the splashy mess of water. As in, tear up your greens, chuck them in the basket, fill it with water, and either agitate the greens with your hands or spin the basket as if you were spinning the water out! Then just lift the basket, dump the water, and repeat until the water is clear and has no dirt. I can recommend this one. Also related – get a pot with an inset steamer, and steam your vegetables instead of boiling them to a sad wilt. It will do double duty as a colander to drain pasta. Now you can get rid of that extra plastic colander.
- Don’t peel off individual leaves or stalks from cabbage/lettuce heads and celery – get a sharp knife and cut everything all at once. Mother nature has wonderfully grouped all the stalks for us for easy, fast cutting. While washing your vegetables makes them rot faster, you’ll still save yourself some time down the line by cutting them in advance. You’ll only need to bust out the cutting board and knife once. And how nice it is to have your vegetables prepped and ready to go next time you’re cooking!
- Someone’s gotta say it – but I found that limiting my meat intake has saved me a lot of time in the kitchen. I am not vegetarian, but I find that meat is very time consuming to prepare, and while it is tasty, it is also expensive and requires a lot of extra precautions and prep time. When you add up all the work you need to do to flavor it, cut it, store it, and sterilize everything it has come in contact with, meat can be its own time suck (of course, there’s always the option of buying it pre-seasoned or pre-cooked, but then again, we all know that eating processed meats in moderation is better for us, and pre-prepped meat costs more). Soy is a great plant-based complete protein, and a block of organic firm tofu is only $1.99 at my local Whole Foods (might be even cheaper at Asian markets!). Tofu can be crumbled as a substitute for taco meat or used in vegan omelette recipes. Tofu acts as a sponge and soaks up the flavors and sauces in whatever you’re making. Eggs are also a great, cheap protein source. I usually eat meat a few times a week instead of every day.
- Use a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or the tablespoon size of these babies (which is basically a melon baller) to scoop out the flesh of watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, or basically anything else with a thick rind. Less juice spilling all over your counter and evenly sized bite-sized balls of fruit for all!
- If you have a double basin sink, ditch the dish drying rack and simply get one of these drying mats. I was inspired by Scandinavian kitchens when I visited Iceland where the sinks had built-in dish drying areas. Drying racks are unsightly and over time accumulate a lot of grime. You can put a cutting board over it and even cut vegetables on top of it – the water that tends to pool while I’m cutting things drains directly into the sink!
What other kitchen hacks can you add to the list? I’d love to hear them!