Saving Time In The Kitchen

by Crystal Dupay


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Many hours of our week are spent grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning the house. By the time we finish our myriad other responsibilities and try to squeeze in some quality family time, we don't have much opportunity to research the sale ads, travel to several different grocery stores to find the best deal, cook from scratch or make homemade clothing and gifts to save us money. We know that all of these things will help us keep more of our money and contributes to our quality of life but how do we fit it into our already hectic schedules? Budgeting our time and condensing several tasks into one can help tremendously. Saving time can add up to financial savings in a big way.

Spend less time in the kitchen but make that time count! Quite a bit of time is consumed in the cooking and cleaning up process. Saving time in this area can save you money in a number of ways. Cooking several meals at once and in advance can save money on electricity, water, and gas because you will only use these things once instead of two or three times. Having meals on hand and planned in advance can curb the urge for expensive take-out food at the last minute and also free up time for other money-saving activities. Below are some tips to help you plan menus and combat food waste.

Plan menus in advance. Make a list of at least a couple of week's worth of dinner menus and some lunch and snack menus, the latter two are most important if you have children. Then, be sure that you have the ingredients for the menu items on hand. Plan ahead what you will serve each night for a week. Try to think of ways to use leftovers from a meal early in the week in your meal plans for later in that week. For example, a roast served for Sunday dinner can be used for lunches in the form of roast beef sandwiches or vegetable beef soup. After planning several weeks of menus, you'll get the hang of it. Also, be sure and save your menus to use again after a few weeks have passed.

Prepare several meals at once and in advance. Cooking and freezing meals ahead of time is a wonderful way to save time and money and can be done in several different ways. Some people use one day a month as cooking day and spend that entire day cooking and freezing meals. Others use a few hours a month and put away several dishes and still others cook twice as much for each meal and freeze half. I use a little bit of all of these techniques. Finding an entire day in which to cook is usually a bit more time than most people can spare although I have found ways to do it once or twice a year. I have found that doubling your recipe when you're already cooking a meal and freezing half is one of the easiest ways to get ahead and I use this method quite often. The only drawback is that it doesn't yield many meals at one time.

My favorite method of cooking ahead is to prepare similar meals at one time. For instance, I have several recipes that use browned ground beef as the main ingredient and since I usually buy ground beef in large quantities when I can get the best price, it makes sense to brown several pounds at once and put together several meals. I use this method about two days per month, using ground beef recipes on one of those days and chicken the next. The following month I'll use one day for dishes that use ham or pork and the other day for vegetable dishes, snack foods, or desserts.

Store foods properly to cut down on waste. How you store your frozen foods is also very important. Storing your food in freezer bags can help to save on space if that is a problem for you but always be sure that you remove as much air from the bag as possible to help keep the food fresher for a longer period. Try to keep your freezer at a constant temperature to prevent the slight melting of the ice crystals in the food. When these crystals freeze again, it can make your food products mushy. Also, I have found that freezing meals in foil pans is nice because they go straight from the freezer to the oven and save me tons of time in scrubbing baked on gook. Freezing your foods in the right quantity is also important to help cut down on waste. For instance, I noticed that we normally had about two tablespoons of corn left over each night after dinner. Not enough to save but still enough that it adds up when you keep throwing it away. I started buying large bulk bags of frozen corn and putting the amount we needed for dinner in freezer bags. It's just enough and we're no longer wasting food.

Put together lunches and snacks at a time when the kitchen is already a mess. A really good time to make lunches and snacks for the next day is while you are making dinner or cleaning up the kitchen afterward. The kitchen is already a mess and if you get tomorrow's lunches out of the way, you'll save yourself loads of time the next day that would have been spent cleaning up crumbs from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or cookies. The reason I don't recommend making lunches while the kitchen is a mess from breakfast is that most people have enough trouble just getting breakfast out of the way and adding a second task in the morning before our minds wake up for the day would be more than most mortals could handle. See how the time you have saved by using the above techniques can be turned into fun time with family, hobbies for yourself, and activities that can save you money!

Many of us complain that we simply don't have enough time to spend just having fun with our families. We spend so many hours a day working and performing the tasks discussed above like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, that there are simply not enough hours in the day for fun time with the kids, to cultivate a hobby or interest on your own, or to spend time clipping coupons and searching the sale ads. But what if we could combine some of these mundane tasks? Sometimes it just takes a bit of ingenuity and a slight shift in our perspective to begin to feel like we are in control of our time and money. Below you will find some tips and ideas on task combining.

Use your time in the grocery store for more than just shopping! Believe it or not, you can turn your shopping time into some quality time for you and your children. If you have younger children, you can use shopping as a learning experience. The first area of education would be in social skills, teach them how they should behave in the store. You can teach them many new words, colors, and shapes by asking them what they see as you walk down the aisles. My husband was floored when we went to the store and our three-year-old pointed out the piņatas to her father and pronounced the word with a perfect Spanish accent!

Older children can learn a great deal about money and value by accompanying you to the grocery store. Have them make a game out of selecting the best-priced item out of a group of similar items. This is a great way to sharpen their math skills and it'll help you brush up on yours, too! If you need to get your shopping done quickly, divide your list among yourself and your children and see who can pick up the items on their list and be back at the check-out line first, and the winner would win a prize. Of course taking your children to the grocery store with you is never a good idea unless they understand that you will be buying only the items on your list.

Making your own games, toys and crafts at home can be fun, educational, and frugal. Making your own games, toys, and crafts can sound complicated and time consuming but when done in combination with other tasks, it can actually keep your kids happy and occupied while you complete other duties.

Make your cooking time, fun time for you and your kids. When you are cooking, especially if you are making several meals at once, your kitchen is going to be a disaster so what better time to allow your kids to get creative with some messy yet really fun materials! If you'll be making foods that require flour, why not make homemade Playdough at the same time? Homemade finger paints is another option or how about mashed potato sculptures? Older kids can actually help with the cooking itself. One of my favorite "make ahead" meals is ravioli from scratch. Rolling out the dough, cutting it with a pastry cutter, and filling the raviolis is something the whole family can do together.

Use your sale flyers for more than tracking the best prices. Have your children look through the sale flyers with you as you look for bargains. Younger children can pick out pictures as you go along and cut them out for use in making a game to play later. For example, in one of your sale flyers there could be a picture of an apple. Have your child cut out the picture and glue it on to one side of an index card. On the other side, you or your child can write the word apple. You can do this with several cards and use it to teach word recognition to your pre-reader, if he recognizes the word, he wins because he knows what the picture will be on the other side of the card. A variation on this game for older children would be to cut out two of the same picture and use them to play a matching game.

There are only so many things that we can accomplish in a day yet there are so many important things that need our attention. We can't create more time in our days so combining tasks that we deem important is one of the best ways to find time to complete them. Using these tips will require some forethought and planning but any lifestyle change that will help us save time, money, or both is worth considering.


Crystal Dupay is a stay-at-home mother of two daughters, ages 1 and 3. She also co-publishes a Web site for SAHMs called Main Street Mom. The purpose of the site is to provide support, inspirational stories, comedy, money-saving tips, a nationwide playgroup listing, and much more. You can visit Main Street Mom at www.mainstreetmom.com , or you can subscribe to the free weekly newsletter by writing to msmw-subscribe@listbot.com.

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