5 Secrets of an Efficient Kitchen

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An efficient kitchen is one that brings about tasty, nutritious results without a lot of waste.

I love to cook. I love to eat. And I love to spend time with my family. Sometimes these all converge into a happy cacophony of lipsmacks and laughter. And sometimes, not.

As a result, I’m on a mission to be as efficient in the kitchen as I can be — without sacrificing our dining pleasure or time spent with my kiddos who are, indeed, growing as fast as sweet corn in the summertime.

Don’t get me wrong. I like takeout as well as the next guy, but I find that the most satisfying meals are the ones we eat at home. An efficient kitchen is my answer.

What’s an efficient kitchen?

Efficient kitchen? Sounds like something out of The Jetsons, doesn’t it? But, truly, efficiency is a good thing. And something we should aspire to, especially in the kitchen.


adj \i-‘fi-sh?nt\

productive of desired effects; especially : productive without waste

An efficient kitchen produces desired effects without waste. Booyah! That’s what I want. And really, that’s the driving force behind Good Cheap Eats: great food without wasting time, money, or natural resources.

The efficient kitchen is one in which these resources are not wasted, but instead work together to create tasty, nourishing food for you and those you love.

Relish Tray

Here are some of the secrets of an efficient kitchen:

1. Have a plan.

How much time do we waste staring into the depths of the fridge wondering what to cook for supper, or worse, driving to the store without an idea in our heads of what to buy? I’ve done it. Oh yes, I have. And it feels like slogging through quicksand, especially when you know someone is going to start crying for dinner anytime soon.

Meal planning and intentional grocery shopping are great ways to get a plan in action. Whether you plan for just a few days, a week, or even a month, determining your menu plan in advance can save you a lot of time, frustration, and money. You’ll know what to buy, what to cook, and what to serve. No quicksand here. Dinnertime prep will be like a walk in the park.

Hand in hand with the meal plan is intentional grocery shopping. Sure, there’ve been times when I just went aisle-by-aisle through the store, loading my cart with pantry staples that I knew we needed or even items that struck my fancy. There’s definitely a time and place for that.

But, grocery shopping with list in hand is a way to curb excess spending and to make sure you have the ingredients you need when you get around to cooking.

Meal planning and intentional grocery shopping help us be efficient, saving time, money, and unnecessary trips to the store.

2. Use what you have.

As last month’s Pantry Challenge proved to so many of us, we have a wealth of great meals right under our own roofs! In fact, some of you are carrying the challenge into February because your blessings are overflowing your cupboards. It’s in our best interests — and that of our pocket book — to make sure that we are using what we have.

Not only do we save money by not buying more than we need, but we also make sure that what we already have doesn’t go to waste. How disheartening it is to throw away food that has sat on the shelf long past its expiration date! No fun. And definitely not efficient, especially when we are then faced with replacing the item as well as disposing of it and paying the associated costs that come with throwing something in the trash.

Enjoying the food you already have in your pantry is a great way to practice stewardship and to be more efficient with your time.

3. Go green(er).

There’s no question that what we eat, how we shop, and how we prepare our foods have an impact on the world around us. While I am certainly not any kind of expert on environmental issues, I believe that God has granted us this world to take care of. I don’t want to waste water or food due to ignorance or laziness. Instead, I want a healthy, balanced view of stewardship.

A few of my green ways:

For example, it’s my joy to feed my children the best food I can afford. While we can’t go all organic due to budgetary and sourcing constraints, I am super pleased to have found an affordable source of organic produce. This helps me feel good about what I feed my family as well as how I’m supporting local agriculture.

I cook from scratch because I think this is better for my family — and a better use of resources. Processed foods don’t have a great track record. They are more expensive than plain old ingredients. And they just don’t taste as good as their fresher counterparts.

I try to be mindful of the packaging I use to store our food. While I don’t believe everything I read on the internet, I am trying to gain a fair view of the costs and benefits of different food storage options.

These are my little baby steps toward greener living.

At the same time, I realize that each of us is at a different place when it comes to “green living.” Our family only just started recycling last month as our city moved to comingled recycling. Prior to that they gave us these itty bitty bins that were too small to hold a day’s worth, and were a little too rodent friendly. I felt bad every time I threw away the recyclable, but the previous system just wasn’t efficient.

Now that we have a huge recycling cart where all the recyclables can congregate together, we’re putting much, much less in the garbage. And I know that we could reduce even that with a little more effort — and maybe a compost pile.

Finding small ways to go green in the kitchen can help you save time, money, and valuable natural resources.

4. Eat leftovers.

It’s true! Enjoying leftovers is a great way to be efficient. Not only are you getting more meals off one purchase and prep time, but you’re wasting less, too. Some leftovers, like these Poblano Chile Enchiladas, are definitely worth fighting over. Simply reheat and enjoy. Others can be reworked in a number of ways to give them new life.

Either way, eating leftovers is a great way to enjoy tasty food without waste.

5. Use shortcuts.

There’s no law that says you need spend hours in the kitchen to serve a great meal. In fact, some of the tastiest spreads are those we pull together on the fly. There are a number of kitchen shortcuts, including freezer cooking and homemade convenience items that help you get meals on the table in a flash.

Plus there are a number of kichen “servants” to help you do your job more efficiently. An immersion blender can smooth a soup or sauce quicker than you can get the upright blender out of the cabinet. A bread machine can prep pizza dough while you tackle another job. A slow cooker can simmer a delicious stew while you go about your business away from home for the day.

Shortcuts help you save time which in turn help you eat at home instead of heading for takeout at the end of a long day.

Efficiency doesn’t have to be many cogs in a wheel. It’s just doing what we do as well as we can do it with as little waste as possible. And in the kitchen, that can make for some good cheap eats.

What do you think makes a kitchen efficient?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Kerry says

    Love efficiency! Cant wait to read everyone’s comments. Here is my most recent favorite kitchen tip:
    I have a plastic crate in the fridge that holds the thawing cut of meat or meal ingredient for the daily meal, plus leftovers to incorporate or eat for lunch (such as a small baggie of bacon, apple slices, half a pepper, some leftover spaghetti, etc). I just started this a few weeks ago, and wow, has it proved to really be effective. No small Leftovers getting lost and rotting. No hunting, either, for the half a pear I knew I had in there somewhere. And bonus – if by chance the thawing meat or meal leaks, I have containment and am not scrubbing walls and shelves of the fridge! waste has gone way down.

    • Jessica says

      @Kerry, I love the idea of consolidating leftovers. I typically have one shelf for that, but sometimes I get lazy. Great reminder.

  2. karen says

    RE Compost–our city provides awesome compost bins, you just have to call and ask! However, they don’t advertise the free bins. It’s worth a call to your city to find out if they are available in your area.

    • Jessica says

      @karen, that is a great point! Last time I checked (about a year ago) they did not, but that could have changed. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I still remember the day I learned that there are people who don’t actually eat their leftovers! Crazy…
    I try not to buy too many ‘just in case I suddenly feel inspired’ ingredients for my pantry unless I have a very specific recipe I am going to cook that week.

  4. Atsquared says

    I’ve been known to pull something out of the menu plan after I see that too many leftovers have accumulated in the fridge. Leftover buffet! I’ve gotten better recently, however, at portioning leftovers into lunch-sized portions and freezing right away if I know we have too much. Much better than the “this has been in the fridge for 5 days so I’ll put it in the freezer” method. 🙂

  5. Coleen says

    To be more green, I’ve stopped buying plastic containers. They melt and get tossed but not before leaching who knows what into our food. I have mostly all glass containers now and a lot of those are mason jars. I can see what is in them so food doesn’t get lost in the fridge, I can vacuum seal them with the food saver, put them in the freezer and they are reusable forever, or unless, they get broken first.

    • @Coleen, how do you vacuum seal the mason jars with the foodsaver? I’d love to be able to use my glass containers that way.

      • Jessica says

        I believe there is an attachment to the foodsaver. Not sure if you have to have special lids, though.

  6. Harriet says

    I cook something in my crockpot on Sat and again on Sunday that I save for dinners on Monday and Tuesday. I work 9 hour days at the hospital and, at least for 2 days, meals are ready for when I get home. We only eat out once a week and we try to save that for the weekends. Meal planning is essential!

  7. I followed your link to the post on homemade baking mixes and it gave me some ideas for how to make that work better for me. I have recipes that I prefer to the baking mix recipes I’ve used in the past, so I had stopped doing it, and it was good to be reminded that I can just adapt my own recipes in the same way. I liked the idea of using the freezer to store them so I don’t have to worry about them going stale or rancid or losing leavening power. I also decided it would be faster and easier to print out the instructions and slide them into the baggies rather than write them out by hand on each one. I did a trial run of my favorite pancakes last night and threw together the first batch this morning. It was much more weekday friendly, and I think I’ll enjoy having my own mixes around. I’m going to do some for breadmaker whole wheat bread next. I’ll just have to reserve a bin in the freezer for mixes.

    • Jessica says

      So glad you found something to work for you!

  8. I have a plastic bin in the fridge and one on the counter. As I go through the day I add things one by one to the bins for that day’s dinner — cold things in the fridge, with “drys” like spices, pasta or potatoes/onions in the counter. It’s all contained and easily found when I start cooking around 4. If I get a chance to prep, I toss chopped veggies or measured stuff into a baggie and it goes in the proper bin. With a toddler on my heels and 2 other small ones, this makes even tiny bits of time useful, and it all adds up over the day! Sometimes at night I’ll start a bin going for the next day.

    I also keep a list on the fridge of what’s in the fridge and freezer, with amounts. It makes meal planning so much easier!

  9. Stacy says

    I do most of the things you mentioned, except meal planning. I know I should, but I don’t. I just try to make good use of the foods we have, and not waste them but figure out a way to use them instead. If I can’t, I freeze. As for leftovers, I usually make them into work day lunches for my husband and I. I feel great seeing lots of lunches already frozen and ready to be packed whenever. I have been thinking of going to glass, but it’s hard to give up plastic when it comes to freezing and lunches. I’m not sure I’m ready to put glass into a lunch bag, and ziplocs aren’t usually practical either with stews and such. If anyone has a lunch bag solution that is greener and allows for microwaving leftovers, I’d love to hear it.

  10. This is great! I try to run an efficient kitchen as well. I would be lost without meal planning and I love my pyrex glass containers for storage. My most recent change in the kitchen is I keep all of my onion, celery, and carrot pieces that don’t get used in a container. Once it is full I make veggie stock. Thanks for the great post..I am going to have to pass it on!

    • Jessica says

      Veggie stock is a fabulous idea. Would be good to add celery leaves, too.

  11. Sharon says

    I completely understand about the recycling issue. When we lived in apartment that did not offer a recycling option, I didn’t recycle at all – and I took some heat for it from family. But, I explained that for me to recycle would mean driving 9 miles it to the dump every week. The two of us didn’t have much to recycle. I figured the more environmentally friendly option was not to recycle! 🙂

  12. Emily @ Random Recycling says

    Never thought about the bread maker like that before. Maybe it will go on my wish list for next year.
    I also find the pressure cooker to be efficient and a huge time saver in the kitchen, like the slow cooker just in reverse!

  13. Sarah says

    My favorite efficiency tip is to have a pre-printed shopping list with our frequently purchased items. It’s easy for husband or me to check something off when it runs low. I keep about 10 copies in my recipe binder plus a bunch more in a magnetic clip on the side of the fridge.

  14. Stacey says

    Thursday nights are designed as “Leftover or BFD [breakfast for dinner] Night.” I also make soup every week. We have big bowls of it on the first night, then a small side-dish portion of soup with dinner the second. I serve 5 or 6 different fruits and vegetables each night at dinner and just cook (or slice raw) whatever I happen to have that day. If I have meat, it is served as a side dish not as the main course. Since I use so little, I can afford to buy the highest quality (and most humanely acquired) meat, fish or poultry. I strictly adhere to Michael Pollan’s philosophy: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is both a healthy way to live and easy to plan.

  15. I find five recipes a week, so to save on money and ingredients, I look through my pantry and fridge to see if I have any leftover ingredients that I can use. If I see that I have half a jar of marinara left, I find recipes that have that ingredient in it. Allrecipes has a nice search feature where you can search by ingredient, so that helps!

    We also eat leftovers and pack our lunches for the next day.

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