One Bag Nation

In the Organized Kitchen: Five Tips for Efficient Meals

Posted on: June 13, 2008

There are many areas of household management I struggle with, but I’m good in the kitchen. Even before I hit on some of these kitchen organizing solutions, I was able to pull meals together pretty easily. But I know that’s not the case for everyone!

My mother was and is a really good cook, and at this point in her cooking life, she hardly ever consults a recipe. I still love to read and collect recipes, and I aim to try a new one every week, but I do a lot of cooking out of my head, especially on weeknights. I’m infamous for tweaking recipes, but that’s half the fun!

Over the years I’ve learned some tips and tricks that have helped me get a healthy dinner on the table in less time. If this is a struggle for you, give them a try:

Make a Weekly Meal Plan: I do this sometime between Friday and Sunday. I get out my calendar to see what the week holds, and then plan a meal for each night we’ll be home. I aim for balance between meat, chicken, fish, pasta, etc. and I try to include “something green” in every menu. I jot down my ideas, assign them to a day of the week, and then make my grocery list.

Keep A Running Grocery List: I have a supply of those long notepads with a magnet on the back, and one always lives on my kitchen cupboard door, where we have a magnetic bulletin board. My husband and I both add to the list as we discover things we’re low on. It works very well – we rarely find ourselves without the essentials.

Keep a Well-Stocked Pantry: I always have certain items on hand. Some of my staples include canned tomatoes and tomato sauce; various kinds of beans; pasta and rice; canned tuna; olives, capers, and artichoke hearts; kid-friendly canned vegetables; onions and garlic; soy sauce; chicken broth; and good-quality olive oil and wine vinegar.

Store Like Things Together: I have a bin for oatmeal preparation, since I make it almost every morning; another bin for rice and grains; a couple of bins for baking supplies and equipment, including measuring cups; and small turntables for things like oil, vinegar, soy sauce, kosher salt, and my pepper mill. Cooking goes so much faster when I can just grab a bin, instead of digging around in the cupboard for the various items I need.

Create a Favorite Recipes Binder: I’m a recipe hoarder, and a post on unclutterer.com finally inspired me to do some organizing. I had a binder, but the recipes were stuck in there every-which-way; they weren’t even alphabetized – silly! I now have two 3-ring binders to hold my “favorite” recipes, organized by category; these are recipes I have used, like, and go back to regularly. I still collect recipes to try; they’re stored in file folders by category. When I feel like trying something new, that’s where I look. If the recipe is a success, it goes into the binder; if not it goes into the recycling! I asked my daughter to decorate the tabbed pages for each recipe category; above is her “Layr Cacke” collage – I love it!

Stay tuned for more detailed posts on these ideas, and for more suggestions for setting up and maintaining an organized, efficient kitchen – guaranteed to add a little order, serenity and peace of mind to your life!

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12 Responses to "In the Organized Kitchen: Five Tips for Efficient Meals"

These tips are going to be very helpful. Thank you. I am a highly organized person, but as far as preparing meals go, not so much. Many nights, I find myself staring into the fridge, trying to figure out what to make!

Vered, that last-minute thing isn’t too fun, especially when you’re tired and there are hungry children around! I also find it results in less-healthy meals.

Glad to hear you found this helpful – I’ll be sharing more soon.

I’ve tried these tings before but I keep falling off the wagon. I’m doomed!

@Chris: no, never doomed!

I see on your site that you’re a very busy man; I also see you follow Zen Habits . . . Leo would say (and I agree) that you need to tackle these new routines one at a time. Once you’re cruising along with the first one, add the next. You’ll be king of the kitchen in no time!

I used to keep a “well-stocked pantry” but due to my current status of penny-pinching, I’ve come to realize that it is nonsensical to buy something to hold onto it if I don’t need it and can always run to the grocery store to buy it.

Ari, it’s definitely a balancing act. I’m careful not to overbuy, but having certain staples on hand is essential for me.

Hi Ann,

Like you, I love to cook. I used to try a new recipe every week, but that has gone by the wayside. What you’ve shared is great advice. Being organized in the kitchen/pantry is a real time saver.

Love the tips, and although most of them have come into my mind at one stage or another i have yet to put them into practice! I’ve been meaning to get some binders together for recipes for ages, because i find cooking for meals so completely dull that having a recipe in front of me and ingredients to hand is more likely to get me to make food. Plus i adore baking cakes and sweets stuff, and a binder with new and favorite recipes is just what i need. Your post is giving me the energy to attempt it, maybe i’ll round up some binders tomorrow and make a start!

Indidentally, have you ever tried http://www.grouprecipes.com? Excellent site. There are so many recipes on there that i can’t wait to try.

@Barbara: I don’t always make the goal of something new every week, but I’ve gotten better. I’m now looking forward to grilling season.

@Camilla: I forgot mention in my post that the recipes are in sheet protectors, keeping safe from spills. It can really be fun to go through favorite recipes, especially if they have nice memories attached. Good luck!

Ooh, excellent point, i’ll look out for binders where i can put each recipe in a plastic sheet. I’m forever getting cake-dough all over the scraps of paper i currently store recipes on! Cheers. 😀

I love to cook, but I’m so used to cooking for a large group that when it comes to cook for just me, or me and a friend… I can’t tell you the mess I’m in. If it’s just me, It’ll be a jam sandwich.

If I cook for someone, I’ll be eating the same thing as leftovers for a week. 😛

The weekly meal planner is a great idea for people to start off on, it will at least give you a starting point. I always plan my meals when I cook for people, but not for my daily meals. I really do need to apply that to everyday… Should help me from watching my produce go bad because I have nothing to make with it…

Of course my problem now is that I -just- moved, so my kitchen is barren. It really is a overwhelming task to restock everything. Which makes getting a well-stocked pantry pretty tricky. It’s rough at first, but they eventually they sort themselves out I’ve found.

I’m going to go off to think up what I can make with what I have in my kitchen…

Let see, rice and the 42 different spices and seasonings…

*sigh* I wish I has some jam.

Hi hyrcan,
Add some almond butter to that jam sandwich for healthy fat, vitamin E and protein – it will keep you satisfied longer!

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