I love cooking. There is nothing more relaxing to me than coming home, putting on Miles Davis, opening a bottle of wine, and making delicious food. It is my happy place.
Adversely, waiting in line at the grocery store is my personal nightmare. I become the worst version of myself; criticizing the goods in people’s baskets, counting the seconds it takes for the checkout person to scan items, and having visions of myself exploding out of a volcano when the checker and shopper engage in a conversation about which wet wipes are best for their children’s behinds like it’s a scientific discovery.
To avoid having a complete meltdown and still be able to enjoy my favorite pastime in the world, I stay organized in my kitchen. Even if you don’t cook often, having some tricks up your sleeve that make it a bit easier and more enjoyable to get food on the table is great.
Here are five of my favorite kitchen hacks.
- Find a good frozen food. I am a health conscientious person. I do not keep a lot of frozen food in my house. However, when arriving back home from a long day of travel or on a day when things go awry, it is always nice to have something you can pop in the oven. My two favorites at the moment are: Schwan's Prime Rib Shepherd's Pie (210 calories per serving, five grams of fat, and 17 grams of protein) and Trader Joe's Chicken Fried Rice (230 calories, three grams of fat, and eight grams of protein per serving… I put an egg over easy on top. You can also get the rice without the chicken). I am not advocating that these are the gold standard of health, but they are MUCH better than ordering a pizza. If you spend a little time in your grocer’s freezer aisle, you might be able to come up with a few good frozen foods to keep on hand.
- Jot down your meal plan for the week before you go shopping. This is not as intimidating as it sounds. It does not need to be on a calendar. It does not need to be pretty. You don’t have to eat the meal you wrote down for Tuesday night on Tuesday night if you don’t want to. This is just to ensure that you have enough food on hand for five meals and you won’t have to run to the grocery store every evening. My sister and I are constantly calling each other say “What did you have for dinner last night”, for meal ideas. You can cheat off of your neighbors and friends for this one.
- Make a list of meals you both like. Mark and I have a list on Google drive of 51 meals we both like. Anytime I can’t think of what to make, I reference that list. I know that I can make everything on the list and I know about how much effort and time I will have to put into each meal, so I can choose based on all of those factors. Who cares if your list only has 10 things on it? That is like two work weeks worth of meals.
- Don’t make meals that have ingredients that are only required for that meal. I am not saying don’t branch out and try new types of cooking. When I first started cooking Thai and Asian style foods, things like fish sauce and hoisin sat in my fridge until I had to throw them out. Now, I can reasonably get through a whole bottle because I have several recipes that call for those things in my repertoire. But, if you aren’t experimental in the kitchen or don’t have a ton of time, stick to meals that have common ingredients. Mark and I eat Mexican food several times a week because the ingredients are super transferable. We will do tacos, quesadillas, or burrito bowls. I can always whip these meals up because limes, cilantro, tomatoes, jars of salsa, avocados, and corn tortillas are always something I keep on hand. Find some recipes with common ingredients that are easy for you to make and keep those things on hand.
- Keep pantry staples fully stocked. You need salt, pepper, chicken/beef/veg broth, olive oil, vegetable oil, Pam, garlic, onions, vinegar, oatmeal, peanut butter, canned tomatoes, chickpeas… those are some of the things you will ALWAYS find in my pantry, whether I have the rest of the fresh ingredients or not. If you have a stocked pantry, many times you can substitute something on-hand for an ingredient you don’t have (if you don’t have flour, grind up oatmeal in the food processor; if you don’t have wine substitute broth, etc.). A stocked pantry also keeps you from having to buy an entire basket full of items at the grocery store. It will get you in an out that much faster
*Bonus kitchen hack: This is the sixth sense of all kitchen hacks… Keep enough wine (beer/liquor/your choice) on hand for you PLUS a friend or two. I cannot tell you how many times our neighbors and friends have stopped by and spent hours talking and laughing in the kitchen over bottles of wine. It makes your kitchen a welcoming and warm place to be (plus if you have pantry staples you can whip up a batch of hummus and look like a pro).
I hope this helps you stay active and happy in the kitchen!