11 Tips for Kitchen Efficiency

Cooking can be an enjoyable, meditative, even therapeutic endeavor, but there are plenty of times when you just need to get dinner on the table. I hear from a lot of readers new to the Primal Blueprint who are dealing with the kitchen learning curve: how to condense shopping trips, how to assemble good Primal meals throughout the busy week, how to free up time for other activities outside the kitchen. A group of readers recently took up the discussion in our forum. I thought I’d throw out some of my own best suggestions for maximizing Primal cooking efforts but minimizing actual kitchen time – especially on busy work nights. I hope you’ll join the discussion and dole out your own favorite tips.

1. Forage and freeze.

A common beef, as reader maba and others have mentioned, is the shopping time – specifically, the need to split shopping between at least two stores to gather all the week’s supplies. However, some creative planning and a little storage prep can cut out some of those second (and third) weekend trips. Buying your meat in bulk from a cowpooling source or other direct supplier, as reader nina_70 suggests, leaves you with a constant supply of cuts. Gathering up a large stock of veggies – with some freezer bags and prep – can knock out a large portion of your veggie needs for the week. As for fresh produce, I find that most items – if stored in cooler temps or the crisper – keep for more than a week.

2. Cook for a small army.

The aforementioned forum folks were pretty unanimous on this one. We Primal types love us some leftovers. If you’re doing all the work of cooking a good Primal dish, why limit the benefit to a single meal? You have all the ingredients lined up. You have the knives, cutting boards, graters, etc. out. You know you’ll have all the dishes to do. Why not go for broke, and cook enough for tonight and then some? A few folks like to enjoy a big fresh batch throughout the week. Others prefer to freeze the majority of their expanded recipes, keeping maybe a little extra in the fridge for the next day’s breakfast or lunch. Either way saves big time. Some of us tire of the same taste more quickly than others. Personally, I’m one who can dig into a favorite again and again without hesitation, but my kids unfortunately didn’t inherit that preference. Maybe it’s an acquired taste you gain when you’re responsible for making each and every meal for yourself….

3. Cube it.

One bit of equipment worth having around: extra ice cube trays. Use them to store small portions of fresh herbs (frozen with a bit of water or stock), tomato paste, wine, coffee, stock, fruit or vegetable purees, sauces and pestos. Pop out as many or few as you need for the night’s recipe.

4. Lay out a menu.

Nothing slows down an evening more (and creates more frustration) than rummaging through the cabinets trying to pull together a meal only to realize you’re missing key ingredients to, well, every idea you come up with. Create a full menu for each week and post it on the fridge. Your shopping will be smoother as will your weekly cooking/lunch packing endeavors. You might be tired when you get home after a long day, but it can be a relief to know you don’t have to actually think about dinner. It’s all there in black and white. It frees up your mind to talk with your partner, listen to the radio, joke with the kids while you simply go through the preset motions.

5. Have a routine.

An even easier addition to the menu approach: recreate most of the same selection each week. Not every week needs to be a string of creative recipe trials (although those are fun if you have the time and inclination). To keep it fresh, you can certainly throw in a couple novel ideas each week, but relying on several tried and true favorites will save you time and brain power. Plug the standard shopping list into your smart phone, and you’re set to go for the grocery store/market trips.

6. Take an hour out of your weekend.

On Sundays my wife and I have taken to preparing a large bowl of chopped veggies to use for the entire week ahead. For the two of us we use: 1/2 head red cabbage, 1 red onion, 3-4 carrots, 1 bell pepper and whatever else we bought at the market that week. We dice it all up, and store most of it mixed as an all purpose veggie collection. We dip into it throughout the week for our daily salads, soups, omelets and stir frys. Of course you could use broccoli, cauliflower or anything else you have or like. A food processor can make the process that much quicker.

7. Invest in some equipment.

I’m not one who believes every gadget is worth buying or that the vast majority of these items even save an appreciable amount of time. Nonetheless, over the years I’ve found a few favorites that complement my particular cooking habits. As one forum poster Caroline noted, a good salad spinner takes the work and time out of washing fresh greens and herbs. A number of readers, like LovesToClimb, said they love their crock pots. A few other ideas? Try a small and/or large food processor, a traditional blender for Primal shakes, a stick blender for pureeing soup and soft vegetables and fruits, a small set of high quality knives, a garlic press, a rolling herb grater or herb snips, good kitchen shears, cheese grater, citrus reamer, microplane grater/zester, digital thermometer, fine mesh strainers and lots of small prep bowls. Other must-haves, anyone?

8. Develop a house line.

Have your own signature combo of seasonings you use for a lot of meats or veggies? Why not mix up a large batch in its own jar? The same goes for your favorite marinades, dressings and other condiments. Some can even be frozen in large batches using cubes or freezer bags.

9. Outsource.

There are days…and weeks…alas, sometimes months when we know we can’t do everything ourselves. It’s good to know when to bring in some reinforcements. While it adds some cost to be sure, bagged lettuce, cut produce (thanks DebFM!), cubed stew meat, and other primed, Primal foods can save you enough time and work that you don’t have to compromise your diet for the sake of your schedule. Sometimes you do what you gotta do. Then there are always those kids…. Line ‘em up and put ‘em to work.

10. Canned and frozen.

Canned tomatoes, canned/boxed stock, and other canned and frozen ingredients can be a lifesaver. There’s nothing that says every vegetable has to be fresh. My favorite: a frozen Thai stir fry blend. Find your own favorite brands, or prepare them yourself to have on hand.

11. Clean up as you go.

This one’s admittedly more of a mental tactic, but sometimes life calls for that. Thinking you’ll be faced with a mountain of dishes at the end of the night isn’t very inspiring. Starting with a straightened kitchen and cleaning as you go clears the mind and keeps your head in the game. Put any dishes directly into the dishwasher. Put away ingredients when you’re done with them. Employ the Rachel Ray “garbage bowl” concept to keep all refuse in one place. Though the efforts might delay your meal by a few minutes, you’ll feel freer to sit and enjoy the fruits of your labor, having finished the bulk of the work.

Have your own favorite short-cuts and efficiency tips? Do share! Thanks for reading.

TAGS:  cooking tips

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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33 thoughts on “11 Tips for Kitchen Efficiency”

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  1. Great post! Last night was grocery night so when the food got home I got to chopping away. I allow myself 1-2 new recipes a week. The first time or two they may be awkward to coordinate and take extra time, but as each week progresses, you find you can make those items faster and faster. Then you can also tweak those recipes that much further to suit your tastes.
    For those with Magic Bullets – toss them out and replace them with a Ninja. The motor is more powerful, things get cut up using dual blades rather than one and the containers are larger so you can actually blend protein drinks and liquids easier.

    PS – don’t forget to save that bacon fat!

    1. Does a Ninja or anything else work for nut butters? I want to make my own but all I have is a blender I know I’ll burn the engine out of if I try.

  2. Here’s a tip that I just remembered my parents doing. We grew tomatoes, and to have fresh ones in the winter, she’d pick them when they were big and green at the very end of the season, wrap each one in a sheet newspaper, then store them in a box in the garage. There they’d slowly ripen. Then she’d pull out ripe red tomatoes in the middle of winter.
    Other that that, yea, I spend a good deal of time cooking. But isn’t that what or parents and grandparents and beyond did? It is harder at first, but as you get more fit, you’ll FEEL like cooking more because you have the energy for it.

  3. #4, laying out a menu, is the best tip I can think of. I plan out my meals for the following week, then make my grocery list based on that plan. It makes shopping so much faster and easier when you know exactly what you need, rather than wandering around the perimeter (because we all avoid the aisles right?) trying to figure out what you might want that week.

    I hadn’t thought of doing a “house line” of spices though, I really like that! I use thyme/oregano/salt/pepper in A LOT of dishes, that would be so easy to put in one container and shake up to use for weeks!

  4. Funny, #4 is the most useless one to me. I rarely make the same thing twice, but eating primally makes this even easier. As long as I have some meat, vegetables, and flavor-adders (spices, herbs, vinegars, etc) I have dinner.
    Step 1- decide the meat I want to eat, the flavors I want (Asian? Cuban? Mexican?) and how I want to cook it (Broil, grill, bake, fry, braise).
    Step 2- Choose a vegetable or two that goes with the meat/flavors or that just looks good. I usually steam and toss with butter or vinegar, braise with onions and bacon, or make a salad.
    Step 3- Eat, and thank Mark for opening me up to the ease of eating primally.

  5. For storing vegetables and fruits, the advertised “green bags” really do work well to keep those items fresh longer.

    1. YES those wonderful green bags save expensive organic produce…my eyes are often bigger than my tummy and I buy too much. These are a godsend.

  6. Those green bags are also pretty expensive:( I’d rather eat frozen veggies.

    1. The same company makes green containers (like tupperware). They work fantastic and are reuseable.

  7. Another good reason for preparing meals ahead – beside time-saving – is that they often taste better reheated. Chile, casseroles, curries and more are all better 2nd time of heating.
    I’ll try the herb trick as well as I always end upo throwing at least half away.
    GROK ON!

  8. My wife and I braise or slow roast a huge hunk of meat every Sunday, plenty for a feast that night and a few meals during the week. It requires about 20 minutes of attention in the beginning and maybe 20 minutes at the end. Otherwise it’s cooking away, low and slow for hours. Great fun to boot.

  9. #2 made me laugh. I can eat the same basic items day in and day out with just a little variation here and there – it doesn’t bug me at all. The rest of my family, though? Serve the same things two nights in a row and I won’t hear the end of it. What does this mean? I get stuck with a lot of leftovers. 🙂 Not that I mind too much, of course. I like to make a big pot of soup and serve it throughout the week, sometimes adding different ingredients along the way to spice it up.

    #4 is essential in one way or another. I don’t like rigid menus, but I do like to make sure I have enough to make the week’s meals. I usually do a rough menu in my head, and then mix it up as the week plays out. #1 helps with that – gotta love my freexer full of meat!

  10. I just did this.

    Go to Trader Joe’s get a good chicken and roast it. Very Grok-like.

    Take the left overs and make chicken salad.( Chicken, walnuts,celery,apples,cranberries and mayo) Take the carcass and simmer it in water ( with just a touch of vinegar to draw out the minerals)for 4-6 hours.

    Now you have stock for soup.

    Very efficient and delicious.

  11. Good post but I’m a Londoner who lives in a small studio flat with a postage-stamp-sized kitchen. I have a small fridge with a small ice box, no freezer (no washing machine even – I have to hoik my clothes down to the laundrette once a week too) so cooking for a small army just isn’t going to work for me.
    I’d love to be able to buy great big grass-fed beef carcasses and such like but, sadly, I’m limited to what I fit into my tiny fridge and cupboards.

  12. When you are new to your diet it’s much more overwhelming. After almost 2 years on the SCD (a very similar diet for IBD and autism) I now have quite a repetoire of favorite recipes to fall back on. I also have several SCD, primal and paleo websites bookmarked to get recipes from. It’s seems like everything else just fell into place. I do use alot of kitchen gadgets: crockpot, yogurt maker, waffle iron, blender, food processor, dehydrator, etc. Oh, and lots of metal cookie cutters to make burgers and chicken nuggets into fun shapes for my kid.

  13. My tip is to use paper towels to wrap your lettuce, celery, carrots etc in. My husband and I started doing this a few years back after discovering this worked BETTER than those green bags, and is a whole lot less expensive. I’ve wrapped cabbage too, just about any veggie that you are keeping in the fridge. I have kept romaine hearts and celery for a couple of weeks like this.
    This way you can buy more on your shopping trip and not worry about using it before it turns bad.

      1. Green Onions (with the roots) keep for a very long time with a wet paper towel folded up at the root end when sealed in a zip-lock type bag in the fridge.

  14. Hi Terrence
    No- you do not wet the paper towel. I think it works by wicking away excess moisture from the produce, thereby keeping it from spoiling. Just a guess on my part as to why this works. I just know it does. One exception, if you like asparagus, you can keep it longer (a few days anyway), by wrapping the base with a damp paper towel (up 2-3 inches from cut end), and putting in a loose plastic bag (or I just lay mine on a bag in the fridge.)
    Good Luck!

  15. Planning the menu for the week ahead sounds like a great idea. i need to start doing that!

  16. #7
    I love my “George Foreman Grill”. I use it all the time. Its perfect for grilling up a single chicken breast/beef steak/or fish filet. I season the meat and put along the side of it my veggies. It grills (cooks) on both sides so it is fast and easy. The moisture from the meat helps cook the veggies and everything gets a grilled taste.

    This appliance is also easy for younger kids to use without the worry of the stove top dangers.

    One combo I cook often is a salmon steak with frozen or fresh green beans.

    Example #2 is grilling a chicken breast with broccoli.

    When done grilling, I put the grill under running water, clean with a sponge (cord hanging out of sink, unplugged of course)

  17. Learn how to use your oven to roast your food.
    Use a probe-style meat thermometer

    I can’t believe this wasn’t one of the 11 “tips”.
    Take a rack of lamb, pork tenderloin etc… place on sheetpan. slice up veggies and place around meat. Insert meat thermometer and set at desired done-ness.
    Place in oven and walk away until the thermometer beeps.

    sub 10 min of “work” for a fantastic meal.

  18. Making a menu is a great idea. Especially when planning for a week. You can just batch everything and save yourselves lots of time to do things you love.

  19. Great tips here. My main objective in 2010 is getting control of my nutrition and enjoying family time at home for meals. Grocery shopping and Prep is definitely my least favorite aspect of this. The freezer and ice cube trays (great idea!) will be my new found friends.

  20. I work in a small kitchen (and only one sink!), so the clean as I go thing makes a huge difference… not seeing a huge pile of cleanup is great.

    My resolution is the same as Rob’s, more home-cooked meals (even if I then put it into a box and take out!)

  21. For rule #6, I have always chopped a lot of vegetables on Sunday, and stored them in large tupperware containers full of water. It seems to keep them pretty fresh, and not all dried out the way they get in bags. It’s also really nice when you make dinner, cause you just scoop them right out into your stir fry or oven pot and you’re ready to go. It eliminated the most time consuming part of making dinner, or an omelet, or lunch! If you don’t go through them within a week or so, just change the water with fresh water. I have had great luck with this method.

  22. Tools I couldn’t do without and aren’t listed here: a HEAVY cutting board, used daily so it’s worth it to invest in a good one that doesn’t slide around, various other cutting boards including one designated for meats only! I also couldn’t go without a citrus press – similar to a garlic press. Lastly, squeeze bottles to hold home-made condiments and dressings – canning jars work great too and they can go in the dishwasher!

    1. A cutting board doesn’t need to be heavy to stay in one place: dampen a sheet of paper towel or a cloth dishcloth, and place it under the cutting board. A paper towel is better if you’re cutting foods with juices.

      This method is especially helpful if you have to cut on an uneven surface. I don’t have counter space in my kitchen, so I have to rest my cutting board on the edge of the sink. The towel keeps it from moving.

  23. Learn to use a pressure cooker. These a terrific for preparing roasts and stews in reasonable amounts of time. Also, you can make soup stock in 25 mins. Terrific tool.