Time-Saving Tips for Cooking from Scratch (plus a 48-hour giveaway!)

Guest Post by Stephanie from Keeper of the Home

Quick…what’s the first objection that pops into your mind when you think about making more food from scratch?

If you’re like 90% of the moms and homemakers that I talk to, you would say that without a doubt, it’s the time factor.

Cooking from scratch simply takes more time.

You know that you should do it because:

a) It’s healthier.

b) It tastes better.

c) It will save you money.

Knowing that something is a good idea doesn’t make it any easier though. We’re still stuck with the same dilemma: If only there was more time in the day so that we could make homemade yogurt, cook brown rice instead of minute rice and make our own muffins instead of buying them or using a mix.

In my recent book, Real Food on a Real Budget: How to Eat Healthy for Less, I addressed this very issue. I knew that if it was a challenge for me (and it is), then it must be a challenge for others. How do we balance all that we need to do to manage our homes, spend time with our husbands, care for our children, do our work (either out of the home or from our homes), and still have enough time left over to make nutritious, affordable food?

Knowing what a challenge this is, I devoted an entire chapter and a large appendix in my book to sharing both my own and other women’s ideas and suggestions for making it easier to cook from scratch.

I love practical tips and I love learning what others do, because it often inspires me with small changes that I can make so that my own kitchen time is more productive.

Here is a sampling of some of my own time-saving tips included in the book:

::Use timers so that you can get things going and walk away. Oatmeal cooks while I shower and get dressed. Anything that needs to come to a boil or have 5 minutes to simmer just gets a timer, so that I can forget about what’s on the stove and get something else done in those few minutes.

::Do things at unconventional times. I like to start my homemade yogurt right after dinner, so that I can tend to it in between my evening activities and have it in the oven by bedtime so that it’s ready by morning.

::Cook and freeze beans in small portions. They are almost as quick to use as canned beans for a fraction of the price, and it’s so quick and easy to do. I soak the beans overnight, then cook them the next morning and rinse them off. When they’re cool, I put them in little baggies in 1 cup portions and stick them in the freezer. It’s great to do a couple of different beans at the same time (different pots), because they cook at the same time and the extra time to bag them once you’re already set up is so minimal.

::Pre-cook meat and poultry and freeze it in small, meal-sized amounts. Whenever I cook a whole chicken or turkey, whatever we don’t eat immediately I put into baggies in about 1 cup portions. I do the same thing if I cook several pounds of ground beef at once. It’s so great to have these small amounts already cooked in the freezer for quick or last-minute meals. I find that 1 bag is enough to just add meat to the meal, and 2 bags provides a more substantial amount of meat. Also, 1 bag of meat plus 1 bag of frozen beans combines to make very easy taco salads, fajitas or tacos.

::Have leftover meals regularly. This makes for a fast and simple meal about once a week, it prevents wasted food, and helps to clean out the fridge! I set the foods out buffet style, and we choose what we want to eat.

::Keep the kitchen well-stocked. Knowing that you always have exactly what you need on hand, or can at least make easy emergency substitutions, ensures that you’re never stuck when making a recipe. This can save a lot of time (not to mention frustration).

::Clean as you go. Doing quick cleaning tasks or washing dishes while you’re cooking makes it an easier and more pleasant chore, and saves a huge and time-consuming cleanup at the end. I take advantage of little spare moments, while waiting for water to boil, or for frying onions to soften, etc. to clean up whatever I can.

Copyright 2010, Real Food on a Real Budget by Stephanie Langford.

More Resources for Increasing Your Kitchen Efficiency

Here are a few other posts on the topic of making it easier to cook from scratch, some from my blog and some from others.

How do you make the time to cook from scratch? What tips and techniques help you to be most efficient in the kitchen?

Would you like to win a copy of Stephanie’s ebook, Real Food on a Real Budget: How to Eat Healthy for Less? She’s generously giving away 10 copies to readers here over the next 48 hours. To enter to win, just click on the link below. 10 winners will be randomly chosen and posted on Monday.Enter the Giveaway

Image by Rene Ehrhardt

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Comments

  1. lena parks says

    I always cook a lot and freze the leftovers if possible. I mostly try to follow you.

  2. says

    I don’t find cooking from scratch takes so much extra hands on time as it simply takes more fore thought. I grew up with a mom who did everything from scratch so it never really intimidated me, but I do struggle with the time management. ie: having the beans soaked and cooked in time or the bread prepared in time to rise and cook, etc.

  3. Laura says

    Thank you for the great tips! I will try to get more organized so I can cook from scratch more. The one thing I’ve learned NOT to do is leave the kitchen when I have something on the stove. I’d rather not have another visit from my friendly, heroic, neighborhood firemen.

    • Jane says

      @Laura, I agree, I couldn’t believe when I read the suggestion to take a shower while something is cooking on the stove. That risk is not a smart move or worth any amount of time you might save.

  4. Angel G. says

    I couple protiens in my meal planing. For example, On monday we had hambergers off the grill. I had my hubby cook a couple more than we would eat. Tuesday we had hamburge pizza (I let my bread maker make the crust). Tonight we had roast garlic and rosmary chicken. I cut up 2 chickens and one is maranading for tomarrow nights bbq chicken. By coupling protiens, I only have to meat prep meat every other day and I only have one set of meat prep dishes.

  5. Christina Almond says

    I try to spend about an hour each weekend planning out what coupons I will use for that week’s grocery trip and I make a list of what I will need for simple but healthy meals. I find that making the list really helps me to focus on non-impulsive buying which keeps costs down and it helps me to think through what I can make that I already have the bulk of the ingredients for.

  6. says

    I do all the things you suggest; it really helps! Whether I have the time or not, cooking from scratch is my only option. When I need something quick, it’s leftovers, or bean burritos (like tonight!) I just cookd a huge pot of pinto beans last night; I’m planning on doing some more in the next few days (navy beans, black beans, etc. and freezing them).

    Soup is a real blessing, too. I often start the soup for lunch while cooking breakfast, giving it time to develop a rich flavor. It leaves me time to homeschool in the morning. Waffles, oatmeal, or muffins can be cooked while I make soup. Oftentimes I’ll start dinner preparations while cooking lunch, as well. I start fresh bread as soon as I put the children down for their naps, and then it’s ready for dinner.

  7. says

    Most of our food is from scratch and I work full time outside the home. So, for me from scratch has to be quick and easy. I grew up cooking this way, so it makes it a lot easier.

    For me, three things are key to getting from scratch meals on the table on a busy weeknight:

    1. Precook and store meats in the freezer (this is my biggest time saver!)

    2. Work with focus (when I’m chopping veggies or making a sauce, I need to focus on what I’m doing instead of constantly running here and there to do this and that. Esp when food is on the stove heating:)

    3. Practice. (Honestly the more I do something, the more efficient I become. Now, it’s no trouble at all to whip up homemade pizzas after a long day of work on Fridays, or to make a batch of homemade bread on a weeknight)

  8. says

    Those are great tips, I wish I could follow more of them! Right now I am saving money whenever I can to buy a chest freezer. Our freezer is so small that it’s hard to save or store much of anything. By the time I get meats, juices, frozen veggies, etc in there, there’s just not room for anything else. I don’t even remember the last time I had an ice tray fit in there! I’d like to make and store my own baby food, especially, but it seems like there’s never any room.

  9. Amy E. says

    I don’t mind cooking from scratch, I find it rather fun. What I do not like is all the planning that needs to be done beforehand.

    Thanks for the tips! I should read more articles and books on the topic. I’m sure there’s much to learn and apply!

  10. Leisa says

    Great tips! Like the article said, I cook several pounds of beef or chicken at once and then portion and freeze the leftovers for use in casseroles, soups, tacos, chicken salad, etc. Also, when you are making dinner, check your meal plan for the rest of the week, and chop up all the onion, carrots, peppers, etc., whatever you need for the rest of the week the first time you work with them. Saves time & clean up for the rest of the week. Experiment and find out what food freezes well – for example when I make mashed potatoes, I do an entire 5 pound bag of potatoes & then freeze the leftovers to use in several additional meals. Most cookie dough freezes well also, and if you have a small family you can freeze half a batch and pull them out of the freezer at a later and just pop in the oven.

    • says

      @Leisa, Five pounds of potatoes (peeled) is about one meal for my family, with two or three servings leftover for lunch the next day. I’d have to cook 10 pounds, LOL.

    • Katie W. says

      @Leisa, I love doing the cookie dough in the freezer. It saves a lot of time and easy to just take a bag of cookie dough out of the freezer and have cookies made a lot sooner for my family to enjoy! I didn’t know you could freeze mashed potatoes I will have to try this! Thanks for the idea!

  11. Laura says

    Like another commenter said, the forethought seems to be my biggest time saver. I started menu planning a few months ago, and it has made all the difference. I save 15 minutes not moping around thinking about what to make, plus I avoid the last minute trip to the store (usually).

    I’m enjoying reading these comments! It’s always nice to pick up a few tips.

  12. says

    Great tips! Since I work full-time outside of the home, I save time by doing my meal prep on the weekends – soaking and cooking beans, making a crockpot full of yogurt, chopping veggies, precooking meat. I’ve also started cooking large batches of beans and rice and freezing as suggested in the post.

    Mary Ellen

  13. Heather says

    I’ve found that the more I cook from scratch (which I’ve always done) the quicker it gets. No need to the cookbook out anymore for some recipes.
    However, using a box mix – ugh! First you have to find the directions on the box, then filter out the languages you’re not interested in, then filter out the low-fat or high altitude directions, then keep referring back to them as you prepare it. Slow.

  14. Holly says

    Thanks for the tips! Posts like these are why your blog is my favorite over any of the other many money saving blogs. Using these types of tips and the many deals, I’ve changed the way I shop and cook and saved lots of money in the process. Thank you!

  15. says

    Cooking from scratch is so much healthier and cheaper. I use a lot of those tips too. I buy our meats in large quanities (5-10 lbs) when they are on sale, then cook them up and freeze in meal sized portions. I use square freezer containers instead of bags, because I can wash and reuse them for further savings. Beans cook up well in a slow cooker. I soak them overnight, then let them cook on low all day while I’m at work and they’re ready when I get home. I also boil up potatoes, brown rice, etc on the weekend while I’m cooking supper, and it’s ready for a quick meal during the week. Who needs leftovers when you can transform leftovers to a new meal in the time it would take to just reheat them? Robin Miller at Food Network has some great recipes that use a basic recipe and the leftovers are transformed to 1-2 additional meals for later in the week. One last thing I find wonderful, is to wash and prep most of our produce at the beginning of the week. If I will need sliced green peppers for fajitas, and diced peppers for a casserole, I’ll chop both at the same time and store in containers in the fridge.

  16. says

    Cooking from scratch is so much healthier and cheaper. I use a lot of those tips too. I buy our meats in large quanities (5-10 lbs) when they are on sale, then cook them up and freeze in meal sized portions. I use square freezer containers instead of bags, because I can wash and reuse them for further savings. Beans cook up well in a slow cooker. I soak them overnight, then let them cook on low all day while I’m at work and they’re ready when I get home. I also boil up potatoes, brown rice, etc on the weekend while I’m cooking supper, and it’s ready for a quick meal during the week. Who needs leftovers when you can transform leftovers to a new meal in the time it would take to just reheat them? Robin Miller at Food Network has some great recipes that use a basic recipe and the leftovers are transformed to 1-2 additional meals for later in the week. One last thing I find wonderful, is to wash and prep most of our produce at the beginning of the week. If I will need sliced green peppers for fajitas, and diced peppers for a casserole, I’ll chop both at the same time and store in containers in the fridge.

    Looking forward to reading this book and hope to find ways to simplify our mealtimes even more!

  17. Jenny says

    Can someone please share the “how to’s” of pre-cooking beans and rice? I absolutely stink at cooking rice…it never turns out right. So what’s the trick? I’d love to cook some up and freeze it. (FYI: I DO cook daily, but for some reason can’t figure out rice! LOL)

  18. Lee says

    I have always cooked from scratch and do it daily. My biggest tip is to find which part of the meal will take the longest and start that first. So if i am making grilled chiken with rice and broccoli. I start the rice, cut the chicken and give to hubby to grill, then I get the broccoli steaming. Everything finishes at once if you time it good!
    Also I would love to figure out hw to cook brown rice correctly mine comes out to hard still! But I love the taste when others do it right!

  19. Katie W. says

    I would love the recipe on how to make yogurt in a crockpot! I have never heard of this and would love to start making my own. :) Thank you!

  20. Katie W. says

    I love cooking from scratch! I have a freezer day every month to help have things prepped ahead of time. I also love cooking from scratch, because my son loves to help and gets so excited to sit and eat what he made! :)

  21. says

    I think it’s all about prep work. If you have some extra time the night before or in the morning to chop, measure, marinate, then take advantage of it. I like to catch up with my family while I’m chopping and prepping!

  22. says

    My favorite tip is to do the cooking at unconventional times. I really hate cooking dinner at dinner time because my girls are usually whining and clinging to my legs, and I am hungry and low on energy. So I’ve started making dinner while the girls are eating lunch and/or napping…then I’ll just reheat it later. Or if we’re having an “easy” dinner (ie; leftovers), I’ll use that night to cook for the next night’s meal.

  23. Samantha says

    We are a young couple just starting out. I would love to start making more of our meals from scratch!

  24. says

    Thanks for the great tips! I love to cook things in big batches and freeze them up for later. I do this with meats mostly but am planning on making some bread using Kamut flour since it is so healthy and then freezing it up! I also do this with pancakes but have not tried the veggies.. Thanks again.