Being organized can save time, money, waste and stress. Below are a few, simple ideas that can help keep your schedule sane and cooking area clean and well-organized.
Create a Clean, Organized Work Space
Organize your storage space
Alphabetize your spice cabinet. If that is too much organization for you, store your spices in groups that are commonly used together, such as keeping garlic, basil, and oregano close to each other. Use the same logic with other food staples, such as canned items or flours and baking goods.
Create specialized work areas
Even if you have a tiny kitchen, carve out specific areas where you know you will take care of certain tasks (such as mixing, cutting and rolling). If you do something more than once a week, set up a special spot for that area and store all of the things that you use for that process close by. For example, if you are a baker, store all of your baking staples and tools near ample counter space so that you have room to mix and roll your favorite biscuits.
Make sure you have the right cooking/baking equipment
Buy two sets of measuring cups and spoons, so you do not have to stop and wash each item in between measurements. If you are measuring a dry ingredient and a sticky ingredient in the same cup, measure the dry ingredient first. If you need to add the sticky ingredient to the mixture first, place the measured dry ingredient in the pan that you will be cooking or serving in and just pour it from that dish into the mixing bowl. Any dry ingredient residue will not hurt the final product and it saves you from washing an extra dish.
Hang a chalkboard or a small white board in your kitchen
Use the board. Really. Get into the habit of marking down grocery lists, ingredients for recipes, what you are planning to cook/eat on which day, and what leftovers are available in the refrigerator or freezer.
Check all of the food in your refrigerator and freezer before each shopping trip
Check expiration dates and confirm what staples you need to re-stock. Toss anything that looks or smells questionable. Make a list of items that will spoil within the next few days and make sure to use them in your meals before they spoil. Date everything that you place in your freezer. Even butter, fruit juice, frozen meats, casseroles or frozen vegetables can go bad. Try to use the food that has been in the freezer for the longest time.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Plan your week
Look at your schedule and try to budget how much time you are going to have for dinner each night. Spend 15 minutes on the weekend and plan out each dinner, find the recipes, and make sure that you have everything that you will need. Attach the recipe cards or a list of meals to the refrigerator to let you and your family know what you will be eating for the week.
Prepare batches of cut/diced foods and freeze for use in your upcoming menus
You will save preparation time during the week if you chop fresh parsley, onions, peppers and carrots and freeze them in small freezer bags. (Same for items such as grated cheese, chopped nuts or breadcrumbs.) Don't forget to label how much is in each bag. Because they are all small-sized items, they will defrost quickly when you mix them into dishes. I like mixing together things like onions, peppers, peas and carrots in bags and just tossing them into casseroles or pasta dishes for instant flavor. You can do the same thing with small amounts of leftover vegetables rather than throwing them out.
Cook on the weekends if you can and/or double or triple recipes that freeze well
If you have free time on the weekends, use the opportunity to cook items that take a long time to prepare or to cook. Even if your weekends are busy, as long as you will be at home and can occasionally check on items that require a long cooking time, you can get a jump on the week ahead. Cook rice, pasta, or grains to use in casseroles or other dishes. Rice takes especially long to cook so it is ideal to cook ahead of time. Roast a turkey or a large piece of meat. They require little preparation or monitoring but a long cooking time. The leftovers can be used in all sorts of dishes including soups, casseroles, salads and sandwiches.
Getting Ready to Cook
Make sure your kitchen is clean before beginning to cook
You will save time if you can find the right (and clean) utensils, and if you have room in the dishwasher or drying rack for items you use along the way.
Read your recipe through twice before starting to cook
After reading, take out all ingredients and all equipment. Then plan your attack: If you are going to need boiling water at some point in time during the recipe, put it on the stove now. Preheat the oven if you are baking the dish, or heat up the skillet if you are frying. Look at where you have time to squeeze in other tasks. If you are simmering a dish for five minutes, plan on setting the table or tossing a salad during that time. Plan when you need to microwave your vegetables or bake the rolls and juggle the times so that everything is finished at the same time.