Kitchen Focus

I've recently had the opportunity to help set up a new kitchen. In the process of doing that, I thought about how I cook and what makes a kitchen run smoothly. For me, that boils down to established routines. Routines can be as simple as having a general plan and basic recipes on hand for a week's worth of menus to setting up your kitchen to cater to the kind of cooking you do to making sure your refrigerator is organized in a way that allows you to use food wisely and avoid letting anything go bad. I do all of those things and more. This month, I thought I'd share some of my favorite kitchen routines and how they help me keep things running smoothly.

  • I really enjoy having a regular basic set of menus for meals to choose from when planning everything from grocery shopping to what to use in my refrigerator. Most weeks, I make at least one soup or stew, one stir-fry, one casserole or Crockpot meal and plan for one leftovers meal. I might change out what I put into those things, but knowing there's a bit of a routine to what I make for dinner each week, even if what I make on any given day changes a lot, gives me the chance to plan things out a bit earlier in the week and that makes everything run more smoothly.
  • Part of that planning process is putting together a grocery list. For me, that's a two part process. First, there is always a pad of paper on my refrigerator door. On it, we put whatever we are running out of as we notice. Then, I take the weekly grocery flier and look for specials that I'd like to get that are cost effective and things we could actually use. That includes items I can get even less expensively by using coupons and shopping on double coupon days.
  • Once I've got the items I need to actually cook in my kitchen, it's time to consider how to establish routines and organize things so that everything works well. This includes everything from organizing my spices so that they are easy to find and use to trying to store like tools together. If half of your knives are nowhere near the other cutting and food preparation tools, you are likely to choose one set and ignore the other. If that becomes the case, consider downsizing your collection such that you can keep them all together. Likewise, if when you go to grab a skillet, they are scattered around your kitchen, you aren't going to have all of your tools at your disposal. Again, if you aren't using them, regain your space and say goodbye.
  • I personally like having my food preparation tools near the area in my kitchen that's used for food prep. I like having my pots and pans either stored in the drawer below the oven or nearby the stove. Pantry items get stored together with extra stuff stored out of the kitchen where it can be fetched when other things start running low. I'll put different types of pasta together, the canned beans together, and so on. It makes putting meals together run so much more smoothly than having to run around and wonder where something might be located.
  • For me, being prepared means being able to focus on enjoying cooking instead of rushing around without actually doing very much. In that vein, it's not unusual that I will gather together the ingredients for what I'm making and then begin preparation. And if I happen to be making a dish that requires that I chop half an onion, I will save myself some effort and chop the entire onion so that I'll have chopped onion for the next dish I prepare.
  • Finally, cleaning up after yourself is important. Whether it's washing everything by hand as you go along or rinsing off the tools you've used and loading the dishwasher, getting your preparation equipment out of the way means more time at the end of your meal to just sit back and relax and enjoy time with family and friends.
I hope you'll borrow a few of these ideas and get your own kitchen running in tip-top shape. A little planning in advance and establishing some efficient routines can save you a lot of time, energy and money. Who is going to complain about that?

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