5 Crazy Ways I Save on Kitchen Prep Time {so we can Eat Well, Spend Less}

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I just got yesterday’s oatmeal going on the stove.

No, we haven’t been waiting for breakfast for 24 hours – two-day oatmeal is one of the "shoddy shortcuts" I take every week in an attempt to save a few minutes in the kitchen.

Believe me, I spend enough time there already.


"Mommy, play with me!"

Last week when I posted my kitchen tour videos as part of Organizing in October, a random commenter on You Tube (I don’t think she’s a reader) immediately left her thoughts on the video in this post:

Wow, you’re over thinking all of this.

I love overthinking things, thankyouverymuch.

And truly, as much as one might say that saving 30 seconds shouldn’t matter, it does.

When a toddler is literally hanging on your leg, having things in arm’s reach is vital – since you can’t actually take those easy four steps across the kitchen without a 1-minute extraction process.

When you walk in the door about 5 minutes after you should have started lunch, saving 30 seconds on four different tasks makes the difference between being late for afternoon preschool and being right on time, barely.

When you’ve already called the family for supper and they’re nearly finished setting the table, spending two more minutes getting the salad veggies cut is kind of annoying to the rest of them.

I’m guessing I do at least two hundred tasks every day in the kitchen, if you count every item I take out, put away, cut, measure, pour, package, throw away…maybe well over two hundred, in fact.

If I can save 30-60 seconds on even 10% of what I do, that’s an extra 10-20 minutes to spend reading with my kids.

I know time doesn’t really work that way – I can’t really reclaim every half minute I spend in the kitchen in the form of 20 minutes of compressed time – but if I can hear this phrase one or two fewer times in a day, I’m happy: "Mom, are you done yet? You said ‘one more minute’ and I think it’s been a longggggg time…"

All the little things I do in the kitchen to cut corners and save time contribute to a happier family, and they enable us to Eat Well, Spend Less – AND not go absolutely crazy in the process.

Balancing Your Time

Kitchen Stewardship has always been built upon keeping the balance between the four pillars of stewardship:

  1. family’s health/nutrition
  2. environment
  3. budget
  4. time

It’s never been an easy undertaking.

I suppose that’s why people actually bother to read my stuff, hoping for some magical ideas to do it all.


I have no magic bullet, only lots of little thoughts that hopefully come together in a sanity-saving manner.

Here’s a little excerpt from my upcoming eBook, Better Than a Box:

I’m going to be completely honest with you here. Please don’t close your reader or toss the book out the window, emailing me for a refund.

Using this strategy and these recipes will cost you. You will spend more time preparing meals than with the processed versions.

I’m so sorry.

There’s no getting around that.

And there isn’t.

If anyone tells you that making homemade cream of chicken soup takes zero time longer than buying Campbell’s, they’re either lying or delusional and don’t know what they’re saying.

But all is not lost!

There may not be a way for make-from-scratch cooking to magically take the same amount of time as crappy convenience foods, but there are plenty of strategies to implement to save time on the process.

You can get organized in the kitchen. Shed things you don’t need and consciously place the items you use most. (Did you know cluttered counters don’t actually help you work faster?) Winking smile

You can use your freezer to your advantage, making your cooking quite nearly "magical," like Jessica Fisher in Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook (this week’s giveaway!).

Or you can skip steps, not wash your dishes, and strategically double up your cooking prep to save time later.

Shoddy Shortcuts

Since hopefully, cutting corners on nutrition isn’t an option for you, you’re not going to grab a pizza every time you feel pressed for time in the kitchen (um, every day!?!).

I’ve had a document on my computer for about two years called "shoddy shortcuts." It was this idea I had for a fun series/carnival, all about the tiny ways I save time and cut corners to make cooking and clean up go faster.

Someday I’ll still run it and ask all of you to join in, but for today’s "saving time" theme for the Eat Well, Spend Less series, I thought I’d give you a little peek at all the real life examples I’ve been collecting all that time:

making fermented kimchi (28) (475x356)

1. Never Use the Food Processor for Just One Thing

Back when I wrote this one, my food processor was in the basement because I didn’t have room in my kitchen. I always made good use of it when I dragged it upstairs, like this:

  • sliced potatoes to fry up for supper, rinsed
  • chopped apples for 5-spice apple chutney from GNOWFGLINS (3 cups), rinsed
  • minced garlic for burgers and to add to potatoes, scraped out
  • Then the grand finale: after dinner I turned an entire beef heart into ground meat…then browned it in the pan I cooked potatoes in!
  • This was all in my church clothes, because I didn’t take the time to change after 5:00 p.m. Saturday Mass (during which I MIGHT have planned out all that food processing in my head…).

There are many, many more examples of my food processor cheats that I’ll share with you someday. For the items above, I could have used a knife for the first three, but it would have taken longer. I could have used a mandolin to slice potatoes, knife-chopped the apples, a garlic press for the garlic and a meat grinder for the heart, but then I would have had many more dishes. I like my way!

almonds (8) (500x375)

2. creative storage solutions

When you make everything from scratch, you either buy and throw away lots of plastic bags (not so eco-friendly) or you wash lots of zippered bags and plastic boxes and glass jars. Here are just a few ways I avoid both dishes and waste:

  • I used to put my homemade whole wheat tortillas, rolls, and pancakes in empty bread bags. Never throw away a bread bag! Now I don’t buy bread, so this idea is obsolete, but I try to use store packaging over once or twice when I can.
  • I’ve been known to stick one leftover roll in another container, like a covered Pyrex that only has about 4 homemade granola bars left.
  • I regularly hang onto empty boxes and bags and put the same item, like sliced or shredded cheese or crispy nuts, back in without washing them (the jar in the photo above is a great example – it always holds almonds, so I don’t wash it every time it’s empty). I even keep empties in the fridge when necessary.

making cream of potato 2

3. Steam veggies on top of food

There’s something about pulling yet another pot out of the cupboard just to steam veggies for a dinner side dish that really irks me. I’m tempted to skip the veggies!

When I’m cooking pasta or boiling potatoes for mashed taters or cream of potato soup, I actually just balance my steamer basket over the pasta or potatoes, and two things cook in one pot.

The potatoes below are actually under the broccoli and cauliflower above, and I wouldn’t be opposed to using the same pot to boil eggs after dinner in preparation for school lunches (see next tip)!

making cream of potato

4. Use pots more than once

  • If I boil eggs or potatoes in a pot, I try really hard to use it for something else within a few hours. (If none of the eggs crack, I just rinse it and flip it upside down to dry.)
  • When we’re having leftovers for lunch, I might quickly heat a small portion of soup for the kids and then use the same pot for something totally different, like grain-free spaghetti squash lasagna, for the adults.

soaked oatmeal

5. the two-day oatmeal

I shared this strategy once a while back in the KS monthly newsletter, but it’s worth mentioning here too. Usually on Monday and Tuesday so I don’t have to think about breakfast at the beginning of the week, I soak a double batch of oats (5 c. for our family).

They get cooked Monday morning, and they just stay in the pot on the stove (or wherever, you know how I like to clutter my counters!) until Tuesday morning. We add another cup or so of water and reheat on the stove. Less prep work, fewer dishes. AND my husband can serve breakfast without any direction from me. Happy Katie.

If you have no idea what soaking oatmeal is, read HERE for more on that subject. (For those about to ask, I soak with buckwheat flour (GF) and homemade whey – I know about the new recommendations from Amanda Rose not to soak with dairy, but I’m just stubbornly sticking with what I’ve always done. My hunch is that the oats lacto-ferment a little bit, and I appreciate that.)

I know you’ve been singing the song, right? "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, Katie’s porridge in the pot, TWO days old!"

You’re welcome for getting that stuck in your head. Now go soak some oatmeal. Winking smile

What shoddy shortcuts do YOU take to make real food cooking possible?

Check out the wisdom the rest of the EWSL team has to share about saving time in the kitchen, and I’ll do a round up of all the posts on Saturday, too:

Disclosure: Links to Amazon and GNOWFGLINS earn me commission. See my full disclosure statement here.

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47 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Jeffrey Bethany via Facebook says

    “When a toddler is literally hanging on your leg, having things in arm’s reach is vital – since you can’t actually take those easy four steps across the kitchen without a 1-minute extraction process. ” Love it! :)

    • Rebecca says

      I SO remember this phase!

      It’s true that having an organized kitchen can save you valuable seconds and minutes… I find all your experimentation and ideas helpful!

  2. says

    When the veggie box is delivered I wash and prep everything I possibly can so weeknight cooking can go a little faster. Also, I have started making a green salad and storing it in a sealable container in the fridge. I do greens and sturdy vegetables like radish, carrots, cucumber and it keeps just fine for a week. I can just scoop out what we need for a meal into a bowl, add any additional ingredients like tomatoes or meats, cheese, hard boiled eggs etc and toss with dressing. Not only saves me time but we eat more salads because it’s so fast.

  3. says

    I have a million shoddy shortcuts (haha, I like that phrase) for the kitchen because I want to get out of there as soon as possible. And I agree, every minute counts.

    When I use my food processor, if I’m not using the chute, (which is most of the time), I put a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the bowl before putting on the lid. It saves washing the lid which has all kinds of parts where food can get stuck.

    Veggie prep takes up a lot of time. I streamline the process by doing at least a couple of meals worth at a time.

    Every time I work in the kitchen, I try to do a little extra to put away for future quick meals.

  4. Laura says

    If you have no further use for you egg, potato or vegetable water, let it cool and water your plants! They’ll get extra nutrition & you’ve conserved water!

  5. RJ says

    Mine is making extra. Real food takes a lot of time and when I don’t feel like cooking I am tempted to just feed us all dried figs for dinner. Now I make a huge pot of stock, carrots, and chicken and freeze them in jars. On days when I have no time or desire I can quickly turn a jar into pot pie, noodle soup, or whatever.

  6. says

    I do all those things too, Katie :) And like the previous commenter, I definitely make a LOT every time I cook. I generally have jars of cooked rice or quinoa, shredded chicken, soup, and at least one casserole in the freezer. It’s more work at the time, but not much, and it sure helps later on.

  7. says

    The first thing I do when I walk into the kitchen is make a 1/4 sink of VERY hot soapy water. I add to it as it gets cool so it’s kind of regenerated. Then I wash as I go, yeah if I were using a food processor or pot or pan that I could use multiple times then I’d use it. Otherwise I wash it as soon as I’m done and set it aside to air dry… I dry NOTHING, that’s what air is for. I don’t think I could leave anything like the oatmeal on the stove or counter until the next day…. can we say food contamination? Maybe if I put it in the fridge over night. I wouldn’t know what to do in a kitchen the size of yours, mine is a fraction of that size and I love not having to step more than two steps to get to anything. That saves me tons of time.

      • says

        Hmm, I think the differences mainly are the moisture content of oatmeal vs. baked grains (more moisture supports growth of bacteria) and the length of time at “lukewarm” temps (which bacteria love). Baked goods cool off quickly, where as a pot of oatmeal is going to stay lukewarm for a much longer time. I think this is a gamble, IMO, & I would rather refrigerate than take the chance.

        • says

          I think you’re correct, Lisa, and I tend to err on the side of caution, maybe to the opposite extreme.

          But my mom always points out that people have been doing some of these things for years with little consequence. In some cases our bodies adapt.

          I still get a little squeamish about bacteria, even though I know our bodies are full of it.

    • says

      Kinda funny – on most days, I only wash dishes twice: after lunch and after dinner. This lets me re-use anything that isn’t really that dirty (like a knife used to cut bread, reused for fruit later, and the cutting board too). Half of the time I leave the knife & board on the counter because I KNOW I’ll use it again soon!

    • cirelo says

      My vote is for leaving the oatmeal out. Traditional cultures would let wet oatmeal sit out to ferment (see russia, eastern european countries, and scottland). Also, many other traditional cultures let grains ferment like that, think dosa or idli batters, some probably do it longer. I think that it’s probably something something we should all strive to do.

  8. Karen says

    And here I’ve been setting the steel cut oats to soak at night, cooking them in the morning, then starting over. I’m doing a big batch tonight to last the rest of the week. After the overnight soak I will probably store the rest in the fridge for the end of the week because I use sort of half milk (don’t measure) to cook them in.

    When I worked at a well known chain steak house all the baked potatoes left at the end of the night sat on the counter until they became home fries in the morning.

  9. Heather says

    Here’s my shoddy shortcut. I know it’s not totally REAL food, but I have a jar of cream of….mix in my fridge. It’s powdered milk, wheat flour, butter and salt, all mixed up. Whenever I need a cream of whatever i use one cup of liquid (homemade broth if I have it!) and 1/2 c of my mix. then add other things to it as needed, like celery, or worcestershire sauce, or mushrooms, just whatever you need. I know the powered milk isn’t REAL, but I use that mix. somehow I just get lazy making a roux all the time!

  10. Heather says

    ps…food contamination? I lived with Indians ( like people from india) They would always cook their rice and leave it out. I often do too, especially when i need to make fried rice the next day and need some old dry rice!

  11. says

    Haha…one minute child-ectomy in order to take two steps…I was wondering how the baby was doing these days. I know it’s time to feed mine when she comes wandering into the kitchen saying, “mam-ma? mam-ma?”

    I wash big things as I go. They only take a minute, which I can do while waiting for…whatever…to get to whatever point it needs to get to, and it makes such a big difference in how clean the kitchen looks. The rest of the stuff can fit in the sink and then my kitchen looks halfway organized until I can *really* do the dishes!

    I also make double batches of bread. One stays out, and one goes in the freezer until either I plan to use it, or I plan a meal which needs it and forget to make a new loaf for that meal 😉

  12. Jacqueline says

    Making large portions ahead is such a time-saver for me. Although somehow I’m still almost always behind on dishes…!

  13. Melissa says

    I read in Woman’s Day magazine that if you poke a hole in the egg with a pin before you boil them they will not crack.
    I wanted you to know I do the same thing with jars. Why wash them when you’re going to readd the same thing to it.
    Thanks for all of the kitchen info you give us. I find it very informative :)

  14. says

    Nice tips! My family goes a bit farther than reusing pots and storage jars before washing–we reuse a lot of our dishes. Everyone’s water glass sits on his/her placemat and is reused until the person judges it too dirty or until I’m filling the gaps in the dishwasher before I start it; we’d be washing about 10 times as many glasses if we didn’t do this! Coffee mugs, cereal bowls with spoons, toast plates, etc. get rinsed or brushed off and set on the counter next to the sink, and we look there for something useful before reaching for a clean dish. If someone is sick, that person’s dishes go straight into the dishwasher after use, but otherwise we don’t worry much about whose mouth the spoon was in 3 hours ago before it was rinsed and air-dried, and it seems to work out fine. We need to run the dishwasher only about twice a week, which saves us money on utility bills as well as saving time unloading it.

    My other big time-saver, which I began doing more often after reading about how well it works for you, is chopping/grating all of an ingredient at once and packing the extra in freezer bags. Then it’s ready to go for future meals!

  15. says

    Right. This isn’t about over thinking, it’s about systems thinking. If you can overcome bottlenecks by using short bits of time to good effect, it makes a huge difference down the line. 30 seconds means the difference between a major meltdown and a soothed toddler!

  16. says

    I absolutely love how straight forward, tell it like it is, that you are. This blog is so helpful, interesting, and since I have been following you, it is a go to blog for me, daily. Thanks so much for making everything real. Fantastic, just love it. Have a great day and God bless you much.

  17. says

    Katie – I so get this so I HOPE you would consider doing a guest post for my blog. My kids are bigger now, but it was the reason for the product initially! and I love the idea of using things over, rinsing in between and getting it out of the way for a few days at a time! Although I buy the pre-chopped garlic, would think that would be too lasting of an odor.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Your product looks neat – when you get to the point of promoting, feel free to email me. I won’t have time to guest post for you, though, so sorry.
      :) Katie

  18. Tracy says

    Egg shells aren’t always all that clean since you don’t eat that part…sometimes they even have chicken poo on them. I wouldn’t reuse your egg boiling water or the pot for that matter without washing it. Yes I know the boiling probably kills a lot of germs, but still. It’s poo.

  19. Joan says

    I like to clean up as I go to save time and mess. Please be careful re-using pans, bowls, utensils if you are sharing with someone who has food allergies!

  20. Nia Hanna says

    So, Katie, speaking of saving time in the kitchen, I read your post on beef heart and how you process it. I’m wondering do you do it the same every time? Or do you ever bake it , slow cook it in the crock pot, or boil it and then process it? I have some heart and liver thawing right now and I’d like to take the easiest method of chopping it up. Thanks in advance.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I’ve only done heart twice, both raw. I have cooked liver in with stock before and then chopped it up, but then it will act differently when you add it to things. Then again, I add the beef heart already cooked…just think of what you want to add it to – if mostly ground meat casseroles/chili/etc, then you prob want to grind it raw so it looks the same. I hear it’s actually great as a roast in the slow cooker to just eat for dinner, or sliced thinly and stir fried! Liver tastes stronger when already cooked…I would prefer that one ground and frozen in ice cubes, I think…
      Good luck!
      :) Katie

      • Nia Hanna says

        Okay so I took your advice, ground them both raw, I don’t like dealing with raw meat. But they both processed nicely and quickly. No too much jumping around of my machine. Gonna try and add 1/4 cup of each the heart and liver to one pound ground beef. Hope its not too strong. But if so I’ll just decrease to 1/4 C total. I’m scared, I don’t like liver, but I guess our bodies could benefit from the nutrients, so I’m gonna suck it up and go for it!

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