The biggest shock to your system when switching from a conventional diet of convenience and processed food items to a diet filled with real, whole foods isn’t the withdrawals you’ll experience, but the amount of time you’ll spend in the kitchen. No sooner have you finished cooking breakfast, you’ll find yourself back in there prepping lunch and then dinner, and it gets to feel never-ending, truth be told. If you’re not planning your meals or shopping for them, you’re prepping, cooking, and cleaning up in the kitchen. You’ll think you have entered culinary school with the amount of hours you’ll stand in front of your stove, watching pots boil and stirring or chopping a medley of ingredients. Some days you’ll find peace during your time in the kitchen, reflecting on life and your role in it. Some days you’ll feel like you’re going to lose your ever-loving mind if you spend one more minute in front of the sink. But if you’re going to commit to this lifestyle for the long term, you can’t admit defeat. Instead, you just need to trudge on and come up with some really good shortcuts that just may save your life … or at least your sanity. Here are a few I practice quite often, and so far, they have kept me out of the loony bin over the last year of eating clean.
1. Cook in batches
The idea doesn’t necessarily mean setting hours upon hours aside to cook 30 days worth of meals. Instead, it’s about getting smart with your time in the kitchen and killing multiple birds with one stone. So if I’m going to boil some vegetables for instance, I’ll dig through my fridge and see if there is anything else in there I can boil, using the same pot of hot water. If I’m making some broccoli, perhaps I also boil some potatoes to have on hand for mashed potatoes later in the week. Or I add in some green beans, or even cook up some pasta. The concept of dumping hot water each time we have to boil something not only wastes water and energy, it wastes precious time, waiting for a pot of water to boil each time. And I’ve noticed the other upside to cooking food this way, the flavors build upon each other as you cook more vegetables in the same pot of water, so that by the end, your final boiled vegetable tastes wonderfully seasoned by salt and all the previous inhabitants of that water. You can apply the same concept to roasting vegetables or even something simple like adding a batch of hard boiled eggs to cook while you’re in the kitchen making pancakes. The idea is to make your time in the kitchen count for something more than just the current meal you’re making.
2. Make doubles of hot ticket items
Since we cut out one of our kid’s favorite food items last year — frozen waffles — we now make our waffles from scratch on our waffle iron. It’s a process though, I won’t lie. While we’ve tried some boxed mixes, we have a specific recipe we love the most and it requires two separate bowls, and in the end just dirties a lot of dishes and makes a bit of a mess. So we make waffles on Saturday or Sunday when we have some time to spare, and always double our batter batch. After breakfast, one of us mans the waffle station and just makes a whole other batch to freeze and eat throughout the week. They store and reheat beautifully, and the kids have never once complained about missing their old frozen waffles. You can do the same with batches of rice, spaghetti, or any other favorite item where the recipe easily allows for doubling.
3. Always keep some staples on hand for emergencies
I’ve learned to make many things from scratch in the last year, from all of our own veggie and chicken stocks, to pasta sauce and even beans. It’s been a fun and rewarding process to see homemade food pile up in my freezer. But let’s be real, I can’t always make every single thing from scratch, and some days, I forget to put the stock to thaw or right in the middle of cooking, I realize I really need that bag of frozen beans. So the food items I use most to cook with on a consistent basis, I keep pre-made containers of on hand for the days I’m forgetful or tired or just didn’t plan in advance. Boxes of organic stock and cans of beans that can be heated for an easy side dish have saved our meals and my sanity on too many occasions to count. In the cooking from scratch department, I strive for better, not for perfection.
4. Make leftovers your best friend
To the people out there who say they just don’t like leftovers, I say, “Get over it!” I rarely get bossy and tell people what to do, but this is one area where I say without hesitation, you have to overcome your fear of leftovers if you’re going to be a clean eating and cooking machine. Unless you have a sous chef and maid to do all your dishes and clean up your messes, you will get burnt out cooking all your meals from home, every single day, three times a day. Leftovers are a great way to save money, eliminate waste, and keep you from tiring out and spending countless hours in the kitchen. While some foods save and reheat better than others, parts of almost every single meal can be salvaged with some creativity and due diligence.
5. Reuse the same pot as much as you can
One of the biggest drawbacks of clean eating or any sort of cooking from scratch are the multiple dishes that pile up. And not just pots and pans, but bowls and blenders, food processors, and more utensils than you ever knew were possible to use at once. And when you’re in a hurry, you seem to just dirty more, going at a frenetic pace, ripping through your cabinets and using up dishes with wild, care-free abandon. And then you step back to assess the aftermath and your stomach sinks at the idea of spending the next hour, after the kids go to bed, doing the dishes. So to save some of your sanity and save yourself some heartache from time to time, don’t be afraid to debunk the recipe guidelines of using a saute pan for frying and a stock pot for boiling and a sauce pan for well, making sauce. When possible, choose one pot to do all the jobs of 3-4 pots. This shortcut seems to work best when I plan ahead and allow for time to cook a meal. A perfect example of this idea in action is making some sort of pasta and sauce dish like spaghetti. Standard recipe rules would have you boiling your pasta in a big stock pot, browning your meat in a saute pan, and heating your sauce in a sauce pan. Instead, start with the “cleanest” job first, and boil your pasta. While it’s boiling do your chopping or other dinner duties like setting the table or helping kids with homework. Once the pasta is boiled, drain it and let it rest in a large bowl, maybe add a little olive oil if it’s extra “gluten-y” and the starches may stick together. Now, saute your onions and ground turkey or sausage till cooked through. Dump out the meat onto a plate or even atop the pasta, give the pan a quick wipe with the paper towel, and then go about making your sauce, either from scratch or just heating up a jar. Then add back in your pasta and meat, stir all together and voila! What about that bowl the pasta was sitting in? Give it a quick rinse, no need to scrub, and use that bowl for your salad! An entire meal prepared in 1 pot and 1 bowl, which would normally call for twice that amount.
6. Do the dishes and put things away as you go
And speaking of dishes, try to get in the habit of putting ingredients like spices, flours, and oils away as you go, and load the dishwasher as you chop, stir, and cook. My husband likes to wait till the end to do everything at once, and maybe that works for you, but it makes it very overwhelming to stand back and look at a disaster of a kitchen at the end of a long day. So I rinse out bowls and load up utensils as they pile up, wipe down bits of spills as they happen, and I’m always so thankful I’ve taken extra bits of time here and there to clean as I go.
So have you discovered any other clean eating time savers that could help us out? I would love to hear them if you have any others to share!More On