Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kitchen Tip: Cooking-at-Home Made Easy - Pt. 1

We all know that cooking at home is healthier and more economical, but let's be honest, it is not always easy or convenient. For the next few weeks, I'm going to share the evolution of my kitchen routine that brought us from fast food and convenience foods almost daily (even as a stay at home parent) to where we are now (most meals at home or packed at home and brought with us, homemade bread, yogurt, snacks, etc).

Let's face it, cooking at home is time consuming and difficult. It requires skill, thought and organization. It really is no wonder we embrace the convenience of take out and pre-packaged food. When my kids were very young, I did not have the organizational skills I needed to take care of them, the house and the kitchen, so we relied a lot on convenience food and sadly, fast food. Learning and becoming organized in the kitchen has been a journey that has taken years and that is still happening. Each new skill learned, either organizing or cooking skills, allows us to eat better quality foods and allows cooking to take LESS of my time. We bake our own bread, make our own yogurt and kefir, cook whole chickens (instead of buying them already roasted - most of the time anyway), make our own soup stock, preserve summer produce by canning or dehydrating, grow some of our own food, scratch cook breakfast foods like pancakes, oatmeal, waffles and french toast, and bake most of our own baked goods and snacks.

If you'd like to go from slice and bake (or packaged) cookies to home baked cookies, step one is:

Clean Your Kitchen - Right here, I'm not talking about organizing or decluttering, though that will be an important step later on. What I mean here is do your dishes. It can be overwhelming to even think of cooking dinner if you first have to wash the pot to cook in and your measuring utensils and cooking spoons. Most of the time, that alone is enough to send you to the phone to order a pizza. Think about it, you are already tired and don't know what to cook. You walk into the kitchen, a little overwhelmed already and are confronted with a mess that you will need to clean before you can start planning, cooking and then cleaning again. No wonder we call for take out so often. In order to get into the routine of cleaning up after myself in the kitchen, I used Flylady's method and tried to keep my sink shined and clean (just another way of saying, do the dishes, don't let them sit in the sink). Here is what my day looks like, from a kitchen cleaning point of view.

In the morning, my kids sleep an hour or so longer than I do most mornings, so I use that time to blog and catch up on email. If they wake up earlier, I just skip the blogging or try to do it later in the day when they are busy with something else. As soon as I'm done with the computer, I unload the dishwasher, which ran over night with the dinner dishes. I also clean anything that might have had to soak overnight (though this does not happen often). This takes about 5-7 minutes. Now I have a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher :) As we make and eat breakfast, all dishes used can now go into the dishwasher. Basically, breakfast clean up takes less than 30 seconds this way. We also often bake in the morning as the house is cooler and sometimes I can do it while the kids are still sleeping. These dishes can go into the dishwasher here as well. If we have a mid-morning snack, the dishes go straight into the dishwasher - kitchen is still clean. We do the same again after lunch and after our mid afternoon snack. Basically, the clean up takes very little time - just rinse and put into the dishwasher - 30 seconds to one minute per meal. I run the dishwasher after the mid afternoon snack and then put the dishes away when it is done, which usually coincides with the start of supper preparations. Now I can load the dishwasher as I go along and dinner clean up is easy-peasy. Run the dishwasher right before bed (even if it is not completely full - if you wait for one or two more dirty dishes before you run the dishwasher, you will end up with a sink full of dishes before you know it) and you are ready to start again in the morning. If you don't have a dishwasher, you can do the same thing with your hand washed dishes. Just wash as you go - it only takes a few minutes per meal.

The hard part of all of this is to develop the habit. If you'd like to cook at home more, but a messy kitchen is keeping you from that, why don't you try this method or something like it that fits your families routines for one week and see how it goes. (BTW, if you do this, I'd love to hear about how it goes for you). In the next week or two, I'll share some thoughts on organizing your kitchen to help make cooking at home more convenient.

And just in case my post accidentally implied that my kitchen is always spotless, here is a picture of what our kitchen looked like right before I went to bed last night.

Its messy but it won't take long in the morning to clean it - it is only 6 items. I will clean it before I attempt to make breakfast in the morning.

Okay, now I need to go unload the dishwasher . . . but first, I'm off the visit Tammy's Recipes for Kitchen Tip Tuesday.


Sharinskishe said...

Such great tips! Thanks. Having a cleaned out dishwasher to put the dirties in 'as you go' is such a wonderful way to keep your sinks/kitchen counters clear. I know I always feel better when my dishes are out of sight!

I can bake and/or make dinner without a looming stress over me. I feel free and light. (Since I am Shari and not superwoman, I do not always have a clean sink. But I sure can feel the freedom or the tension depending on whether it is empty or full.)

Thanks for the great words and reminder. I do love to cook from scratch! But then I am an older mom, I'm from the time when there weren't that many pre-made items. I'm 49 and my kids are 11 and 14. So I am still young! Thanks kids! lol.........


Alea said...

I am looking forward to this series!

My son came up with a similiar idea when he was 9. He and my daughter took turns unloading and loading the dish washer. He came to me and said, "if the person who unloads the dishwasher does it before breakfast, everyone can put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher and we can eliminate one chore".

Melanie said...

How'd you know I really needed this reminder right now?! I am looking forward to this series -- just this past weekend I was guilty of ordering pizza bc the kitchen wasn't clean and I was too tired. :( Looking forward to reading more!

The Book Lady Online said...


There isn't much difference in our ages - I will be 40 in a few weeks, and I'm young, too :) . When I was a young kid, we my mom made everything form scratch. Things were very different by the time I was teen. Thanks to your comment, I added a picture of what our kitchen looked like last night - just to prove that although this method works, I am not a slave to it, nor am I perfect, lol.

Alea, I am so impressed with your son's creativity and problem solving skills. I was in my 30's before I figured it out, lol.

Melanie, I am so glad you enjoyed to post. I've enjoyed writing it, too. Wednesday, I'm planning to write a post about an idea you had on your blog a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

You and I are so much alike Lori! When the kids were little, it was just all so overwhelming! We had a small house, small kitchen, no dishwasher and I had no energy.

When we moved to the country, things changed. I have a much bigger kitchen, a dishwasher, the energy to cook from scratch and my boys are old enough to help out, I mean really help, not just get in the way helping. :)

I do Flylady, but have gotten away from her during our homeschooling. This is going to be remedied soon. I soaked my sink last night and I will scrub it in a bit.

Now, if only my kids would take the initiative like Alea's kids.