Is your kitchen working for you, or do you feel like you’re entering a battleground when it’s time to make a meal?
If your kitchen is not set up well, it’s like trying to fight a battle with stone age weapons, or run a sprint in high heels.
It’s time to set your kitchen up for success.
Whether you’re starting a new diet that requires more food prep, or have a new interest outside the kitchen and want to finish meal prep faster, you need to apply these 10 secrets to a highly efficient kitchen.
1. If You Don’t Use It, Lose It.
Everyone thinks a bigger kitchen would solve their kitchen problems, but I promise the solution is right under your nose: ditch the clutter. January is the best time of year to do this because you’ve just gone through the kitchen marathon called “The Holidays”. If you didn’t use that tool/bowl/pot/gadget in the last two months chances are, you probably won’t. Go through your cupboards and drawers and grab everything that hasn’t been used lately and throw it in a box. If you can’t quite part yet, throw the box in your attic or garage to hibernate. If you don’t pull anything out of that box in a few more months, you can be sure it’s safe to pass it along. And what do you know–your drawers and cupboards just got bigger and easier to find things in!
2. Clear Counters
Is lack of counter space the problem? Don’t worry, we have got a fix for that, too. Here’s my rule for counter-tops: Only what is used daily gets to live on the counter. What’s on my counters:
- toaster oven
- high power blender
- dish drain
- utensil crocks
- kitchen aid
- dish soap
Everything else goes into the cupboards or pantry. (If you don’t have room to put it away, go back to #1!) Now you actually have space to cook, and your kitchen welcomes you instead of scares you away!
3. Use Workstations
Those with OCD tendancies are gonna squirm about this one, but hang with me. You will love how this feels in the end.
Think of the 3 most common things you prep in your kitchen. Now think of the ingredients and tools you use for those dishes. Chances are you have to go to 3-4 different spots in your kitchen to fetch the ingredients for just one dish: pantry for the flour, cupboard for the spices, drawer for the measuring spoons, another cupboard for the bowl–all before you can even begin baking.
What if the flour and mixing bowls were in the same cupboard, and the measuring spoons and spices in the same drawer right below? Work Stations are the secret to cooking fast.
- Dinner Zone: I keep salt, pepper, and all the spices I use on a weekly basis in the little cupboard beside my stove vent. Cornstarch and honey also make it into this little spot, though they don’t seem to ‘match’. They belong because of how frequently I use them when I’m cooking stove top.
- Drink Zone: My favorite refreshing drink uses 4 ingredients that would typically be found in 4 different corners of my kitchen. I put them all in the cupboard right next to my water filter so I could make filling my glass water bottle super fast before I rush out the door to run errands (I’m always running late!).
- Lunch Packing Zone: What if water bottles, lunch containers, sandwich bags and any shelf-stable lunch supplies were kept in the same cupboard or deep drawer?
- Coffee Zone: Mugs, travel mugs, sweetener, spoons, filters, beans, grinder–when you need coffee, you need it fast, right?
Racing around like a pinball when you’re in a hurry to throw something together is not fun. Storing commonly-used-together items in the same place makes your kitchen work for you.
4. Everyone Knows Where Everything Goes
Are you the only one in your house that can put away or find things in your kitchen? Then you have a problem. Delegation is key to success in any venture. Have your kids help you put away groceries, and consider labeling shelves and drawers so your kids, spouse or baby sitter can lend a hand with bringing order. I labeled my pantry shelves last year and now any of my kids who can read can put away all the pantry stuff! Don’t make your kitchen a mystery. This is the label maker I used.
5. Unbox All the Things
I started doing this last year and it has been one of the most delightful tweaks to my kitchen ever. When we get home from Aldi and the kids are putting away the groceries (see #3!) I instruct them to take things out of boxes and packages as they put it away. So, butter quarters come out of the box and go straight into their cubby in the fridge loose. Onions get taken out of the bag before they are put in the onion drawer. Cheese sticks get taken out of the bag and dumped into the fridge drawer loose. Such a little thing, but it makes it so handy when you’re in the middle of cooking or racing out the door and you can grab what you need with one hand!
6. Apply the One-Hand-Grab to tool storage
Are you starting to see a pattern? I like grabbing things with one hand. It’s one of the secrets to cooking faster! You should have a tool caddy with your most commonly used cooking utensils right in your stove top cooking station. Remember, only the tools you use daily go in this caddy or it gets too cluttered! Spatulas, stirring spoons, whisks. Metallic knife storage is clean and easy and saves space. And paper towels! Oh my. I hate a paper towel holder that requires two hands! I mean, when I need a paper towel, it’s usually because I have a mess on my hands! Make them easy to grab with an under the counter mount dispenser. I like this one because you only need one hand to refill it, too!
7. Only Use One Cleaner
Do you have a huge collection of specialty cleaners under your sink? No wonder you have no storage room! Keep it simple by using an all-purpose cleaner so you just have one bottle instead of 6. I use Thieves Spray because, unlike chemical cleaners, it’s food safe. I can spray down my counters with it, and then cook on the same surface and don’t have to worry about chemical residue in my food. Plus, it smells great and is safe for my kids to use (Remember delegation!).
8. Sort your Spices
Who loves to spend 10 minutes in the middle of cooking dinner looking for that one, tiny spice jar that you just saw last week but now you can’t find anywhere? Here’s the secret to spice jar sanity and seasoning dinner fast: Store your spices in two places. The common ones you use every week should go in a cupboard near your stove (remember rule #3?). For me, that’s garlic, basil, oregano, and my taco, ranch, and seasoned salt mixes (recipes here). There’s no reason to dig through uncommon spices to get to your garlic every time you want it. Then your lesser used spices can go in another cupboard or drawer, without clogging up prime real estate.
9. Make a Plan and Work the Plan
Without a plan for what you’re gonna cook next, your kitchen will intimidate you and you will avoid it…and end up with nothing good or healthy for dinner (again). If menu planning is your nemesis, try my meal planning hack that simplifies the process down to a few minutes and guarantees success.
10. Wear an Apron
You shouldn’t be flinching or balking in the kitchen. Put your ‘armor’ on. Free yourself to cook fast and not worry about splatters or stains with a good, cover all apron. I made my favorite one in about two hours with this pattern from my friend and favorite online seamstress, Leslie. But you can find super cute, functional styles here, too.
My goal is to see you thriving in your kitchen–getting in, making good food for your family, and getting out and living your life outside the kitchen. You can do that if you set your kitchen up for efficiency with these tips!
What’s something you always or never do in the kitchen that’s a secret to sanity the rest of us should know about? Share it in the comments!
This post contains affiliate links to help you quickly find the tools you need!
My favorite tip here is Trina’s admonition to toss the clutter. I’m gonna go do that now! I tend to tuck it away if there is the slightest chance I may use it; no more!
Katy Walton says
Oh my days, these make so much sense! I was a bit cautious of the workstation one but when I think about my mum’s kitchen with everything everywhere in contrast to my three cupboards at uni I totally get it! Going to save this for when I have my own kitchen.
Yay! Proud of you, Katy!
Rachelle Cobb says
Oh my goodness, I love Aldi and unboxing and I’m proud to say I knew the paper towel hack, yay! But glasses near the sink? Good golly, what was I thinking? Of *course.* Thanks, Trina! Off to organize… 😉
Aww, I’m so glad I could ‘help’ you in your kitchen, Rachelle!
Thanks for the “rules”.
One kitchen hack that saves me time and sanity is; when it comes to peeling and chopping onions and veg etc. I grab a sheet of newspaper place it next to the chopping board, and peel over it, then chop on board. I leave the paper on the counter (if you have the space) til I’m done cooking, for any other chuck outs, like the seeds from your squash. Once done I fold all the peels etc up in said newspaper and throw it away. Gone is the stress of trying pick up those stubborn peels (butternut for instance) that cling to the counter for dear life.
p.s. just check before throwing away you haven’t left your peeler amongst them peels 😉
Therese, this is really a smart habit–I’m gonna add it to our peeling sessions! That’s so true about the butternut squash-ha!
Claire Torrice says
Love this, I would then toss it in the compost. News paper adds a good carbon input to balance all those veggie scraps. I have found old peelers in my pile! C -:
Lady Anne says
I keep my mixer on the counter, and all of my spices on two turntables in the cupboard directly above it – in alphabetical order. I wish I had counter space for the bread machine, as I use it several times a week, but it just has to live under the stairs for now. The flour containers are under the cooktop; I buy white flour twenty-five pounds at a time, and keep it in a clean kitty-litter bucket, which kinda limits the number of places I can stow it. Baking soda also goes under the cooktop; in case of a grease fire I want it handy, and reaching over a flaming stove is NOT a good idea. I keep canned goods in plastic magazine holders – one for soups, one for tomatoes, and one for the rest of the veggies. I use vinegar and water as an all-purpose cleaner, but I do have a couple “special” cleaners. The Squire rigged up a length of copper pipe in the linen closet and I hang the spray bottles there. And yes, always Aldi’s!
These may not all work if your kitchen is so small that it basically IS a workstation! But I likely could clean out some rarely used utensils. I’ll have to take inventory and look for some ways to make things more streamlined. One thing I did in my small kitchen was lose the cabinet doors – there weren’t very many anyway, and the kitchen looks bigger with them gone – and I don’t always have to be opening and closing them. I do have enviable pantry space – lots and lots of it, as much as some lady could squeeze into a small and well-organized home 100+ years ago. I admire that lady, who somehow knew that women in 2017 would need roomy clothes closets, linen closets, and a variety of pantry closets!! Thanks for your ideas, Trina!