Whether you spend hours in the kitchen or just a few minutes, taking a bit of time to streamline the space will maximize the time you spend there… and possibly make your time there a little lighter!
I spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen. And I don’t want to spend that time digging through clutter or searching for something that I know must be in there somewhere… I’ve got some systems in place that have helped me streamline all things meal-related and it’s made a huge difference!
Being able to know what I have in my kitchen and where it is, is incredibly helpful! And having things placed in such a way to maximize my time means more time to do other things I like to do. Plus, I have a few “kitchen rules” for myself that I’ve learned because they honestly do make my time in the kitchen lighter!
OK, you’ve got the why, now let’s talk about the how! I’ve got three tips for setting up your kitchen space and three tips for maintaining the space. Ready?
KITCHEN SET UP
Have Only What You Need. This is where you gotta get honest with yourself. Do you need and use seven spatulas? How often do you use the air fryer? And how many plastic cups with logos from various establishments actually need to live (and can fit) into your cupboard?
When we remodeled our kitchen last year, I took the very basics into the laundry room where I set up our temporary kitchen. Let me tell you, I realized we honestly need very little! Of course, there are things I don’t use every day, but I do use fairly often and they bring me joy (thank you ice cream maker and popcorn popper!) You don’t have to go totally minimalist, but it’s good to take an honest look at what is in your kitchen and what you actually need and use. I’ve talked about my kitchen de-cluttering here if you need a few tips.
Group Like Items. I realize this could be obvious, but I’ll put it here for the sake of clarity. It’s so much easier to know where things are and to get to them quickly if similar things are in similar places.
For example, all of my foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, zip-top bags, rubber bands, twisty-ties, and bag clips are all in one drawer. (Side note: Yes, I am totally trying to get away from using one-time-use plastic. I use it far less than I used to. But I still keep some on hand.)
I also keep all my pots in one place. All my glass bake ware in one place. All my cake pans in one place. You get the idea…
And this just helps facilitate the last kitchen set up tip…
Create Work Zones. Talk about streamlining! (I get secretly giddy over this one!) Creating specific zones in your kitchen for certain tasks, and keeping those items you need for that zone nearby really makes you efficient! Unless you’re using the running all over the kitchen as your cardio for the day. (Hey, it’s an idea.)
Here are the main zones in my kitchen:
Washing Zone: Naturally, this centers around the sink. Which luckily happens to be next to the dishwasher (it usually is). I’ve got my soap, my scrubber (in a pretty dish) and my microfiber dish mat on the counter, my dishtowels in the drawer to the left of the dishwasher, and all other cleaning items in the cupboard under the sink.
Also, I’ve put the silverware drawer right next to the dishwasher. And the plates and bowls directly above. The glassware is just to the right of the sink. So when everything comes out of the dishwasher, it’s a short hop into a neighboring drawer or cupboard! Fast!
Prep Zone: I keep my cutting boards in a drawer right between my garbage and my sink. When I’m chopping veggies or meat, I’m right in the middle of a place to dispose or clean up. As a side note, we’re now composting our fruit and veggie scraps and there is a bowl that lives on the counter here that we empty every day. The garden is going to be so happy next spring!
One note about counter tops… when at all possible… keep them clear! There’s nothing more frustrating than going to prep a meal and not having any room on the counter to do it! I do keep a few things on the counters (cooking utensils, knives, fruit, a few select decorations) but one thing I really like to keep off the counter are appliances. I know this isn’t always possible depending on your space. But I love keeping my appliances put away and pulling them out when I need them. They’re near the counters and it’s easy to get them out. And the clear counters makes me feel so much lighter!
Cooking Zone: This zone centers around my microwave, stove top and oven, which we happily put all in a row when we did the remodel last year. Everything I need to cook can be found on either side. The pots and pans are in the lower cupboards to the left, the mixing bowls and bake ware are in the lower cupboards to the right.
The drawers on each side have the measuring cups and spoons and whatever assortment of utensils I didn’t put in the pretty while crockery on the counter. Spices are also in the upper cupboard, easy to grab.
I also keep my glass storage containers near my fridge, so that after dinner I can grab some, scoop in the leftovers, put in the fridge, and my husband and I have lunch for the next day.
With my kitchen set up in this way, I can really use my time in there efficiently. And now for maintaining that set up…
No I’m not going to talk about fixing your kitchen sink (which I did recently… thank you YouTube!) I’m going to focus on the three things I do, my “kitchen rules” that help me work quickly in the kitchen and get out of there to go do other things!
(I’m making it sound like I don’t like being in the kitchen. That’s not really the case. I’m not enamored of spending hours creating a gourmet meal, but I like making simple, healthy food. I just don’t want to waste any time in there when there are other things I like doing too!)
Kitchen Rule #1: Mise en place – Nope, it’s not misspelled, it’s just in French. It translates roughly to “everything in place.” It’s a technique used by professional cooks in busy kitchens to get everything out and ready before beginning to cook.
Have you ever started a recipe only to realize that you don’t have any cardamom? Or have you started to cook something only to realize you have to chop three different vegetables and you’ve already added your meat to the hot skillet and it’s going to burn before you get everything chopped? You get the idea…
Before I start any meal, I get everything out and put it on the counter. I chop or prep anything that requires it. I double check the recipe and make sure I have all the equipment. This way, I can dive into making and know that I’ve got everything ready right there in arm’s reach. This rule has saved me tons of time… not to mention meals!
Tonight’s prep for chicken tikka masala.
Kitchen Rule #2: Clean as you go – As I use ingredients in a recipe, I either move them to the side, or even better, I put them away. (Spice cupboard is right there!) Some recipes require your full attention, I get that, but many others have time when they’re simmering or baking or cooling. I take that little window of time to put away my ingredients and wash any prep dishes I’ve used. Yes, I could stack everything in the sink and do it after dinner (and sometimes that’s what happens, depending on the meal and what mischief the little boys get into) but staring at a sink overflowing with dishes after dinner is not my favorite. I’d rather wash all the mixing bowls and spatulas and put them to dry on my mat so that they’re already done when it’s time to do the serving dishes.
Kitchen Rule #3: Put it all away – Hopefully, the clean up during cooking helps this be a much easier chore. Either way, I’m a firm believer of totally cleaning up after dinner. All dishes in the dishwasher (not the sink). Leftovers put away and dishes washed. Table and counters wiped down.
Reality check: This does not happen immediately after dinner every single night. There are nights when I leave things to dry until after the boys go to bed and then put things away. Or I leave something in the sink to soak a bit longer. But before I go to bed each night, I try to have everything put away. It makes coming into the kitchen the next morning ready to do it all over again a much lighter experience, for me.
That’s my secret sauce for streamlining my kitchen! Do you have things you do that make your time in the kitchen lighter?