Jan 19, 2021

Time Management Tips for Efficient Cooking

A few questions I received in DMs in the past week

"How do you manage to cook 3-4 varieties each day?"

"If all packaged foods from the store is not good, then wouldn't it be strenuous to make everything at home?"

"It feels like I'm spending so much time in the kitchen. How to cook more efficiently?"

I'll try to answer these three questions through this post. 

First and foremost, the lunch plates you are seeing in my feed for the past month aren't how I normally cook. Since my in-laws are staying with me, I'm cooking more than usual. To get the real picture, check out my posts in Oct/Nov. I don't like to cook a lot of variety for each meal. If the menu is kept simple, the time taken to cook will be less. 

Set the right expectations with family members. Making chapatis/parathas is a time-consuming process for me. My ILs love to eat chapatis for dinner but I have mentioned to them (even before they arrived) that I'll not be able to make them daily.

I have earmarked the timings for cooking and set the expectations that I'll not be entering the kitchen at other times.

8:45-9:15am - cook breakfast

11:45-12:45pm - lunch

4-4:30pm - tea/snacks

6-6:30pm - dinner (timing varies depending on the menu)

People like to eat breakfast at different timings, so I prefer to make something that can be prepared and kept in a hot pack - idli, Pongal, upma, etc. No dosas/pooris/idiyappam/adai etc. 

Menu planning is super helpful in deciding what to cook. I plan the entire day's menu the previous night.

Certain things need to be prepped ahead to stick to these timings. I distribute the prep work throughout the week (not clubbed together for a single day/weekend). 

  • Idli batter (twice a week)
  • Sambhar powder/rasam powder (once a month)
  • Other spice powders - coriander powder/pepper powder/cumin powder, etc (once a month)
  • Idli chutney podi - two varieties stocked up (twice a month)
  • Sort out the veggies (once a week)
  • Grate coconut (once a week)
  • Make sprouts (once a week)
  • Arrange groceries, refill the bottles (once a week)

Things do get a little haywire if such prep work isn't taken care of at the right time. I usually spend around 20-30 min in the evenings or take up such prep work along with cooking lunch/dinner.

Lunch is the main meal where I plan more variety. I use a three-burner stove which speeds up my cooking. My ILs prefer to eat the typical kuzhambu+rasam+poriyal kinda menu (more tamarind), whereas I prefer to eat more veggies and less tamarind (kootu+poriyal/thogaiyal/raitha/salad etc). So I plan the menu in such a way that I don't compromise on either of our requirements. 

Snacks time is mostly fruits, dry fruits/nuts, popcorn, lemonade/smoothies, etc. I occasionally bake a treat for D, which she eats during her evening snack time.

I prefer to have an early dinner - mostly rice with leftovers from lunch. On days when I'm tired, dinner for others will be dosa+podi. On normal days, a simple one-pot kichdi/soup/upma gets done in 30 minutes.

In summary, keeping the menu simple, setting the right expectations, doing the required prep work, and sticking to cooking timings WITHOUT any distractions are some of the ways by which you could manage your time efficiently in the kitchen.

I invest around 3-3.5 hours per day in the kitchen for the health and well-being of myself and my family members. If this time (and effort) is not invested, then the only alternative is to rely on the market factors to provide for our food needs. As we all know, relying on packaged foods/takeaways/restaurants aren't good options for our health. 

So this time and effort investment is required until we find a reliable alternative (community kitchen, home chefs who use quality ingredients, plastic-free packaging, etc)

Other articles on the same topic

How I do meal planning?

9 tips for meal prep and meal planning

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