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21 Tips for Improving Existing Kitchen Efficiency

Whatever your existing kitchen layout or floor plan, you can probably improve the efficiency of the way it works by just changing your storage or work habits. Here’s a load of tips to choose from which will help you to make the most of what you’ve got without having to go through a whole-hog kitchen remodeling project!

  1. Store your equipment and ingredients where they are used first. This sounds obvious, but it’s a little more tricky than it might at first appear. Pots and pans, for instance – the obvious place to keep them is by the cooktop or range. But quite often, a saucepan or large pot gets used first at the sink, to add water! Frypans and woks, by contrast, usually go straight onto a burner. You may need to store some by the sink and some by the range instead of all in the same place. So think carefully about where you really do use things for the first time. Any time you find yourself repeatedly carrying something across the room before you can start using it, that’s a great clue that it’s not stored in the most efficient place.
  2. If there’s something yo use repeatedly in several different places, it might make sense to store two sets, one in each location. Measuring cups and spoons are a good example of this, being cheap to buy multiples of and small and easy to store. Taken to extremes, this results in kitchens with multiple dishwashers and sinks – but for some situations, they make sense and are worth the extra money and space.
  3. Store things together which you use together. Measuring cups, spoons, and jugs go with mixing bowls, cookie sheets, and the mixer, if you’re a baker: flour, sugar, and other common baking ingredients go in the same area. Before you know it, you’ve got a baking center! You can use the same principle to fit the way you use your kitchen, even if you’re not a baker.
  4. Take the doors off your upper cabinets and use them as open shelves. Not everyone can tolerate the very “busy” look that this creates, but if you don’t mind it, you’ll save a lot of time not opening and shutting doors to look for stuff or to get it out or put it away. Glass cabinet doors are a halfway house towards this, making it easier to find things but you still have to open and shut the doors for access.
  5. Use wall space for storing frequently-used equipment and ingredients. From a spice rack to cup hooks to utensil racks to a full-fledged pegboard wall, this is a great way to store things you just want to grab and use instantly. Rarely used items, which will just collect dust,  or things which need to be stored in the dark, obviously aren’t good candidates for this kind of storage.
  6. Keep a running shopping list with a pen right by it so that you can add things as soon as you realize you’re running low. Buy the next package before you completely finish the current one!
  7. Cook double quantities of any freezable dish, and freeze the extra for next time you need a quick meal right now. You might be surprised by what is freezable: not just stews and soups but pre-baked potatoes (stuffed or not), quiche, bread and cakes, sauces of many kinds, pesto, hummus and much more. If you’re not sure, try freezing a small quantity and test later to see how it worked out.
  8. Do certain kinds of prep in bulk. For example,wash, cull and drain salad leaves, then store in a slightly ventilated container: don’t tear or cut them up till you need them. Generally, pre-cutting or peeling vegetables saves time but reduces their nutritional value. Pre-cutting or dividing large buys of meat into portion or meal sizes saves much time when you come to use it.
  9. Make your own baking mixes for cookies, biscuits, pancakes etc. This saves money over store-bought mixes and gives you complete control over ingredients and quality, but gives you the same time-saving convenience when it comes time to use the mixes. A great reference for this is Make-A-Mix Cooking by Karine Eliason - my 1980′s edition of this book is covered in splotches and falling apart, but still doing sterling service in the kitchen.
  10. Plan for leftovers. Either cook just enough for your family so there aren’t any leftovers, or plan to use the leftovers for lunch the next day, in a meal later in the week, or to freeze. Leftovers, well managed, are a wonderful thing!
  11. If you’re a plan-ahead person, plan out your menus for the week or month ahead, and shop accordingly so you never have to run out to pick up just a few ingredients to make dinner.
  12. Keep a full pantry – including all the basics, plus foods you use frequently, and those little extras that make it easy to quickly pull together a meal.
  13. Invest in time-saving equipment that you will actually use, not just clutter up your counters and cupboards. Knives, graters, chopping boards, and plenty of containers are basic for almost everyone: some people love and use their food processor, blender, breadmaker, or stand mixer. If you use it, take a moment to pick the best place for it: if you don’t use it, get rid of it and use teh space for something else.
  14. Make space to work before you start, and clean up as you go. I know, your mother always told you that, but it’s true: who wants to end up with the entire kitchen to clean up when you’ve finished cooking? There’s often a lull when you’ve finished one stage or one dish and don’t need to start the next just yet – do some cleanup in between and you’ll be happy you did later on! Having a sink full of hot soapy water all ready for dirty dishes helps too, as long as you’re not wasting loads of hot water doing multiple sinkfulls.
  15. Another thing mothers (and cooking teachers) tell us is to get all the ingredients out at the beginning of the recipe. This makes sure you have everything before you start, and means you’re not stopping at some time-critical stage to run to the pantry for the next ingredient. Hey, mothers know a thing or two!
  16. Does your family like boiled eggs? Especially in the summer, when you’re using them for salads, pre-cooking a pile of eggs and storing in the fridge is a good time-saver. I pencil a “B” on the shells of the boiled ones so I can tell which are cooked and which are raw. Don’t use a marker to do this – the ink can go right through the porous eggshell and stain the white inside!
  17. Thaw dishes from the freezer in the fridge before you need them. This saves time when you come to cook, energy for the fridge (because the frozen foods help to keep the fridge cool) and energy to thaw things by other methods such as the microwave.
  18. Use the microwave for things it does well, in quantities it does well. Depending on the power and size of your microwave, there will be a crossover point where it becomes quicker to reheat a larger quantity of food on the stovetop than in the microwave.
  19. Learn how to use your tools and utensils really well. Knife skills are basic but most of us never learn them. Your small appliances may be able to do all kinds of things but if you don’t read the manual, you probably aren’t aware of all of them. Cast iron is great if you know how to take care of it, a pain if you don’t. Knowledge is power in the kitchen too!
  20. Use “lazy susan” turntables in more places than corner base cabinets. Any time you have a group of items to store together where you want quick access to any one of them, a lazy susan is a great way to keep them all together while making access easy. You can use a small lazy susan on the countertop, the dining table, on a shelf, or in a wall cabinet.
  21. Use the backs of cabinet doors for storage. There are many racks available which can be attached to door backs to store light objects where you can reach them super-easily.
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