Back to Basics 1: No time to cook? Follow these tips to get you started

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Cooking is really just the mastering of a few basic skills that you then build upon and practice until you become an expert. There’s not really all that much to cooking if you keep in mind that each skill is really an extension of the ones before it.

So in order to help you out with some of those basic skills, during February I’m going to be giving you the basic skills you need. We’ll start from finding the time to cook before delving into some other areas you need to master such as supermarket shopping, knowing cooking times and words when reading recipes and how to defrost and reheat properly.

By the end of February you’ll have created new habits and tried a few new approaches to get you cooking. In the mean time check out my tips on the 25 essential tools you need when starting a kitchen and the 15 reasons why you should be cooking your own meals or check out these options to get you started.

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Making time to cook each night

Back in January I gave you a few clues about how I make more time in my day to eat well and exercise. So today I wanted to start this back to basics series of posts with a proper look at how you can make the time you need each night to cook proper healthy meals because the number one excuse people make is that they are too busy to cook. Are you really too busy to look after your own body (the only one nature gave you)? If you are too busy, today’s tips will help you find the time and make cooking a priority in your life.

However, when you first start learning to cook (or learning more than just how to boil an egg) it can take a lot of time because you’re not familiar with the gadgets, the ingredients or the techniques. Everything feels like it takes longer than you’d hoped and you might feel like there wasn’t much point to spending 3 hours in the kitchen when the food is eaten in minutes. But stick with it because as you learn more and practice each night you’ll get faster and that 3 hours will turn into 1 hour.

But besides the long term effects of speeding up, some simple tips can speed up your time now so that you can get stuck into cooking straight away. These are practical strategies like doing a stocktake of your life to find tasks you can let go of,  arranging your kitchen well, preparing food ahead, learning to use menu planning and making sure you’re batch cooking and storing those foods correctly.

Stocktake your life

I have two main mentors when it comes to time management and productivity: Michael Hyatt and Tim Ferriss. Both of these mentors have shown me that a huge part of why I was never able to find the time to cook from scratch came from filling my evenings with useless things (especially watching too much TV). In Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4 Hour Work Week” he talks about automation, delegation and elimination. These were useful tools to get me to figure out exactly where I was spending my time. But Michael Hyatt’s ideal week helped me schedule in the tasks I really needed to do on certain days so I could do these tasks in batches (i.e. like cleaning the house on a Sunday or making Wednesday nights the night I managed finances).

I started with a stocktake of everything I was doing and discovered that on the nights I did cook I was spending up to 3 hours in the kitchen between preparation, cooking, eating and cleaning. Other nights I was wasting time watching movies or just spending time on useless tasks or taking too much time to get a single thing done (like taking 50 minutes for a bed routine that only really needed 20 minutes).

After I did my stocktake I then considered which things I could automate, delegate and eliminate and realised that I could automate my menu planning, I could eliminate wasted time by going to a different gym and making sure I chose quick cooking meals for the weeknights and saved longer cooking meals for the weekends. I was also able to delegate grocery shopping to my husband but only because I had a menu plan in place and he was able to read it and get everything we needed.

So, start off by doing a simple stocktake of everything you do each evening. You might need to do this over the course of a week or two to really see what you spend your time on, or if you routinely do the same things might only need to track one nights’ worth of happenings. When you’ve made your list, complete with what you do and how long it takes you, decide what you can automate, eliminate and delegate. Once that’s done you should have found the extra time you need in the kitchen so you can start cooking from scratch.

In the Kitchen

Once you’ve made the time to cook there are also several things you can do in the kitchen to help you make cooking time faster. We’re going for a two pronged attack here: 1) – make time by eliminating time-wasting tasks and 2) – make the time you do have to cook faster by using the following tips.


Preparation can be made faster if you start incorporating these two things into your routine:

  • Portion size your groceries when you get them home (especially anything you want to freeze). I always freeze my meat portions individually with the fatty bits removed so I don’t have to do it on the night I am cooking the meat.
  • Get everything out of the cupboards at the beginning of the cooking time – get all the ingredients ready, a chopping board and knife, fry pans or any other equipment you might need for the recipe you’re making. Then chop and prepare anything you need and get it ready before you begin cooking (you don’t want to burn the food while you hurriedly chop extra veg or try to find the soy sauce at the back of the cupboard).
Prepare everything ahead before you start cooking.

Arranging the kitchen

How you arrange your kitchen can help you to cook faster each night as well. Read this post I wrote in 2015 with practical tips for arranging your kitchen. If you can’t easily get from the sink to the bin, to grabbing a spatula to finding a mat for hot food then your kitchen is not arranged well enough. The extra running around time is time that is wasted for other pursuits later in the night. And trust me, these few minutes here and there add up.

Storing food

If you store your food correctly it helps with making cooking the next night faster. So this has two aspects; one is that you store package foods correctly for ease of use (such as putting uncooked rice into an airtight container), and secondly you store your leftover foods correctly so you can heat and eat the next day (storing the leftover casserole in a glass dish for reheating the next day).

Read this post on how to store foods properly so you can make the best use of your time, but so that you don’t let food get moldy either. One great tip to keep in mind is that labels make your life easier so much easier. Label anything you take from a package and store it in it’s proper container. This one pays off when you don’t need to go to the supermarket to replace an ingredient that went bad.


Menu planning

Menu planning is the key to making weeknight meals faster. If you plan your meals a week or two in advance and have all the groceries on hand (and portioned out if you followed my tip above) you can come home and get straight into the cooking without wasting time trying to think of what to cook or needing to run to the supermarket to get extra ingredients. For some great tips on how to menu plan read this post or get my free ebook when you sign up to get emails from me (coming February 2016). The ebook goes into much more detail and gives you a free printable at the back to get you into the menu planning habit without too much fuss.

Batch cooking

Batch cooking is fantastic if you know you’re going to be busy in the coming week so you can spend the time you have now preparing for it. For instance, making a huge salad on Sunday night so you can eat this with all your meals from Monday to Thursday will save you preparation time each weeknight. Or make a double portion of casserole, soup or ragu and freeze it so you can grab and heat dinner in minutes when you’re studying for an exam, off to the kids’ school concert or have been flat out all day and can’t be bothered to cook.

Use the weekends to experiment

The other part to making sure you get more time to cook is blocking out a few hours each weekend so you can use the time to experiment. When I was first learning to cook I used to have Saturday evenings to myself as my husband played soccer. I would cook up a storm on those nights and my hubby never quite knew what he’d find on the dinner table when he got home. But during this time I learnt very many valuable cooking experiences and this was the foundation upon which my current skills are stacked. A solid foundation makes all the difference.

And thank god I did experiment back then because today my cooking skills are out of sight compared to the meals I used to make back then. Don’t you want that too?


So, how are you going to make time for yourself this week? Leave a comment and tell us one way in which you’ll make more time to cook this week.

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