What does ‘planning ahead’ actually look like?

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Sometimes the hardest part about cooking is getting everything ready when you need it. If you’ve not had that much experience in the kitchen then this can be the biggest frustration as well as the biggest challenge to overcome.

I’m not going to share with you ‘a few simple tricks’ like most magazine and online articles, because lets face it, a couple of tips aren’t going to make you a better cook in the long run. And do you really want to be frustrated and challenged every night, or would you rather a more permanent fix?

I thought you might be interested in a more permanent fix, so today that’s what I’m offering.

I’m going to walk you through what planning ahead looks like to me, so you can do something similar at your house and turn your kitchen dramas into kitchen successes. So go right ahead with those kitchen god/goddess fantasies, because in no time you’ll be just like the dream (okay, but with a lot of hard work performed in the meantime).

So, in order to get everything on the table at once, you really need to plan everything ahead. There are a couple of steps you can take to make sure you’re planned ahead and these are:

  • Making a menu plan
  • Grocery shopping to a dedicated list
  • Batch cooking
  • Having a store of meals ready for convenience
  • Managing your cooking time effectively

Let’s take a look at each one in detail.

Making a menu plan

On Spiced Anecdotes I’ve talked about menu planning before. It really is the most effective thing you can do to make sure that you are organised in the kitchen. The best resource for menu planning is my free ebook, which you can get when you sign up to my email subscription (coming in April 2016). If you haven’t signed up, I’d urge you to do so, especially because the free ebook sets out the method I use to menu plan and it includes printables that you can modify to suit your own needs.

However, if you haven’t signed up for my ebook, the basics of a menu plan are outlined in this post.

Grocery shopping to a dedicated list

A lot of people don’t really use shopping lists because they prefer to ‘wing-it’, or just make up what they’ll eat each time they go to the supermarket. It can be great to get inspiration from the foods available at the supermarket, but if you want to be more organised then plan ahead (and that’s what this post is all about) so you’ll need to take list with you when you go grocery shopping.

A grocery list is not hard to make, and you don’t need any special equipment other than a pen and some paper (although there is nothing wrong with making a note on your smartphone or emailing yourself the list so you can access it from your smartphone while you’re at the supermarket). It’s simply a process of writing down what you need to buy. And if you’ve made yourself a menu plan you won’t really have to think much about what to add to the list because it will be just the ingredients you need for those meals.

If you haven’t made a menu plan then start by thinking about which ingredients you usually keep in the house and then add other ingredients from there. And don’t forget things like paper towel, dish washing liquid and garbage bin liners for the kitchen. Then make a dedicated time to go to the supermarket and make sure you actually TAKE the shopping list with you – trust me, it is incredibly easy to leave the list at home and that only causes more frustration.

Batch cooking

People talk about batch cooking all the time, but what do they really mean? Well, when you batch something you’re really deciding to spend some time on the same type of task. So for our purposes you’d be spending some time cooking.

While that’s more helpful, it really doesn’t give you an idea of what you should be cooking. Most often when people talk about batch cooking they are referring to cooking up large meals, usually dishes that require large pots or lots of time cooking in the oven or on the stove.

So some examples of batch cooking would be if you spent Saturday afternoon making a beef casserole and a really large pasta bake. Both of these meals might take some time to cook and then you can freeze the food into portions to use another night, or another week (most frozen meals will last between 3-6 months in the freezer). You might instead spend Monday morning baking a few loaves of bread and making a couple pots of soup, and this is still considered batch cooking.

Batch cooking gives you the advantage of spending the time when you have it to make those healthy meals you want to make that take a long time, but having them ready on nights when you need a quick meal. For instance, when I cook risotto I always freeze the extra so that I can heat it up in less than 5 minutes (from frozen) and have a home cooked meal ready on the table in minutes on my busiest nights. I do the same with soup in the winter as well.


Your own convenience meals

Having your own collection of convenience meals actually goes hand in hand with the batch cooking, because as I said at the end of that section, you can reheat the meals in minutes. However, you can also have a collection of simple meals ready like Lean Cuisines in the freezer or cans of soup in the cupboard that you can open and heat. Or breakfast cereal in the cupboard and bread in the freezer for toasted sandwiches.

The other way to go is to have a few ingredients ready in the cupboard or fridge so you can throw a simple meal together. For me this is things like a can of beans in the cupboard and a packet of salad mix in the fridge. If all else fails I can throw these two together and have a better meal than had I had to resort to breakfast cereal for dinner. I also do this by having about 150g of beef mince frozen in the fridge, a can of tomatoes and some pasta in the cupboard so I can make spaghetti bolognaise in 30 minutes or less if my other dinner plans fall apart.

So my advice to you is to think about some of the quick meals you might be able to make and then get the ingredients ready so you can use them when you need them. You might like to investigate packets of frozen vegetables that can be added to beef or chicken strips with a stir fry sauce, or something like gnocchi which can be simple to make and you can have on hand. Also, eggs are very versatile and are really quick to cook so you should stock up on them.

Managing your cooking time effectively

In the sections above I’ve talked mainly about planning ahead of the actual time you cook, so its all been about the planning stages before you get anywhere near a kitchen. But when you do head into the kitchen there are a few things you can do to make the most of the time you do have to cook, and so that you are able to get all the parts of a meal on the table at once.

Here is a list of some of the things you need to do:

  • Read the recipe before you start anything.
  • Get all condiments/spices/ingredients out of the cupboards.
  • Get all of the pots and pans and all the equipment you need out of the cupboards.
  • Do the chopping first, and have everything ready either on the chopping board or on a plate.
  • Start preheating pans on the stove or the oven.
  • Start cooking, following the recipe step by step (don’t jump around in the recipe unless you’ve cooked it many times before).

By following these simple steps during your cooking time you can start to master those recipes and get everything on the plate on time.

So you can see that to get the food on the table in time, preparation time really starts before you get to chopping the vegetables. It starts with planning your meals, taking a list to the supermarket, doing some batch cooking, planning out some meals to have on hand and then making the best use of your kitchen time by being organised and knowing the steps of your recipe. Now you just gotta find a few recipes, and maybe YouTube can help with that?


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