It may sound boring, but one of the secrets to truly pleasurable cooking is a well-organized kitchen. A kitchen that is set up for success will help you not only to get meals prepared faster and with less stress, but it will also make cleaning up afterwards easier—and who doesn’t want that?! So, I wanted to share my tips on kitchen organization for efficient cooking in the hopes that it will help to make your cooking experience as stress-free as possible.
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Kitchen Organization for Efficient Cooking
There aren’t many upsides to having lived in nine different houses over the course of my adult life, but one perk is that I have had to figure out how to make some very small kitchens work well and through that have learned a great deal of kitchen organization for efficient cooking.
I know that reorganizing your kitchen can feel like an incredibly daunting task, so I’ve broken down my suggestions into very manageable pieces. As you go through the list, I suggest first focusing on the low hanging fruit, the tasks you’ll find easier, so that you can get some quick and satisfying wins right off the bat.
First, let’s start out with some tips that are good no matter what kind of space you have in your kitchen.
Start out tidy
Each and every time you set out to cook a meal, start by ensuring your prep area is tidy. That means cleaning up dirty dishes and wiping down the counters. While this may seem like a waste of time, it will actually make your cooking go much faster because you won’t have to work around mess.
Keep lots of dishcloths on hand
These workhorses are great for cleaning up messes, using as pot holders, and stabilizing slippery cutting boards (dampen a dishcloth, fold it in half, and put it underneath your cutting board to stabilize your cutting surface). I recommend keeping a stash of them somewhere that is easily accessible in or near the kitchen, such as in a drawer or bin.
If you haven’t used it in a year, do you need it?
Just like you may do with your clothes closet, try to go through your kitchen once a year or so and evaluate what you do and don’t need. If you’ve got appliances, cooking tools, pots and pans, or ingredients that are gathering dust, ask yourself if you really need to keep them. And if you’ve got too many of something (water bottles and old take out containers are two items I often have too many of), purge them.
Evaluate the contents of your pantry
To create space, once a season go through your pantry and do a clean out. Dispose of foods that no longer make it to your table, consolidate open snack and cereal boxes, and refrain from buying more items until you reduce your current inventory.
Think About Easy Access
The next step in organizing your kitchen for efficient cooking is to think about whether the tools you use most are as accessible as possible. Here are some ways to do that:
Things most used should be stored at your eye level and reach
The dishes, pots and pans, mixing bowls, and small appliances you use more should be the most accessible. If you are the shorter side, then make sure the top shelves are used for things you rarely need. If you are on the taller side, then it might make sense to store less-used equipment in the under-the-counter cupboards.
Keep a foldable step stool nearby
It can make higher cabinets more accessible, opening up more storage space!
Don’t be afraid to move things
Take an hour or two and review the contents of your cupboards and move items around, if necessary, to maximize access to essential tools. Be realistic about what you actually use and put those pots, pans, and cooking tools at the front, tucking the items used less often in the back.
Think outside the box!
There are often ways to make even better use of the space you have. For instance, most kitchen shelves are adjustable and products such as shelf risers (I like this version for cans and dinnerware and this version for spices) and turntables work wonders. In addition, hanging your pots and pans from the ceiling can save you a ton of kitchen space! And, if not everything will fit in the kitchen, making use of storage in other parts of the house (basements, attics, or nearby cupboards) for lesser used items can be very helpful.
Create a kids section
If you have children, help them to become self-sufficient by making things accessible. Designate one or more accessible pantry, refrigerator, and storage drawers or shelves for them. They will appreciate the ability to make their own meals and snacks and it will make it easier for kids to help with chores (e.g., unloading the dishwasher, setting the table) if they can reach the items they need. If you have younger ones, devote lower drawers or cupboards to kid-friendly pots or storage containers.
Identify shelves and cupboards that are both at capacity and underutilized
If you’ve got some spots that are bursting at the seams and others that are less full, consider how to shift things around to make better use of your space. For example, one game-changer for me was beginning to use the drawer under the oven as a place to store baking sheets, muffin tins, and cooling racks.
Most of us have a favorite area for prepping (chopping, mixing, etc.) the food we are about to cook. Here are some ways to make that area work for you:
Think about creating zones in your kitchen (e.g., a prep zone, a cook zone, a dishes zone, a storage zone, etc.). This can help you to figure out where certain items should be stored and can streamline meal prep and cleaning.
Bonus tip: If possible, having your prep zone and your cooking zone side-by-side can be very helpful. This is because you will often be going back and forth between the two spots as you prepare a meal and many of the tools will overlap. Similarly, when possible, store your knives, mixing bowls, peelers, graters, zesters, spices, and possibly small appliances such as food processors as close to your prep zone as possible.
Streamline prep with space
A big cutting board or prep bowls help to streamline prep. Get the biggest cutting board your prep area will allow so that you can chop a number of different items on the board and save them in piles as you go. If space won’t allow for this, then use small prep bowls to store your prepped items before you cook them.
Bonus tip: if more than one ingredient will go into a recipe at the same time, they can go into the same bowl or pile to save you time, space, and cleaning.
Keep your onion and garlic nearby
You will use these ingredients for almost every savory meal you cook and they should be stored at room temperature, so having them close at hand in your prep area can help to save you time and effort.
Have a plan for your scraps
Collect things like cores, pits, and peels, in a garbage can at the end of the counter or, if that isn’t doable, in a bowl on the counter. This will allow for easier cleanup.
Similarly, if you like to make your own vegetable or meat stock, keep a stock bag on the counter into which you can add vegetable peels. When you’ve finished your prep, seal up the bag and store it in the freezer until it is full, then you can make stock.
This area is where a lot of magic happens, so you want it to be as easy to use as possible.
Keep cooking utensils in crocks near the stove
This will help when you quickly need to stir or flip food. After all, the last thing you want as your cooking is to be scrambling around trying to find the right cooking utensil as your food risks burning.
Store your cooking oils in a cool, dark location as close to the stove as possible
In order to keep from spoiling, oils need to be be stored away from heat and light, but you also want them to be as close to your cooking zone as possible. So I recommend finding either an upper cupboard or a spot further down the counter where you can store the oils safely, away from the direct eat of the stove.
Keep salt, pepper, and other seasonings nearby
Seasoning as you cook will lead to more flavorful meals. If you need to save space, a Lazy Susan can be great for storing your seasonings while still maintaining easy access.
Make favorite pots and pans accessible
Many of us have certain pots and pans that we use more than others. Make sure those are stored at the front of your cupboards (or are hung nearby) so that you have easy access.
Bonus tip: some people even store their #1 favorite right on the stove top!
We also have to store all the food! Here are tips on how to keep it all organized and usable.
Keep your food storage supplies in a common location
If possible, store your containers, bags, wraps, a permanent marker, and labels or masking tape in a common location. This will allow for quick labeling and storage of leftovers.
Glass jars are great!
Store grains, beans, and other shelf-stable bulk ingredients you frequently use in accessible, labeled, transparent jars. This will allow for quick access when cooking and easy inventory when making your shopping list.
Prioritize your pantry
It can be really tempting to just throw foods into the pantry, but doing so increasing the risk of losing track of what you have and also scrambling to find what you need when you need it. So instead, try to organize your pantry so that the ingredients you use a lot are more easily accessible and visible and similar ingredients are stored together.
Organize your freezer by food type
Frozen vegetables in one area, baked goods in another, meat in another, prepped meals in another, etc. This will allow for easy access, quicker assessment of what you have, and fewer lost or forgotten items.
Label freezer foods
When putting leftovers, baked goods, etc. into the freezer for later use, take 30 seconds to label it with a description and date (month and year is enough). This will help you to keep track of what you have and also what you need to use up.
Do you have additional tips for how to keep a kitchen organized for efficient and happy cooking? I’d love to hear them in the comments below! Do you have a well-organized kitchen, but struggle when deciding what to prepare for dinner for your family? The Scramble can help — our family-friendly weekly meal plans can eliminate all the guess-work and stress.
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