Charge Up for Good Health

5 Ways to Organize Your Kitchen for Quicker Meals

When the witching hour strikes and you need to get dinner on the table stat, use this system to keep...

Mealtimes can be chaotic around my house. It seems like that’s the moment when each of my three kids suddenly needs something -- a ride to a friend’s house, supplies for a project, treats to bring in to class the next day. Even the dog can add to the craziness, barking at anyone, or anything, that happens to pass near our front yard.

Now, I don’t think my kids are going to change anytime soon (or the dog, for that matter). But I have found that by organizing my kitchen, mealtime prep goes much more smoothly. Here’s how:

1. Organize your pantry by meal, not ingredient.

Instead of putting away food into groups like pastas, canned goods, boxed rice, I group them according to meal. For example, I know I’m going to use pasta sauce with spaghetti. And I use beans with rice. So in my cupboard shelves I keep those ingredients together so when I’m crushed for time (and who isn’t?), I can look in one place and find what I need.

You might even go one step farther and group baking items together too. I bought a bunch of inexpensive baskets and all my small baking ingredients -- baking powder, soda, vanilla and salt, along with the teaspoons and measuring cups -- go into one basket.

2. Do the same for your refrigerator.
Once you’ve figured out how to group ingredients in the pantry, move on to the fridge. It doesn’t always go according to plan, but I try to put food for a week’s worth of meals together. The chicken, green peppers, onions and flour tortillas go in one place, ready for fajita night, while the mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs and cheese for quiche are grouped in another spot.

3. Stash cookware where you use it.
Keeping your pots and pans closer to the action can help speed up your cooking time. I know I won’t use my blender very often. And chances are, I won’t be using it for dinner, so it goes to the back of the pantry. The pans I use the most go right under the stovetop, while the utensils I need go in a stainless steal container out on the counter, ready to go.

4. Clean out your spices.
I love making new recipes but I’ve noticed that after a while my spice cupboard starts overflowing. How often am I going to use Old Bay seasoning? Or turmeric? But I don’t want to throw out those spices. So I use my kids’ old plastic pencil box containers to store these spices. On the side, I write down what spices are inside. (I do try to categorize them by type -- Italian, Indian, BBQ and so on.)

The spices I use every day go in the cupboard near the stove, where I use them. But the rest are easy enough to pull out from the pantry when I need them for a special recipe.

5. Keep a dinner folder.
Sure, I could go online to look up recipes, but getting near my computer around mealtime just doesn’t happen. I keep a folder of my family’s favorite recipes in a drawer in my kitchen. It’s nothing fancy, just quick dinner ideas with my cooking notes scribbled on the side on sheets of paper. When I have extra time to prepare a meal, I can break out a cookbook or two. But for busy nights, I just reach into the folder, grab a basket of ingredients from the pantry and start cooking.

What helps you get dinner to the table faster? Share your tips!



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