Becoming a Homemade Chef: 5 Easy Tips from the Professionals to Make Your Kitchen Run More Efficiently for Less

Running a kitchen is hard. With so many moving parts, cleanliness, efficiency, and even safe practices can quickly get away from you.

In your kitchen at home, though the parts may be very different in some cases, the number of things that have to be balanced are still just as challenging. So in acknowledgement of your limited workers, the coordination of school and social schedules, limited tools, and the never-ending tugs on shirts and aprons from children needing something … anything … everything at every second of every day, we offer you these five tips to make your kitchen run more efficiently, effectively, and safely.

1. Rotate your product.

In restaurants and commercial kitchens, you will find one acronym that will account for the a lot  of the frustration felt by chefs and kitchen managers throughout the industry. It’s FIFO, and it stands for “First In, First Out”.

Though it sounds completely logical, you’d be surprised if you went through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry how many identical products are opened at the same time. This commonly leads to spoiling or products going stale before you can use both packages completely. Those are dollars wasted. Likewise, and we’ll have more on this further down the list, if you prep or prepare a certain kind of food (meat, vegetable, noodle, etc.), you should incorporate all of that before starting something new.

If you kept track of your waste for just one month without changing anything, you’d be appalled at how much money is wasted on unused food that just sits around going bad while other things are being used.

2. Prepare items ahead of time.

When restaurants make, let’s say, potatoes, they don’t cut up potatoes for that dinner rush. Those potatoes are cut into large bins a day or so ahead of time and immersed in ice cold water so that they are ready at a moment’s notice.

Likewise, if you or your family eat a lot of a certain type of thing, let’s say potatoes for consistency, and it’s not something with a very short shelf life once it’s cut, like lettuce, you might find it saves a lot of time to prep on the weekend for the amount you’ll need that week, and then immerse them in water and keep them refrigerated until needed. Not only does it save prep time, but you’re also only setting up and cleaning your workspace only once as well.

This leads to the third thing you can do.

3. Plan meals.

Good menus are well thought out menus. They often use many of the same products and prepped items. Likewise, daily specials are also often coordinated to use product that there is suddenly a surplus of. You should be sitting down at the beginning of every week or month, depending on your dedication and situation, and planning out the menu for your kitchen so that you know exactly what is being prepared when.

If you want to get serious about saving time and money in the kitchen, this is the first place to look. Plan your meals so that you are cooking a lot at one time and can use the leftovers later. In other words, if you grill hamburgers on Monday, plan a taco Tuesday for the following day since your meat will already be browned. From there, you could think about sloppy joes or chile as you head toward the weekend. The same can be done with chicken and pork.

Find recipes that you and your family love that use the same thing in a lot of different ways. If they can’t stand the thought of having the same type of meat over and over, try alternating days. As long as you keep in mind a reasonable expiration date in relation to how much you cook, you could make that beef and chicken last the week, and your crew would be amazed at how much less stressed out you seem while still providing quality meals that are varied and still very delicious.

4. Be an informed shopper.

This carries over from the suggestion to plan your meals. You should be planning everything. Well run, successful kitchens plan and adapt those plans multiple times every day as situations change. Once you set a pre-planned menu, you’ll know exactly what needs to be purchased, what you still have available, and what you can do without, or what you can substitute or repurpose (This is often when you can be the most creative and create new recipes).

To save money, as a general rule, if it comes in a can or a bag like diced tomatoes or even cheese, buy generic. That shredded mozzarella that costs $1.50 a bag is often the same exact cheese that is contained in the bag that sells for $7.00. Of course this isn’t always the case, and we all have those few brands that we swear by, but this is a great place to save money. Don’t get caught up in prestige buying. It’s a drain on your pocketbook with no real pay-off. Once the product is out of the packaging, no one can often tell the difference.

On the flip side of this issue is that you should be investing in quality meats and vegetables, We recommend finding a local farmer’s market to buy your produce from. It not only helps your local economy, but the ingredients are more fresh and flavorful and often free of pesticides and other harmful effects of industrial farming. Besides that, they’re usually cheaper or around the same price for a better product.

Along these same lines, where possible, try finding a local farm where you can purchase part of a cow (depending on the farm, you can usually purchase in quarter increments) and a pig. We’re not asking you to name it or make it a family mascot, but purchasing these meats from a local, trusted, farm not only helps out that local farmer, but it also gives you the peace-of-mind knowing that the meat you are using is hormone free, ethically treated, and also far healthier for you and your family. If that stuff isn’t important to you, then how about the fact that, even though it is a large up-front cost, it will save you hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. The only caveat to this is that you are going to need to invest in an appropriately sized deep freezer. This is also a good investment though since it allows you to freeze summer vegetables for the winter — which is a blog in an of itself that we’ll probably cover this fall.

5. Tool Time

The last tip is one that often gets overlooked or undersold. It is imperative that you buy quality cooking tools and keep them well-maintained.

Yes, I know that stainless steel cookware is expensive, as are quality knives and other kitchen appliances. However, in the kitchen especially, where dull edges, faulty electrical motors, and non-stick frying pans that eventually come off into your food can have real health and safety consequences, it is worth making the investment.

Once you make these investments, keep your tools and appliances well cleaned and maintained. Are there many things in your home you use more than your pots, pans, knives, and cooking utensils? If the answer is no, then the question becomes why is it that you always want to buy the cheapest products out there. You’ll be surprised at how big of a difference a knife that holds its edge will make in your cooking experience. The same could be said of a pan that is level and cooks evenly.

These are just a few tips to get you started. To find out more as well as to follow what is going on in our kitchen, please like the Vagabond Kitchen and The Vagabond Chef on facebook and Instagram.