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20 Ways to Save Time and Money in the Kitchen

by Ryan Guina

If you’re like me, you probably eat at home most days of the week – which means spending time buying food, cooking, cleaning, and doing all the other little chores that need to be done. If you aren’t careful, this can expend a lot of time and money. But it doesn’t have to! These tips, and the reader tips that follow, are sure to help you save a lot of time, money, and energy in the kitchen.

How to save money in the Kitchen

1. Plan your menu. You will save money on groceries when you shop with a plan. This helps prevent buying too many perishable goods and reduces waste. Buy only what you need, when you need it and your cupboard will remain uncluttered as well as more organized.

2. Buy generics. This works best for staples such as rice, flour, milk, eggs, and similar items. However, there are many other items where the difference in taste and quality is negligible, while the difference in price is high. Use some experimentation to find which generic items work best for you.

3. Buy produce in season. The highest quality and best tasting produce usually comes from farmer’s markets, but those aren’t available year round. Plan your menu according to the the fruits and vegetable you can purchase in season and you will save a lot of money.

4. Buy in bulk. Certain items, including many staples, are cheaper when purchased in bulk. But not everything is cheaper when purchased in bulk. Keep in mind unit cost, item shelf life, and whether or not you actually need as much as you plan to purchase. When done the right way, you can save a lot of money.

5. Cook larger meals and eat leftovers. I love leftovers. If a meal is good the night it is made, it is probably just as good the next day, and for foods like chili and stews, better the next day! Personally, I think it is easier and cheaper (per meal) to shop for and prepare a meal for 4 than it is to prepare a meal for 2.You can eat the leftovers for dinner the next day and save preparation time, or you can take them to work and save money by not eating out. Where I live, the average lunch is around $7, so the savings add up quickly!

6. It’s all about the Rotisserie chicken! My wife and I often buy Rotisserie chickens when we are feeling lazy or are pressed for time. At $5-6 each, they represent a great bargain because between the two of us we can easily get 6 or more meals out of each chicken. We generally have chicken as the main course the night we buy the chicken, then use the remaining chicken in meals such as quesadillas and salads. We then use the remaining chicken carcass for money saving tip 7.

7. Make your own chicken stock. Chicken stock is incredibly easy to make, especially if you have a whole chicken available, or if you followed tip 6, the carcass from your Rotisserie chicken. When we buy a Rotisserie chicken, we take the remaining bones, skin, and fat and place it in a large pot. Then we add a couple carrots (washed, but peel on), a couple sticks of celery (broken in half) and an onion sliced in half or quarters. Then add salt and pepper and other spices like oregano or thyme, add water until the chicken is covered, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer for a few hours (4-6 is good). Strain the stock and use it right away or refrigerate or freeze for later. The best part is that you add the salt to your tastes or dietary needs and there are no MSGs or other unhealthy chemicals. Cheaper, better tasting, and healthier. That’s a winning combination!

8. Use a toaster oven for baking small meals. Toaster ovens require much less energy to heat and less time to cook a meal compared to a full-size oven, killing two birds with one stone. Toaster ovens are great for toasted sandwiches (toasted bagel sandwiches are one of my favorites!), broiled fish and sausage, and even cookies (try keeping cookie dough in your freezer and only bake a few cookies at a time).

9. Clean your kitchen with homemade cleaners. You can use one lemon to clean half your kitchen. Use half the lemon to clean your garbage disposal and the other half of the lemon to clean your microwave. Here are some more homemade household cleaners.

10. Waste not want not. My wife and I throw away very little food. We try to plan our menu and buy only what we need. Even so, we always have some leftovers. So we mix and match our meals near the end of the week, or get creative when cooking – adding bits and pieces of leftovers to the meal we are making. This works great for stir fry, stews, soups, hash, and many other meals. We even find ways to use overripe bananas. Get creative!

How to save time in the kitchen

11. Plan ahead. Before cooking, gather all the tools, utensils, and ingredients you will need and set them within easy reach. This makes it easier to get into a groove and keep going. Keeping your kitchen organized will go a long way to help this step. Keep often used ingredients readily available and in easy to open containers (example: store staples like flour, sugar, and rice in plastic containers for easy access).

12. Wash dishes as you go. My wife and I make a great team in the kitchen. She enjoys cooking and does most of it. But she hates cleaning, which I don’t mind. While she cooks, I often go behind her and clean the pots and pans as we go. The dishes are usually at least half done by the time we finish dinner, which makes clean up a snap.

13. Quickly clean frying pans. First let the pan cool, then drain out the oil or grease into a glass or plastic jar. Then wipe out the residual oil with paper towels. This makes the pan easier to clean and requires less soap.

14. Use the right tool for the right job. Using the proper style pots, pans, trays, and utensils will save you a lot of heartache and time. That doesn’t mean you need to go out and spend several hundred dollars on specialty items you might use once or twice a year. But it does mean you should have a quality set of basic kitchen tools.

15. Use quality knives. Trust me, they are worth the investment! A quality, sharp knife will save you a lot of time and frustration. Here is a quick reference for how to buy kitchen knives.

16. It’s all about the George Foreman Grill! I love my George Foreman Grill! I bought it when I lived in an apartment unit because the fire code prohibited residents from having a grill with 75 feet of the building. I have been a faithful George Foreman Griller since (8 years with the same grill!). The George Foreman Grill is quick and easy to use and cooks healthy and tasty meals. For quick cleaning, use a wad of damp paper towels or a damp washcloth while the grill is still hot (reheat it if needed). Cleanup should take all of 3 minutes. Just be careful!

17. Crockpots are wonderful for cooking! I make a mean beef stew. Ask my wife or anyone else that has had it. Dice some vegetables, lightly brown some beef, add some spices, cover with water (and some flour or cornstarch to thicken it), cover, set it on low heat, wait 6-8 hours, and enjoy. The prep time takes 15 minutes and you can make enough stew to last for several days. It’s one of my favorite fall and winter meals.

18. Use pre-washed and pre-cut vegetables. These may not always be the cheapest option, but they can save you a lot of time. If you are intent on saving time and money, buy your produce as your normally would, then wash and cut your vegetables in the morning and have them ready for cooking when you return from work. Another thing my wife and I do is slice and dice leftover onions and peppers and freeze them for later use. They won’t be as good in foods like salads, but work great for things like stews, soups, and omelets.

19. Use single serving sizes. When My wife and I make our homemade chicken stock, we freeze it in one cup sizes, then transfer them to small ziplock bags (then put several in a larger bag to keep them together). Since most recipes that call for chicken stock do so by the cup, our job is easy. If it calls for more or less, just get creative. Recipes are just guidelines anyway. ;)

20. Prepare meals in advance. Some people have little time during the week, but prefer the taste and health benefits of eating meals they prepared themselves. An way to manage this is to prepare a week’s worth of meals the previous weekend and refrigerate or freeze the meals until you want to eat them. Some people go so far as preparing a month’s worth of meals in advance. There is even a book called Once a Month Cooking.

Reader tips

Do you have additional tips on how to save time and money in the kitchen? If so leave them in the comments section, or if you have your own blog, write your summary article of tips. If you link to my article about saving time and money in the kitchen and let me know about it, I will list your article below!


Published or updated October 27, 2010.
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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Writer's Coin

Thanks for the link! Anyone starting out couldn’t ask for a better intro guide than this, nice and in depth. We love crockpots too but beware that chicken prepared in there just doesn’t taste the same to me. Stews and chilis are great though.

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2 Ryan

You’re welcome, WC. Crockpot chicken can be good if you cook the chicken until it is so tender it basically falls off the bone. Try using it for things like chicken enchiladas, casseroles, or chicken soup.

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3 Ryan

Miranda, I’ve found that when I shop with a list I about about half the quantity of food as when I don’t shop with a list. This is even important when buying perishable foods, especially those that don’t freeze well, like produce.

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4 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

If you’ll wait until late in the evening, Sam’s and Walmart will mark down their rotisserie chickens to a buck or two. My wife will buy 4 or 5 and freeze them for later!

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5 Miranda

We do the chicken thing as well. It works perfectly for us!

Other than that, these are great tips that we need as a constant reminder. Our biggest money issue is with the grocery bill (we really, really, really need a list). I plan to print out your tips and stick them to the fridge.

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6 Kristen

I just got my first crock pot, and I love it. I made my first pot roast in the slower cooker. It came out fabulous. All it took was 15 minutes in the morning to brown the meat and get everything together. I figured the cost per serving was about $3.50, much cheaper than a fast food meal and much better for you.

Even though it’s not very frugal I do use a lot of convenience foods because of time restraints. I’d rather spend the money to get dinner on the table faster than cleaning up the kitchen at 9 or 10 o’clock at night.

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7 See My Money

Great tips. My wife and I try to follow the plan ahead method and go to the store only once a week with a list. All those small trips add up. I think we will try the rotisserie chicken.

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8 David

Great list of tips Ryan! We go once a week to the store and do our best to stick to the list – we find it saves us money that way. Oh, and don’t go shopping when you are hungry!

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9 neimanmarxist

we have the same arrangement- he does dishes, I cook. also, we make all our meals for the week excpet the weekend on saturdays and sundays. usually right when i get home from the farmer’s market. that way, all we have to do is pop portions in the microwave when we get home. it really takes the pressure off getting home, knowing dinner is all ready.

when i want to have something that needs to be prepared hours before and is best fresh, i just save it for a weekend night, and during the week we eat lovely casseroles, bakes, stews, and curries that are easy to just heat up and sometimes taste even better after a night or two in the fridge!

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10 Ryan

See My Money: I highly recommend the Rotisserie chicken. They taste great, and are one of the best values in the grocery store. :)

David: Agreed. Shopping while hungry is bad for the pocketbook!

neimanmarxist: You guys have a great system going! My wife and I will prepare meals in advance if we know we will have a busy week, but we don’t do it every week. And I agree, many dishes taste better after sitting for a day or two – the flavors tend to compliment each other better.

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11 Jarhead

Costco is the bomb for just about everything, cereal, milk, juice, soda etc. Whole chickens are great as well. Whoever gets home first cooks the other is supposed to do the dishes (happens most of the time.)

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12 Kate@Living the Frugal Life

Great collection of tips. I’m especially in favor of cooking enough for leftovers. Sometimes I’ll even double recipes so as to put one entire dish in the chest freezer for later use. This is assuming of course that the meal is suitable for freezing and later cooking/reheating. A surprising number of meals are.

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13 Laura

I love cooking one day and getting several meals out of it. Lasagna and pasta dishes are great the second and third time.

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14 Ryan

Kate: I agree – I love leftovers! It took me awhile to convince my wife to try cooking more though because she grew up in a household where only the amount needed for that meal was cooked. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it saves a lot of time and energy to cook less frequently. Thanks for stopping by! :)

Laura: Lasagna, pasta, chili and stews… Mmm. All are great the next day!

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15 Topwaystosave

I love how you threw in the Rotisserie chicken in there. My wife and I do the same. You can a great size chicken and Costco which is delicious for about $6 and its plenty enough for 2 people with some left over.

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16 Jamie

I save time and stress by having 26 weekly dinner menues written out with the associated shopping list with it. I pick my menu on Saturday and pull out the shopping list. I mark out what I don’t need and add other items that have been jotted down all week on “we’re out of…” list. Then off to the grocery store I go. I realize this doesn’t necessarily save money as I’m not choosing my menu based on sales, but I look for loss leaders while in the store and stock up if it’s an item I know we’ll use. I’m a mom to three young, busy children, a wife, have a full time job, am working on my masters and am active in my church and kids’ schools. I no longer stress over menu preparation or list making. The time saved is worth the time I put into the original menues.

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17 Ryan

Jamie, That is a very organized approach to family meals! Even though you don’t base your menu upon sale items, I’m sure you save money when you shop because you maintain the discipline of shopping for a menu – instead of blindly filling your cart with whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. Thanks for sharing your tip!

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18 anon

As for (13), I suggest using cast-iron frying pans. The burnt oil acts as a nonstick coating, making them easy to clean, and you just wipe or rinse after use — no soap required. The pans last longer than regular nonstick ones, since if the finish comes off you just need to add oil and cook something. They’re extra thick, so the heat is distributed evenly over the surface. Finally, you don’t get Teflon flakes in your food.

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19 Sherry

Make ahead meals are great. One of my family’s favorites is eggplant parmesian. My teenage boys are usually the first to the table when I prepare this dish. I have also spent just $25 dollars and fed about 20 college students by making this dish and adding salad, green beans and garlic toast.

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20 Don Jensen

When we have lightly used paper towels and napkins we throw them in a plastic bag to go out to the garage for checking oil in cars. lawn tractor and other dirty jobs. Works great!

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21 Ryan

Great tip, Don. Thanks for sharing! :-)

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22 Matt

Like Jamie, I have a series of weekly meals planned out with attached shopping lists. The amount of headaches this saves is tremendous. Plus the added benefit of pre-planned nutritionally balanced meals for the week so I know we get a full compliment of vitamins, minerals and other essentials. My girlfriend hates to cook, and is a picky eater to boot – so it is always a challenge to get an acceptable variety of dishes with high nutritional value. Here are some more successes –

Home-made hummus, which is a fraction of the cost of store brands and keeps for weeks. One of the most healthy things you can eat and goes great on everything.

Pepperoni or other cured meat, Camembert, and fruit for a quick lunch/dinner.

Lavash wraps turn any tired salad into a wonderful lunch – try adding some fruit, black beans, pecans, and habaneros to spice up your normal salad routine.

Avocados are your best friend. While they have a short shelf-life, they require little preparation and are a superb source of vegetable protein and fatty acids. I make a mean BLT with cheese and avocado on it (and some chipotle mayo). It’s heaven. One supplies a full compliment of fats for two people for a day.

To save money, make your own vinaigrette’s. I usually use (roughly) 1 part wh.wine/vinegar, 1 part lemon/line juice, 1 part honey, 1 part mustard, garlic, spices, raspberries or other fruit or preserves, and then emulsify with 3-4 parts your choice of olive or other oil. It will keep for a week or two and blows the socks off of anything you can buy in the store. Change it up with apricot/mandarin preserves, 1/2pt soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and toasted sesame oil for an Asian twist.

Also, I keep any perishables in the fridge, including bread. You have to be careful of moisture content but it keeps longer. Refrigerate your unripe fruits for longevity and put the one you want to use in a brown paper bag on the table at room temp – it will usually be ripe in 3-4 hours. Great for mangoes, kiwi, bananas, and of course avocado.

To help fruit/veggies retain shape and flavor in the freezer, blanche them first – ascorbic acid (vit c.) helps fruits, salt helps veggies.

All these tips and just about everything else I know about cooking is derived from Alton brown and Harold McGee’s book “On Food and Cooking”.

If you are serious about controlling your nutrition and costs, pick up this book – it has everything you ever wanted to know about anything humans have eaten in the past 5,000 years.

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23 Ryan

Excellent tips, Matt! My wife loves watching Alton Brown. I think I Will have t o get that book for her. :-)

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24 Lex

A lot of these tips seem expensive to me – but I suppose if you don’t have gas supply, using an electric toaster over is cheaper than using an electric main oven. Also, what’s up with all the paper towel wastage? Use fabric towels, wash them, and save money plus save some forest. You forgot the best kitchen tip of all – learn to cook rice well. Cook a big pot of rice and you can use it as a base for all kinds of things, it keeps in the fridge for a few days.

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25 Tackling Our Debt

This is a great post! I only started meal planning this year and I love it. I also enjoy using our slow cooker. Actually I plan to make a beef stew tomorrow in our slow cooker.

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26 Steven Doyle

Well, I try to conserve as much of the flavors as possible and most of the times I bake or cook potatoes with their jackets on. The skin is rich in B16 and is an excellent blood pressure and metabolism regulator. Other than that, bacon is a frugal cook’s best friend. You can fry it and use it at breakfast, build a heavy BLT for lunch and make a pot of bacon and beans for dinner.

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