- Recipe books
One of the first things I did was to sort through my recipe books. First I arranged them by colour, because I really like the look of colour blocking and it helped to give the shelf some cohesion. Then over the next few months I gradually culled some of the books. This was surprisingly hard- mostly I think because it wasn't the book itself, it was more what it represented. For example, I had this recipe book that was dedicated to pasta dishes. It was a hangover from the time when I could happily eat pasta dishes, and while yes, I could substitute gluten free pasta if I wanted to, the fact is that there was no way that either my son or daughter would eat the majority of dishes from that book. There were a few books like that and I felt such a sense of relief when I dropped them off at the local Salvation Army Store. The shelf was no longer bursting and now only holds books that I cook regularly from. I also then had enough room on the shelf to fit a few extra books and I felt inspired and borrowed a few recipe books from the library that my sister had recommended to see if they were worth buying- and they were (for the record, they were two Nadia Lim recipe books). Clearing the space physically enabled me to let go and move forward. I have also set myself only one shelf for my recipe books so that also helps to keep the number down.
-Using up orphan ingredients
Another thing I have been slowly doing is trying to use up those ingredients that tend to lurk despondently in the depths of the pantry, fridge and freezer. On Saturday night for example, I made a dip out of a packet of frozen broad beans that I had in the freezer as I needed more room. It turned out well (we had it with roast chicken, smoky kumara chips and salad) and I have been having the leftover dip on toast with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar on toast for breakfast. Yum!
- Making a meal master list
I am wanting to avoid being in the situation we are in now of using up orphan ingredients by not buying them in the first place. A few months ago I started a meal master list. It has several categories- breakfasts, baking, desserts, lamb, beef, chicken, vegetarian and fish. I am aiming to have ten meals in each category that I know I can make easily, everyone will eat (although with a 3 and 1/2 year old and an almost 2 year old, that is not always possible) and is healthy. For example, under my 'lamb' heading I have listed a traybake lamb cashew curry from the 'River Cottage light and easy' recipe book. It is such an incredibly recipe to make and it is really delicious. It has also allowed me to see the gaps in my repertoire- which are vegetarian meals and fish. I have mixed feelings about fish from an ethical point of view which I am still working through and need to do some more research on that.
- Having one night off a week
I have also been incorporating one night a week where we will eat leftovers or have something really simple for dinner like poached eggs. This means that I have more time in the afternoon to hang out with the two little ones and also means less cleaning up afterwards. It's amazing how much some sides like olives, bread, feta and salad can stretch out a meal.
- Bulk cooking and freezing
Over the last month I have started doing one night a week where I cook two or three dinners and sometimes do some baking as well at the same time. I have been trying to fill up our freezer with meals as this time of year is really busy for us (and for a lot of people). We don't have a lot of freezer space but I have two weeks' worth of dinners in the freezer and I am really happy with that. It has been really great doing the bulk cooking as I can focus on what I am doing a lot more than when I am cooking in the afternoon and I can cook slightly more fiddly meals, such as moussaka which involves a bit more preparation that I can usually manage with two young children. I like to keep things really simple! For example last night I made a big moussaka, shepherd's pie and baked a banana and coconut loaf. Most of the moussaka and shepherd's pie went in the freezer but I kept some out for our dinner tonight so it meant that I could be outside with the two little ones for a much longer time than usual, as well as being more efficient with using electricity.
- Using jars and containers
We have been collecting jars and clear plastic containers since we moved into our house seven years ago. We bought some, but have repurposed coffee jars, peanut butter jars etc and now use them to store most of the items in our pantry. I am hoping to paint a little bit of blackboard paint onto some of the jars so I can relabel them as I need. Sometimes, it is really hard to tell whether a jar has ground almonds or rice crumbs in it and that is not a good mistake to make! I try to decant packets into jars as soon as I come back from the supermarket.
- Pantry stocktake
Every month or so I do a big pantry, fridge and freezer stocktake to see what we have already. This helps me with my shopping list and also helps me to figure out what meals to cook with what we have on hand already. This also is helping me to use up orphan ingredients, as already discussed.
- Adjusting supermarket routine
One thing that has made a difference to us is to adjusting our supermarket routine. Previously we had been going to the supermarket every two weeks but even with all the best intentions, and meals planned and a supermarket list I would end up at the supermarket in a few days time and this would happen maybe another two or three times before going back for the big shop. It was taking up a lot of time and the extra shopping trips would always end up bigger than anticipated (can anyone relate!?) With such a small kitchen and not much storage space, we realised that we would need to change our routine. We swapped to shopping weekly and it has made a big difference to how much time I have each week and also has reduced our grocery bill.
-Getting rid of excess stuff in the kitchen
We still have a way to go with this yet but we have started to get rid of items we don't need in the kitchen. For example a massive (and unused) milkshake maker that was using up valuable kitchen real estate, a rice cooker and some excess chipped and faded crockery. We were then able to rearrange and create more space. We also corralled all of our cleaning supplies into baskets and that created more space for us under the kitchen sink.
-Shifting dinnertime routine
One thing constant about children, in my experience so far is that their needs are constantly changing. We have done several different routines for dinner and now at the moment have just managed to shift our dinner time back to 6pm (yay!) and we are eating all together again. This again has created more time in the day and is meaning that dinner time is much more enjoyable for everyone.
What are your tips for simplifying your kitchen and kitchen routines? What do you find the hardest? x