You Tell Me: Finding the Time to Cook From Scratch

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I think that one of the biggest struggles that many of us have as we seek to eat and cook only whole foods, while keeping our grocery budgets reasonable and affordable, is that it requires more time to prepare these wholesome foods.

I've heard many people argue that it doesn't really take any more time than cooking other foods, and that anyone can do it, and to a large degree, I would agree that it's true. But I won't lie and say that I don't spend more time in the kitchen than many other women I know. Preparing real foods, from scratch, takes time. That's the truth of the matter.

That said, I have learned how to streamline my time in the kitchen over the years, and I anticipate that the longer I am a homemaker, the better I will get at using my time effectively and making quality foods with less of a time investment. Some things have become second nature to me and thus seem to go quicker. Some things I make in large batches which saves me time in the long run. I've learned to multi-task better. I don't need to refer to recipes nearly as much anymore and cooking feels more intuitive, which takes some of the extra time and thought out of the process.

As I write this new ebook on feeding your family nourishing, real, whole foods on a frugal budget, one of the areas that I would love to hear from you is on the topic of finding the time to cook from scratch:

  • How do you do it?
  • What tips and tricks do you use to make better use of your time?
  • Do you batch cook? Have baking days? Spend certain times of the day or days of the week focusing on food prep? Do you make meals for the freezer (eg. once-a-month-cooking)?
  • What tools or techniques help to make your job easier? Particular kitchen appliances? Certain methods of cooking?
  • How do you balance your kitchen time with your other responsibilities as a wife, mom and homemaker?
  • Are there any resources that helped you in learning how to make homemade foods?
  • Anything else you think would be helpful to share!

As I said last time, my one request is that you only leave a comment for me of this nature if you are comfortable with me publishing it as a quote in my new eBook. It won't be practical for me to directly contact every single person who comments, and I would like to freely use the quotes that I think would add to the book. If you would leave a name that you are comfortable with me using when/if I quote you (it doesn't have to be your real name, and last names aren't necessary), as well as where you're from (only if you're comfortable with that), that would be fantastic!

Your responses last time were wonderful! Thank you so much to all who commented and emailed. I was so blessed to read all of your responses, and know that they will be a very valuable part of this new book!

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  1. I’m similar to you, I find that not relying on recipes helps me save a lot of time and thinking. I try to get everything out before I make something, then put it away as I use it so I don’t forget to add anything (salt and eggs seem to be ones I forget all too often). If it’s still on the counter, I’m not done!

    We’re on a tight budget, but I got some really nice appliances for our wedding 5-1/2 years ago. I use my Kitchenaid mixer almost daily, and though I only use it a couple times a month, my food processor does all my slicing and grating.

  2. Thanks so much for your blog! I have learned so much from it!

    For my family, we have a rotating menu. I use it for all three meals. It helps me know exactly what we need and when. I do batch cooking so I always have what I need without having to cook it every time I need it.

    When I run out of something, I add it to do my “To Do” list. Yesterday my son ate the last of my whole wheat tortillas. On my “To Do” list during nap time is to make a triple batch. I have time then and it won’t add to any meal time stress.

    So many people tell me they don’t have time to cook from scratch like I do. I never thought I would. I have very active 2 & 4 year old little boys. I just must be very organized and plan ahead. When I do, its no big deal. Plus, when you get practice it goes pretty quick.

    I look at my homemade foods as an investment in our health. We are more active. When we eat healthy, we eat less. We are sick less. The benefits go on and on.

    For me, it is all a matter of priorities. My husband (a pastor) says we all have time for what is important to us. This is important to me. Plus, it is very rewarding!

  3. I agree. Cooking from scratch takes a lot more time. I think you just have to consider it part of your “loving your husband and children” as spending more time in the kitchen. I also employ the kids to help out as they have gotten older. We eat more and have very few leftovers so I have to cook a lot. It’s just part of living in this family is cooking and clean up. If I have a lot to do, I’ll assign one child: chop these, another child: fry this, and a different one: grind the flour. They will hopefully grow up with an understanding that preparing foods takes time and won’t feel totally inconvenienced by it. I used to do a lot of freezing and putting away meals when the kids were little. But now we seem to eat everything as fast as it’s made. Different seasons of life require different focus/ mindset. When my crew leaves the nest, I’ll go back to preparing meals ahead of time and freezing them. Until then, I’ll be living in my kitchen.

  4. Oh, I forgot to mention that I have every appliance known to a kitchen. I have the huge kitchen aid mixer, a wheat grinder, two food processors, a blender, dehydrator, juicer, several crockpots, a large Nesco for canning, a pressure cooker, a pressure canner, a blender, a good (high quality set of knives), an apple peeler/ corer slicer, many different frying pans of various sizes, several stockpots of various sizes, and of course the most important appliance in the world: a dishwasher!! Good grief! Without a dishwasher, I’d go back to doritos and hot pockets… just kidding.

  5. -I try to start supper early in the day, if I can, right after breakfast. Its usually a time when the kids are more content on their own. Even if I just prep part of it, or use the slow cooker (I sometimes use it several times a week). By starting early in the day, I at least get some of it done before the inevitable things that come up late in the day. It seldom gets ALL done, but at least its part of it. Then I aim at starting again around 3:30 working on it.
    -I have a menu plan method similar to the one that you shared in your e-book. I think that is also where I got the idea of designating certain days for certain foods. Eg. for us Wednesdays is always soup and sandwhiches, and I can make a big batch of soup and freeze some so it lasts us a few Wednesdays. That way it is also faster on a busy night for us (church meeting). I know what I am cooking each day, which also allows me to also shop better with less time used, and means I go to the store less too. I think I also got the idea from you of making a list of all the meals our family likes and seperating them into categories. I made a list of all the meals that use chicken, then beef, then vegetarian, etc. Then sub-headings for chicken with rice, chicken with potatoes, etc. etc. and also marked the ones that do and do not use tomatoes (I ration out my homecanned ones). That way when I am meal planning I look at my list to put the meal on my menu plan, and it saves a ton of time thinking, and therefore more time for other responsibilities.
    -I have a checklist that I look at at night as I am cleaning up the kitchen that reminds me of things like thawing the meat in the fridge overnight or soaking beans, etc. for the next day.
    -I have a list of meals that take little time but are still healthy so that they are available when I don’t have the time because something came up or sickness etc. and when I don’t have a freezer meal available (home cooked freezer meals I mean)
    -freezer meals, big batches. I don’t currently have a day set aside although I would like to. I simply make double or triple of something around once a week or so.
    -I make 1.5 times what we need for supper and eat it for lunch. This means no real lunch prep so that takes less time to eat healthy.

    Basically, little things like this planning ahead mean less time in the long run for me as well as less stress. We are more likely to eat well too when I plan ahead.

  6. I love your blog and have learned so much from you. Thank you so much for your wisdom!

    I batch cook and I batch prepare. Right now I have cooked meatballs, cooked chicken enchelada stuffing, and seasoned and formed hamburger patties in the freezer. If something can be frozen and reheated easily I generally make at least a double batch, and sometimes a triple or quadrouple batch. For things that freeze well prior to cooking I will prepare then freeze. I usually do this with pizza dough, or dinner roll dough.

    Cooking is something I love to do so I consider it a realxing thing and not a chore. I have a toddler that likes to “help” which makes cooking difficult. I try to prep as much as I can for dinner during his nap. I also use his nap time for big kitchen chores, like canning, or baking, that I don’t like doing when he is underfoot.

    Recipe orgainzation is also key. I print out or photocopy all my recipes, put them in protective sheets in a 3 ring binder. Everything is in one spot. When I prepare my meal plan, if I’m trying a new recipe, I add it to my recipe book then instead of hunting for it when I should be cooking.

  7. I have a menu planned for the week, and think about all the little things that will need to be done for each meal, like grating cheese or chopping veggies. When I get a few free minutes during the day, I go and do one of those tasks and stick it in the fridge so it is ready to go when I need it. That makes the actual cooking time go much faster when I am ready to make the meal.

    I have also been using my slow cooker more lately, ad laying out the recipe along with any dry ingredients the night before – make putting it together a breeze in the morning.

  8. I spend a whole lot of time in the summer canning tomatoes, sauces, peaches, etc. as well as freezing berries, zuchinni, and other “summer goodness.” I would say a lot of time goes into prepping food in summer. There is a small increase in our summer food budget as my husband knows I will be buying (or growing) produce to preserve for the fall/winter/spring months. It pays off in the long run. Cheaper food. Quick access in the winter. You know where it comes from.

    Being organized, as others have also mentioned is a BIG plus. We have an always running grocery list on the fridge that we almost never forget to buy something at the grocery store, which means less trips, which means less money spent. I freeze leftovers in mason jars so I can easily defrost them in the microwave if I need a meal quickly (mircrowave defrosting in plastic isn’t cool with me).

    Loving your ideas on your blog!

  9. We live in a small apartment, and one of my most used wedding presents was a dual blender/food processor. It uses the same base so I don’t have two big appliances in my cupboards. The more I watch the food network the more I learn to use both to speed up my cooking!

    Also, we do sauteed veggies a lot, and having a handheld mandolin (OXO softgrip) makes slicing them a breeze and it cooks more evenly since they’re the same size. It fits in a drawer unlike those huge mandolines that cost a lot more.

    I should do it more often, too, but having veggies pre-cut and ready to use is a lot easier. I get my hubby to chop onions for me (I go nearly blind when I do it) and they’re a snap to use.

    Freezing meals–especially for the holidays–was an easy way to prep, too. I would cover with wrap then foil and write the instructions on the top with a sharpie. My parents and in-laws were able to start dinner while I was still at work or whenever they got hungry.

  10. I’m a mother of three that works outside of the home full-time. It’s very important to me to cook healthy, from scratch meals for my family. But obviously time can be an issue when you factor in working outside of the home. One thing that helps me is to stick with simple recipes using whole ingredients. Dinner doesn’t have to be elaborate every night. I go for simple and nourishing during the week!

    I also save time by doing some meal prep over the weekends. Just one hour of my Saturday is enough time for me to dice veggies, cook rice and soak/cook beans for next week’s meals – homemade convenience! I also start a crockpot of yogurt which lasts us the entire week.

    I’m learning to be more efficient in the kitchen. For instance, if I need to melt butter for sprouted toast for breakfast, I melt the butter in the same pan I use for scrambling the pastured eggs. One less pot to clean afterwards – Our dishwasher died back in February so we’ve been doing dishes by hand!

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  11. When I was dating and then newly married to my husband, I considered myself quite the foodie, and loved cooking these elaborate dinners. Now that I’ve got 3 wee ones, and as I’ve learned more about nutrition and whole foods, I’ve done away with millions of dishes and hours spent in the kitchen! At least half of the meals in our week are what I have dubbed “peasant plates,” and they are so simple: a bean, a green, and another veggie/starch. We are vegetarian as a family, altho my dh is a vegan, and I had to learn to stop cooking casseroles and the like that while making dinner time/prep easier, also meant lots of high saturated fats and dairy products. The other nights’ dinners are usually a stir-fy (pre cut veg and using frozen rice that was made ahead of time) or a lentil dish. I’m so grateful my kids aren’t picky!
    I don’t have room for a lot of kitchen gadgets (I have a toaster, kitchenaid mixer, and wheat grinder), so I’m curious for those using the slow cooker–except for meats, what other whole foods can be made without relying on the old Southern stand-bys like condensed “cream of” soups, etc?

  12. My motto is why make one when you can make 2!

    I rarely make a single batch of anything and I freeze the second one to make life easier next week. Admittedly you need a reasonable amount of freezer space, but this saves me loads of time and it also leaves me prepared for those unscheduled eventualities in life.

  13. My favorite way to balance kitchen time and mommy time is to bring my kids in the kitchen with me. People are amazed that my son was cracking eggs at 3 years old. They learn so much just by working beside me: vocabulary, math skills, nutrition, etc.

    If they get tired of cooking, we have a child-sized card table and chairs that can be easily set up in the kitchen. They can color, paint, mold play dough… whatever, and we can still keep the conversation going.

  14. I sometimes feel really guilty when I’m starting my dinner prep and I see all the neighborhood kids playing outside while mine are dying to go out, but it’s just a sacrifice I’ve chosen to make. I like to have dinner ready shortly after my husband comes home at about 5:30, I like us all to eat together, and I like to it be as healthful as I can make it, and surely from scratch, and that takes time.

    I find shortcuts where I can. When I’m making lasagna, I make 2. I make a couple of gallons of chicken stock at a time, and once the meat is cooked through, I remove it from the bones, and place the bones back into the stock for a long simmer. I package the meat in 4 oz portions that I can grab for a quick meal of soup, tacos, whatever.

    Another thing I strive to do is to keep weeknight meal prep quick and easy; I try to pick simple foods. It’s much easier to make grilled or pan seared chicken breasts, steamed veggies, and cous cous on a weekday than an elaborate meal. Choose foods that have short “hands on” time though they may cook for a while, like beans, pot roast, or other slow cooker foods. If something requires a lot of chopping I get that done in the morning when my girls are playing quietly or at nap time, so that all I actually have to do in the evening is assemble it.

    I also pick foods that use similar ingredients during the week. This minimizes waste and saves time. We’ll have baked potatoes one night and I’ll bake extra potatoes, then later in the week we’ll have baked potato soup. Leftover meat, peppers and onions from fajitas on Sunday become nachos loaded with beans and veggies on Wednesday. I can use leftover pinto beans, mashed, from an earlier day, or that I’ve frozen previously.

    I think most of all the thing that saves time is planning.

  15. I love your blog!!! (One way I’m working on saving time now is by NOT spending so much time browsing great blogs like this – but it’s always a treat when I do get to stop by here. I always learn something new and am inspired and encouraged. Blessings to you as you await the arrival of your little one!)

    One idea for saving time in the kitchen is to double/triple/etc. DRY mixes. I just put together a batch of soaked muesli for breakfast in the morning, and at the same time that i dumped the ingredients into my bowl, I also dumped another batch into a plastic bag which I will store. Next week when I need to soak the muesli again, I won’t have to get out the 6 dry ingredients and measuring cups – I’ll just grab the bag and dump it in and add my kefir and water. Then in the morning we serve it with fresh blueberries, bananas, and raw cream. So quick and yummy! Even though we homeschool, we still have to be ready to start our work in the morning, so these things help.

    I discovered that I can put the zuchinni from our garden in smoothies and in pancakes, so I’ve been shredding and freezing that in small quantities, so it’s ready to pull out all winter long.

    I still have a long ways to go in learning how to cook real food quickly. I spend a TON of time in the kitchen. I look forward to your e-book on this!

    Thanks again,
    Susanna (NH)

  16. I don’t seem to have a real plan I stick to but our menu in a week looks like this: a soup dinner, egg dinner, roast (chkn or beef) which last two dinners, our small grp potluck so a casserole dinner, a junk food meal made at home (pasta, pizza, burritos, or hamburgers etc.) and then I have been trying to have fish once a week but I am rethinking this. Probably that night will become a bean meal. Keeping loosely to this prevents buying processed food and keeps me cooking from scratch. Like others have commented, keeping it simple helps–although I love to try new recipes and eat a variety of ethnic foods I find that meat, potatoes, vegetables pleases everyone and keeps our costs down as a lot of that food we can grow and store ourselves for a good part of the year.

  17. I live overseas (China) and I have no choice, but to cook from scratch. Meal planning is so important. I plan my meals Monday and shop Mondays too. I will then cook any beans in my crock pot over night to be ready for the week. (I use a 3:1 ratio water to beans, then put them on high for 9-10 hours)
    Then on Tuesday I do any bread baking which includes loaf breads, english muffins, bagels, tortillas, or pitas. I cook breakfast from scratch every day, as cereal is expensive. An example of my breakfast menu is:
    Monday: pancakes, Tuesday eggs, Wednesday: Oatmeal, Thurs: bought cereal, Friday Baked Oatmeal, Saturday: Bagels, Sunday: Waffles.
    We also have a basic meal plan for lunch.
    Monday leftovers, Tuesday: soup, Wednesday Salad, Thursday sandwiches, Friday we go out and eat Chinese street food, Saturday leftovers, Sunday go out.
    Dinner follows this idea:
    Monday Mexican, Tuesday Pasta, Wednesday Vegetarian, Thursday Crock pot, Friday “American simple” Like pizza or sloppy joes, Saturday grilled meat, Sunday open (we usually have guests so it changes)

    All that to say is if I didn’t plan my meals ahead of time I wouldn’t know what needs to be done. When I bake breads, I always make extra for the freezer. I don’t often make extra casseroles as we don’t have much freezer space. My freezer is reserved for breads and frozen fruits and vegetable that are out of season.

    I also Homeschool my kids, do counseling for others two to three times a week and try to have a life. But planning is the key to fitting it all in!!
    I enjoy your blog, keep it up

    1. I also stay up too late, but it is uninterrupted time. Many a zucchini bread, meatloaf, or applesauce were made while burning the midnight oil. I can’t even blame it on the kids taking up too much of my time as they are now grown, I cook for my husband and quite often I make dinner for my elderly parents and take it to them. I love cooking from scratch as prepping gives me time to think, the food tastes much better, and is all around healthier. I use my Seal-A-Meal (I have burned through two of them so far) quite a bit so the ingredients I purchase stay fresh longer. I am also compiling my 100 go to recipes to make meal planningeasier.

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