13 Small, Cost-Saving, and Totally Effective Kitchen Hacks Readers Wish Everyone Knew About
So much of our lives revolve around the kitchen, from making the very meals that sustain us to getting in touch with our creative side to entertaining friends and family at holidays or dinner parties (when it’s safe to do so, of course).
1. Plan your grocery store list by section.
No one wants to spend hours at the store during a pandemic, so shop smart and check off your list while saving time. “I write my list in order of what section of the grocery store the food is in: produce first, then meat, then dairy, and then dry goods,” says Amanda Coyne of Atlanta, Georgia. “I also try to create a meal plan for the week and build that around common ingredients so I can buy less and save extras from prep.”
2. Or simply keep a running list on your phone.
If keeping a physical list isn’t your thing, do it digitally. “I have a running grocery list in my phone in the Notes app — it’s general but also sorted into subcategories for specialty stores and I’ll note weekly specials,” says Alison Zimmer of Halifax, Nova Scotia. “I also have a ‘Do Not Buy!’ section of stuff I am more than well stocked up on to stop me from going overboard.”
3. Turn the grocery list on its head by focusing on your kitchen’s heavy hitters.
This writer (that’d be me) keeps a “Top 10” list of our most frequently-used groceries, like canned tuna, farro, and quinoa. This helps me to remember to buy these groceries in bulk so we never run out. It gives me peace of mind to know we have a handful of never-fail meals at the ready for those nights when we don’t feel like cooking something new or challenging.
4. Freeze that bag of spinach before it goes bad.
When it comes to making the most of your time in the kitchen — and your grocery haul — the freezer is the key. “I buy big bags of spinach for salads and once it starts looking sad, I throw the bag in the freezer and use the remaining spinach for smoothies!” says Jessica Piché of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
5. And use the freezer as a part of your meal prep.
Amanda Meyers of Washington, D.C., chops and freezes all sorts of veggies for easy prep later. “I’m talking garlic, onions, carrots, celery, peppers … I get several dozen ears of the best, sweetest corn every summer, strip it off the cob, and freeze it for fresh corn year-round,” she says. She also preps frequently-used veggie blends that can be used in a variety of meals. “I made myself large bags of mirepoix (onions, garlic, and bell peppers) for fast meals after my kids were born, because they’re great building blocks for so many meals that I could make with pantry essentials.”
“Buy meats in bulk, but portion and re-bag them in Ziplocs or plastic wrap before you freeze,” advises Annie McGrath of Los Angeles, California. “This will save you the headache of having to unfreeze a whole pack of chicken when really you only need to make two pieces, or trying to hack the amount you need off of a big block of frozen ground beef.”
6. Start a “freezer inventory” list.
If you’ve packed your freezer like a pioneer preparing for winter, save yourself the pain of digging through the stash and keep a record of what you’ve frozen. “I have a physical list of ‘freezer inventory’ on the outside of my freezer with a magnet sorted by category (meat/fish, veggies, leftovers, and ready to eat) so I remember what’s in there,” Zimmer says.
7. Save your scraps for a rainy day.
Never underestimate the power of leftovers and scraps. “Throw your cooking scraps (onion butts, tiny garlic cloves, carrot stubs) and chicken bones in a bag in the freezer until you have enough to make stock,” shares Grace Berry of New York City, New York. “I literally walk around the table after dinner with my stock bag collecting everyone’s chicken bones.”
As for me, when my mustard jars are almost empty and I can’t scoop or scrape much else out, I fill them with olive oil, maple syrup, and white wine vinegar and shake them up vigorously for a quick salad dressing in an easy-access jar.
8. Sometimes the easiest way to clean things is to give baking soda time.
Stef Hornung of Seattle, Washington discovered baking soda’s magic powers while dealing with a pot of burnt food. “No amount of scrubbing with dish soap was making any kind of progress,” she says. “It was so bad that my mom told me to throw it away, but I had read you could boil baking soda in it so I decided to try it. I just added water and baking soda and let it boil. As it dried, the burnt-on remnants peeled themselves off. I brushed it all out and now it looks brand new again!”
9. The cheapest way to get rid of bad cooking smells is already in your cabinet.
Cm Lee of New Jersey uses vinegar to reduce potential odors when cooking fish. “Boil vinegar in a separate saucepan at the same time to help neutralize the fish odor in the air. I’d rather smell vinegary air — it will dissipate — than have lingering fish odors.”
10. Don’t discount the teaching power of TikTok.
Trash accumulates quickly in the kitchen, so make hauling your garbage out a bit easier on yourself. “I just learned from TikTok a few weeks ago that garbage bags are supposed to be inside out and tucked into the trash can!” says Michaela Amos of Washington, D.C. of a popular hack. (Hefty partially dispelled this hack recently, noting there’s no “right” way to line a bin with your trash bag, but any tips help.) “Honestly, it blew my mind but it’s made taking out my kitchen trash much less annoying.”
11. Rushing to do the dishes will save you time in the long run.
Don’t put off washing your dishes once you’ve finished your meal, as full and exhausted as you may be. You’ll regret it later! “Immediately soak pots/pans in hot soapy water when you’re finished cooking or else you’ll be scrubbing crap forever,” says reader Karon Liu.
12. Instantly double your surface area .
Working in a tiny kitchen means prep surfaces are precious, so make your kitchen tools do double-duty as extra counter space. “Put a large cutting board over your stovetop or sink to increase your prep space in a small kitchen,” says Folu Akinkuoto of Boston, Massachusetts.
13. And give your takeout containers a second (and third, and… ) life.
If you’re enjoying a lot of takeout meals from your favorite local restaurants, don’t throw or recycle the containers — repurpose them! “I haven’t bought Tupperware in years. I just reuse the black takeout containers since they aren’t recyclable in my city,” says Liu.