Monday 6 May 2013

Two Butts in a One Butt Kitchen

There's no denying it:  Our kitchen is small.  It's a well designed small space, but the floor space not occupied by cupboards and appliances is just 4.5 feet by 8.5 feet.  

It's fine when I'm working by myself in there, but when there are two of us, it feels very crowded.  My husband and I vary greatly in our approaches to cooking.  I'm working quite a lot lately and my guy is spending more and more time in the kitchen. With our differing approaches to kitchen management, there's a huge potential for friction. I imagine that we're not the only ones facing these challenges.

Every household's routines are different.  We have only the two of us to cook for.  Many of you have larger families.  Even so, some tips are universally applicable.

Divide your time, not your space:  

Since we quickly realized that the kitchen is too crowded for us to work comfortably in there together, we now divide our kitchen chores between us and work in the kitchen at different times.

Allot some time for cleaning and organization:  

Cooking in a small space is much easier if you know where to find your ingredients and cooking tools.  

My fella does the dishes, cleans the counters and stove, and washes the kitchen floor daily.  I budget part of my weekly cooking-ahead day for putting stuff away, cleaning the fridge, and cleaning, organizing, and taking inventory of the freezers and pantry.  

I keep an inventory list on the inside of the pantry door, and on each of my freezers.  We update it by hand every time we take something out or put something in, and I clean it up and update it on my computer once-monthly.

Cook ahead:  

My precooking for the week always includes baking.  I make our week's bread and, if I have time, some cookies or dessert.  

I make some things we can use for breakfast.  Muffins, pancakes, and waffles can be made ahead and stored in the freezer. Granola keeps well in an airtight container on the pantry shelf.

I also try to cook at least one large protein:  a roast, a whole chicken, a turkey, or perhaps a whole fish.  We plan on using the leftovers from this one protein in at least two or three meals throughout the week.

If I have enough ingredients on hand, I'll often can a small batch of soup, and - if I've made a good buy on meat of some sort - I may can a protein.  These jars on the shelf may seem a lot of extra work, but they're a wonderful convenience to have on hand on a busy work night.

Plan together and determine who's doing what, in advance

My guy is a competent cook so he has a lot of say in the planning process.  Each night, we plan the next day's meals and then decide which of the cooking chores he'll undertake while I'm at work, and which of the chores I'll undertake when I get home.  

My fella does a lot of prep.  He washes, chops, and shreds vegetables.  He makes dishes that require long cooking times. He helps with the preparation and restocking of staples, and he pre-cooks large batches of things like brown rice, that can portioned and frozen for use over time.  

I do most of the dish putting-away (because then I know where the dishes are), and I make most of the vegetable dishes.  I often come home from work and complete the final stages of a meal, pulling together the ingredients my husband has prepped, and making salads and salad dressings.  

After supper is done, my guy does the clean up and, then, - if it requires pre-cooking - I make dessert for the following day.  I also pack my lunch for the next day, usually from leftovers, and tidy the space again so that it's ready to go in the morning.

In the mornings I start the day's batch of soup stock in the slow cooker or on the back burner of the stove, and write out any specific cooking instructions that my guy has requested.  He drains and cools the soup stock later in the day, and works at the day's dinner chores.

It's a routine that works well for us.  

Planning this way and then sticking to our schedule can seem like a real effort, especially if we're tired or very busy, but over time we've found it well worth the work.  We spend less money on groceries, and we eat very well. Our suppers are more flavourful and certainly more healthy than food from the drive through.

Do you share your kitchen with your spouse or your children?  

What tips and tricks work best for you?  

I'd love to hear from you.  Please stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed to share your tips.