Living in a place like San Diego, undoubtedly you’re too busy for those pesky house chores, right?  I remember when I was considering moving here, my friend Mike warned me I’d never get laundry done because I’d never be indoors.  And he was (occasionally) right!

What Mike didn’t tell me was how near impossible it would be to top off the day with a home-cooked meal. After the prep, cooking and cleaning even making a simple meal doesn’t seem so simple. And while meals prepared by a restaurant are quick and easy solutions to the time crunch problem, they’re definitely not budget friendly.

The way to get the most out of your kitchen time is to use shortcuts to supplement your efforts – finding time isn’t always easy but maximizing how you use your time can be.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Take advantage of anything that will help you streamline the process of cooking. That means putting things to work for you while you’re away working on something else. For example, you can take advantage of appliances that are able to do the grunt work. There’s a reason that the slow cooker has gained recognition as a time saver. It’s an incredible appliance to have if you’re busy! Nothing saves more time than dumping all ingredients in a single place and then letting heat and time work some magic. Less action required in making a meal equals more time saved. For a list of some great slow cooker meals you can check out online recipe sites like Allrecipes.

Chop Chop!

The number one way to slash time spent in the kitchen is to prep your ingredients ahead of time. As soon as you bring home your groceries, take time to wash, chop, and store in the fridge. If you can swing preparing a big batch meal at the beginning of the week (think along the classic example of vat chili or stew) that’s great! But if you can’t, simply chopping and prepping your ingredients ahead of time can save so much time for daily meals. That means that you can come home after work and toss in your pre-prepped items. Just don’t do like I do and forget they’re in the fridge. 🙂

Easy Peas-y

Don’t choose complicated meals or recipes and give yourself another reason to eat out. Keep easy cooking staples handy, and mix and match to make your meals. Some solid stand-by ingredients include rice, pasta, eggs, chopped vegetables, corn or flour tortillas, spreads, roasted chicken, cheese and beans. There are great prepared sauces and mixes, too. My favorites are Grillers marinade at Ralph’s and Butternut Squash Soup from Trader Joe’s.

Manage The Menu

If making a weekly meal plan seems to be too time-consuming, start out with a single day. After breakfast, decide on a meal you’d like to make for dinner based on the ingredients you already have. Having a good idea of what you’re going to make will minimize the likleihood of asking yourselves at the end of the day, “stay in, or eat out?”

Blue Apron

Food Delivery Services

I really don’t like to look for ingredients – and the good news is food services like Blue Apron and EveryPlate include ingredients!  They’re scalable too – as few as 2 recipes (serving 2 or 4 people) or 3 recipes.  You can also turn these services off with no penalty when you’re out of town or just not in the mood to cook!

Grocery Delivery

If you’re avoiding the kitchen because you have no time to fill your fridge, consider grocery delivery. Almost every grocery store has options for online grocery shopping and delivery which will give you the added benefit of choosing sale items as you would in the store.  Another great option is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box, made up of locally sourced and often organic fruits and vegetables, delivered directly to you. Some include the option to add milk, eggs or other staples at an additional cost. You’ll likely have to pay a delivery fee but it can be worth it if you’re constantly pressed for time.

Budget First

When you’re busy, you’re busy. No matter how you rearrange your schedule, hacking out an extra hour in your day doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll want to spend it cooking. Start by making efficiency the goal and give yourself the permission to take shortcuts where appropriate As with any other budgeting strategy, it’s about maintaining a balance that’s sustainable long-term.

Eating out is easy, but it can also be expensive. The vast number of alternatives to cooking makes it easy to forgo cooking in favor of saving time. But cooking at home is a habit that’s healthy for you and your bank account.