Cooking a large meal is hard—I don’t care what size your kitchen is. Getting a variety of dishes on the table at a specific time can seem daunting, if not impossible. That’s why we always seem to admire home chefs that appear to magically it pull it off.
In a tiny kitchen, you have additional hurdles to make it even harder. Some of you might face issues like: not enough burners, no counter space, a microscopic oven (or no oven), and maybe even the smallest fridge known to man! You might not even have enough dishes to serve it all. But downsizing your kitchen doesn’t mean you have to downsize your meals.
By knowing your recipes, the layout of your kitchen, and building good habits, you’ll have a great headstart. But that’s not all you need! These are the tactics that I use in my own tiny kitchen. They are an excellent guideline for any kitchen and will help you really master your time when cooking large meals.
5 Steps to Time Cooking Large Meals:
- Plan your meal thoroughly.
- Group your tasks.
- Prepare your tiny kitchen.
- Cook, clean, cook again.
- Spread out.
As you can see, the list is pretty easy! All you really need to do is make sure you’re prepared. Below, I’ve gone into detail for each of these steps. You’ll learn how to evaluate your menu, prepare your ingredients, and make your life a lot easier while cooking. At the end of this article, I’ve even included some recommended products for tiny kitchens to give you an extra hand.
If you have any additional tips, questions, or recommendations for tools… I’d love to hear them! Just leave a comment at the bottom of this article.
Plan your meal thoroughly.
Just sit down. Before you ever start, get yourself a piece of paper and list each of the dishes you want to make. Think about each question on this list.
- Which items will require your full attention to prepare?
- Can you completely make any dish in advance?
- Which ingredients can be prepared in advance?
- What can be made while other dishes cook?
- Which dish needs to be served immediately after preparation?
Consider making substitutions for some dishes if you think they would be too difficult to prepare properly on top of your other choices. There’s no shame in adjusting your menu. If any dishes require your undivided attention for long periods of time (like a roux or gravy), think about pairing that meal with more dishes that can be made in advance.
Group your tasks.
Now that you know what you’re making, look at what ingredients those dishes use. Think about how you prepare each ingredient. Can you prepare any ingredients at the same time? Does anything need to marinate? How long does each dish take to cook and how long can it sit there before serving?
Mark up the list or make a new list. Combine similar cooking steps. Work backwards from the serving time to determine which order you need to make the recipes in and when you need to start each step.
Great! Stand up and be proud because you just learned how to time cooking your large meal in your tiny kitchen. If you do nothing else, just follow that meal plan and you’ll find that all of your dishes will be ready to go at the perfect time. Your family and guests will think you’re magical and sing your praises. But you’re not going to get very far if all your junk is in the way!
Prepare your tiny kitchen.
When preparing a large meal, you have to think about space. The more food you make, the more space you’re going to need to both prepare and store it. Reorganize your refrigerator to ensure you have room to put chilled items. Clean your work area. Don’t forget to wash and dry all of your dishes. I personally hate to cook around a sink filled with dirty dishes!
Excess clutter on your kitchen counters means that you will have less space to work. Clean up your counter spaces and put away or move excess stuff. Make sure you can easily access all of the tools you need to make your meal. It’s also a good idea to pull out all of the spices you need so you don’t have to waste precious seconds (or even minutes) looking for that oddball seasoning you rarely use.
I also prefer to wash all of my vegetables at one time. In our tiny kitchen, we reuse our rinse water for other purposes around the house—like watering plants or flushing toilets. When you’re boondocking or not hooked into any utilities, this can equal a big savings in both water usage and waste production.
You cook, you clean, you cook again.
Start following your meal plan. As you prepare your ingredients, don’t be shy about stacking! When I cook a large meal, I usually end up with a few bowls of prepared ingredients stacked on top of each other. Lately, I’ve even started to stack ingredients together in the same bowl. I just put them in the opposite order I will need them when I cook. The system seems to work and it’s nice to be able to just grab the next layer of stuff from the top of the bowl. It means I don’t have to think about what’s next after I’ve already prepped it.
Clean up as you have time! Most tiny kitchens don’t have a lot of pots, pans, or servingware. So, keeping up on your cleaning means you have all your tools ready before you need them. There are few things more annoying than getting done making a delicious large meal but needing to wash your dishes before you can even eat it.
Excellent times to take a cleaning break:
- While you wait for water to boil.
- While you wait for the oven to heat.
- As your food simmers or bakes.
- While baked goods cool or rest.
You can also save yourself time by organizing what order you’re preparing ingredients. Chopping things like vegetables before you prepare anything with dairy, meat, fish, eggs, or batters will mean fewer trips to the sink with your cutting board and knife. After most vegetables you can just give the tools a quick wipe with a clean towel and move on. Every minute counts.
If you need to expand your kitchen area temporarily, do it! Use a cooler if you need extra refrigerator space. Counter space can be expanded beyond your kitchen to a serving area or even outdoors. If you’re not using your oven, it’s a great place to stash stuff that needs to be kept warm. Also consider making some portion of the meal outside on the grill.
Additionally, I’m not saying offload your tasks… it can be a fun idea. Are there family members afoot? What about guests? Put them to work! I’m big on getting everyone to cook together. I think it helps people connect and share. You get the help you need and they get the chance to be proud of their contribution. Some of the best large meals I’ve eaten involved everyone being responsible for a dish. You don’t need to throw a big community potluck to pull it off. Just ask.
Don’t forget to spread out your time either! No one will know the potato salad was made last night or the green beans were par-cooked three hours ago. As long as everything makes it to the table at the same time, your friends and family will be happy. Take advantage of recipes and preparation steps that can be done well in advance. You need a break, too.
Looking for Kitchen Tools?
These products will help you time dinner like a pro!
Having a timer that can handle multiple time settings is very useful when preparing several dishes at once. This OXO Good Grips Triple Timer is small and easy to use. The storage footprint is about 4-inches long, 2-inches wide, and about 2-inches tall. With three different timers, each with their own unique sound, this is a great little tool to have in your arsenal.
When counter and storage space is a premium, it’s critical to have a quality set of nesting mixing bowls that you can rely on. You can use these bowls for food prep as well as storage. We use our mixing bowls to store fruit and vegetables on the countertop when we’re not using them. You can serve hot food in this particular type of bowl too. The non-slip silicone bottoms absorb heat and won’t damage your table. The footprint of the largest bowl is just short of 12-inches wide which can easily fit most RV kitchen sinks for both washing or storage while travelling.
I saw this little guy in use at a campground recently. Compatible with many different types of serving containers, this portable personal oven is a great way to keep your hot dishes warm while you work on the rest of your meal. It’s also collapsible, which is great when you’re short on storage space. The oven takes a only small amount of power (about 45 watts)—a far cry compared to most hot plates or microwaves. As your food is prepared, just pop it in the box. Everything will turn out hot whenever you’re ready!
Timing Large Meals in a Small Kitchen is Easy!
Knowing really is half the battle. Once you make a meal plan, it’s easy to follow through on your large meal. Just remember to combine like tasks and always give yourself a hand by having your tools ready to go. With a little bit of practice, you’ll have the timing down for everything from Mother’s Day brunch, to Fourth of July barbecues, and even Thanksgiving dinner. So go! Put forth a fabulous feast for your friends and family.
Have any other helpful ideas how to time cooking large meals?
Please share them in the comments below!