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21 Kitchen Habits to Ditch This Year

published Jan 29, 2021
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In 2021, we’re working on ditching the kitchen habits that are no longer serving us. Join us? It’s time to say goodbye to the things that waste your time, cost you money, and sacrifice the overall quality of your meals — whether that’s overfilling your fridge, or failing to read a recipe before you start cooking. Here are some of the most common culprits we hear about — plus a few bad habits that our own Kitchn editors are trying to break this year.

Credit: Gina Eykemans

1. Not reading the recipe all the way through.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in culinary school is also one of the most basic: read a recipe all the way through before you start cooking. I don’t know how many times I would race through reading a recipe, and then discover halfway through cooking that the recipe required a tool I didn’t have, or that something was supposed to freeze for two hours before you started making the dish. Reading a recipe takes 30 seconds and will save you a huge headache later on. Make it a habit in 2021!

Read more: How to Be a Cook Who Reads Recipes Like a Professional Chef

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Using too many dishes when you’re cooking.

Lifestyle Director, Lisa Freedman, wants to stop using so many dishes when she’s cooking in 2021. “I feel like I use way too many dishes every time I make something and then I’m always running the dishwasher,” she explains. In order to combat the dish pile-up, try to reuse pots and pans while you’re cooking, and don’t grab a new utensil every time you have a new task.

Read more: 10 Simple Meal Prep Hacks to Minimize Dirty Dishes

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

3. Not tasting and seasoning while you cook.

There’s nothing worse than making an elaborate meal and then sitting down to discover that it tastes rather … bland. In 2021, you should commit to tasting as you cook, and adjusting the recipe based on your taste. In that same vein, only adding salt at the end of a recipe is also a mistake. You need to season while you cook!

Read more: What Pro Cooks Know About Salt and Flavor

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4. Not cleaning as you go.

SEO Director, Brenda Schmerl, wants to stop letting things get grimy before she cleans her kitchen. “Rather than just giving surfaces like my stovetop or drawer handles a quick wipe-down regularly, I wait until they’re very gunky and then it takes longer to scrub everything off,” she says. In 2021, get into the habit of cleaning while you cook. Got 2 minutes before something needs to come out of the oven? Wash down your cabinets, or clean one shelf of your fridge. Those short minutes really add up and save you time in the long run.

Read more: 21 Smart Ways to Keep Your Kitchen Clean, Forever

Credit: Leela Cyd

5. Crowding your pan.

According to Food Editor, Kelli Foster, overcrowding your pan leads to uneven cooking. “When you squeeze too much into a pan, not only does the temperature lower, but there’s too much moisture, which results in the food getting steamed instead of seared,” she explains. To avoid this, make sure you’re using the right sized pan for the amount of ingredients you have, or cook in batches.

Read more: How to Sear Meat

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6. Letting your chef’s knife get dull.

I’ve been terrible about sharpening my chef’s knife in the last couple years, but 2021 is the year that changes! Not only does having a dull knife make cooking harder because you have to use more force to cut through things, it also isn’t as safe. Kelli says that “when your knife lacks a sharp blade, it doesn’t grip food as well, making it more likely to slip. You’re more likely to get injured using a dull knife than a sharp one.”

Read more: 5 Essentials in Caring for a Chef’s Knife

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7. Giving up on your meal plan.

Lifestyle Editor, Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, is determined to stop ditching her meal plan in 2021. “I feel like I always make like half of the things I plan for, and then just go off script for the rest of the week.” Making a meal plan you’re excited about and sticking to it can help reduce food waste, and stop you from wondering what you’re making for dinner at 7 p.m. when you’re already hungry.

Read more: Our 10 Most Popular Meal Plans of 2020

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8. Not prepping ingredients ahead of time (mise en place).

“Mise en place” is a French phrase that means “everything in its place,” and it refers to having all your ingredients prepped and organized before you start cooking. “Taking the time to set yourself up for success results in better, more delicious food,” explains Studio Food Editor Jesse Szewczyk. I think it also takes some of the stress out of cooking in general. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’re at a point in the recipe when you need to add grated Parmesan and you haven’t prepped it yet.

Credit: Ariel Knutson

9. Following the “best by” date on ingredients.

According to the USDA, the “best by” label just means that “a product will be of best flavor or quality.  It is not a purchase or safety date.” Contributing writer Ashley Abramson says that “as a general rule of thumb, a food item’s appearance and smell are better indicators of its safety than the ‘best by’ date (with the exception of infant formula).” So before you go and throw something out because it’s past its “best by” date, give it a sniff. It might save you money, and help reduce food waste in the kitchen.

Read more: A Guide to Help Demystify Food Expiration Dates

10. Waiting too long to clean your kitchen floor.

Lifestyle Editor, Lauren Masur, wants her floors to be sparkling clean in 2021. “I normally wait too long in between washings. HOW do crumbs accumulate so fast?” She explains. Sweeping your floors every day, and mopping once or twice a week is a great goal to put in place.

Read more: 5 Things to Know About Cleaning Your Kitchen Floors

Credit: Photography: Tara Donna; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

11. Not using enough acid.

Jesse Szewczyk says that adding enough acid to your dish is just as important as salt! “Acid helps brighten flavors, adds freshness, and can help make a heavy dish feel lighter. If you find yourself stuck with a dish that tastes flat despite being properly salted, chances are it needs a touch of acid,” he explains. You can use lemon, vinegar, and white wine — and you really don’t need that much to transform a dish.

Read more: The 9 Most Important Things I Learned in Cooking School

Credit: Lauren Volo

12. Not patting down your meat before cooking.

Before you season and cook your next steak, you need to pat it down with a paper towel. “For skin to crisp, you need to get rid of as much moisture as possible — because moisture and steam kill any chance of crisping and browning,” explains contributing writer Christine Byrne. This will also help keep your meat from sticking to the pan.

Read more: How To Cook Perfect Steak on the Stovetop in 3 Steps

Credit: Mackenzie Schieck

13. Not cooking from your cookbook collection.

One of Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm‘s goals for 2021 is to cook from her cookbooks. “I have so many and I feel like they don’t get enough love,” she explains. Cookbooks aren’t on your bookshelves to collect dust! Put them to use! And join Kitchn’s Cookbook Club while you’re at it.

Credit: Lauren Volo

14. Tossing your leftover bones and vegetable scraps.

This is the year I’m finally going to start saving my kitchen scraps and make homemade stock. The couple times I’ve actually done this, the stock was so flavorful and it was very easy to make. Don’t be like me: Turn your lemons (scraps) into lemonade (stock)!

Read more: How To Make Vegetable Stock and How To Make Chicken Stock in the Slow Cooker

Credit: Joe Lingeman

15. Not delegating meal planning and cooking.

Food Editor, Meghan Splawn, wants to be better about delegating in the kitchen this year. “I’m still the one planning, ordering groceries, and cooking most of the time even though there are other adults in the house. Late last year I asked my brother to plan and cook a whole week and it was awesome.” If you need help in the kitchen, ask for it!

Read more: A Week of Easy 20-Minute Meals

Credit: Sarah Crowley

16. Not labeling your frozen foods.

Whenever I have the foresight to freeze a meal, I feel like I finally have my life together. That is, until I reach into the freezer months later and ask … wait, how long has this been in there? Things can last in the freezer for a long time, but not forever. This year, make it a habit to start writing the date on whatever you freeze, so you no longer have to guess if something is still good to eat.

Read more: My 65-Cent Grease Pencil Is My Favorite New Kitchen Tool

Credit: Sarah Crowley

17. Holding on to too many storage containers.

“I’d like to narrow down all the random storage containers I’ve hoarded into a collection that actually stores efficiently,” says Contributing Food Editor Christine Gallary. If you’re starting to feel the container creep, it’s time to get things organized. But that doesn’t mean you have to toss them! There are plenty of ways to repurpose them around the house.

Read more: The Last Thing You Should Do with Old Plastic Storage Containers Before You Toss Them

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18. Overfilling your fridge.

I understand the desire to stock your fridge so you don’t have to go to the grocery store so often — especially now. But! If you overstock your fridge, it could cost you more money in the long run. “Excess items can block vents in your fridge, and having too much stuff crammed in also makes the appliance work harder to stay cold when you open the door,” Ashley Abramson explains.

Read more: 8 Bad (and Avoidable!) Fridge Habits That Are Costing You Money

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

19. Not preheating your pan.

In 2021, let’s all stop dumping cold food into a cold pan. Okay? In most cases, preheating your pan for a couple minutes before you cook can make a huge difference. “If the oil isn’t hot enough, the food will soak it up instead of sizzling in it, and it won’t taste as good,” Kitchn editors explain.

Read more: How to Become a Cook Who Really Understands Heat and Oil

Credit: Joe Lingeman

20. Not shopping your pantry before grocery shopping.

Raise your hand if you’ve accidentally bought a spice, grain, or bag of sugar, only to realize you already have what you needed in your pantry? Yeah, same. In 2021, take the time to shop your pantry before you buy groceries — it’ll save you money and storage space. And hot tip: An organized pantry will make this process faster and easier.

Read more: 5 Strategies for Organizing Your Pantry (and Keeping It That Way)

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

21. Storing your fresh herbs incorrectly.

I’ve been there: You get home from grocery shopping, and all you want to do is cram your groceries into the fridge and plop down on the couch. But taking the extra couple minutes to properly store your fresh herbs correctly can save you money and time. Take the herbs out of the plastic bags from the grocery store, wash them, roll them up in a damp paper towel, and put it in a zip-top bag. Your herbs will stay fresh much longer.

Read more: We Tried 5 Methods for Storing Fresh Herbs and Found a Clear Winner

What other kitchen habits are you telling to hit the road this year? Let us know in the comments!