Easy ways to save energy in the kitchen

It's easier than you think to save energy in the kitchen. All it takes are a few simple shifts.

This post was originally published on Tread Brightly.

Whether at work, home or school, our minds are constantly challenged to innovate and pay attention. For the majority of the waking day we have to solve problems, make judgement calls, and think original thoughts.

It’s no wonder, as soon as we hit the kitchen, we switch to auto-pilot. Pre-heat oven, boil water, open packet. Roast, boil, fry. Scoop what’s left on the counter into the bin et voilà! A balanced meal and a clean kitchen in 20 minutes or less.

When Cape Town fell face-first into the drought of the century, our routines were shaken. We learnt to notice how much clean water our kitchen routines consume. We made a few easy changes. We adjusted our auto-pilot to be more water-conscious.

I like to believe that, with a little bit of attention, we can adjust a few more of our kitchen habits to live lighter yet.

A kitchen relies very heavily on energy. Just have a look at the amount of power adapters in your kitchen and you’ll get an idea. This is perhaps one of the most habitual aspects of the kitchen – the baking, roasting, frying, blending, toasting, and boiling. We do what we do out of habit, but there are a few easy shifts we can make to save energy (which saves money).

It’s easy to forget that the electricity coming out of the wall socket also has an environmental footprint. Emissions aside, one unit of electricity in South Africa requires 11 litres of water to produce. It’s easy to flip a switch when the effects aren’t tangible.

Pre-heating is lazy

Most of the foods we cook in the oven don’t require it to be at a certain temperature before the cooking can commence*. Those guidelines are there to create a fail-safe meal, but it won’t (necessarily) flop if you ignore them. Put the potato wedges in just as you switch on the oven. They can start cooking while the oven heats up. They can also continue cooking after the oven is switched off. With a bit of attention, you can bring your oven’s energy consumption way down. You just have to learn new cooking times for your favourite meals.

*Please note that baking is a different story. Please follow the instructions when you’re baking.

Switch the hob off five minutes early

Those ‘5 more minutes’ of simmering we like to give our stews and pastas can probably be done without the hob actually being on. If you have an older stove like me, the hob stays warm for quite a while after you switch if off. Use that energy – it’s free. If your stove is already smart and efficient, or you cook with gas, lucky you.

Pack the oven full

Before switching on the oven, think about tomorrow. Bake tomorrow’s butternut while you’re making tonight’s aubergine. The oven might be on for a little while longer tonight, but you’re saving switching it on entirely tomorrow night. Especially when you’re planning to put only one small dish in for 40 minutes, it might be worth reconsidering.

Switch pots not plates

If you’re making two dishes on the hob and the one only takes a few minutes, like frying off some spinach, you could save the energy a stove takes to heat by cooking the two dishes on the same plate consecutively. Again, this is only true if you have an older, electric stove.

Buy a Wonderbag

You haven’t had a stew until you’ve made one in a Wonderbag. A Wonderbag works like a slow cooker, but without using any energy. The bag itself is a great heat insulator. You simply bring your stew, rice, beans, oats, or soup to the boil on the stove, put the lid on, place it in the Wonderbag and forget about it for a few hours.

This works especially well if you put your food in the bag before heading off to work. Come home and half your dinner is ready. I particularly like making a big batch of grains or legumes at the beginning of the week. It saves me the trouble of cooking from scratch every night. Whatever you make in the Wonderbag only takes 10 minutes of your attention. After that, no fuss and no energy.