Efficient Bites

You can never realize how crucial the ability to cook is, until you find yourself with a toddler and not know how to prepare his meal!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, yet I’m no great cook. I take pride in several qualities of mine, but none involves knowing how to use a kitchen. In my late twenties, my mom would moan about how I was destined for greatness as a spinster, and my dad had given up on getting to see a grandchild. I was only interested in either studying or work. Or both! I lived alone with my cat in a flatlet, and ate whatever my steamer could make. But, much to everyone’s surprise, things took a U-turn somewhere in my early thirties.

I got to meet my husband. Hands down, the most interesting person I know. My soul-mate, my best buddy, and…the greatest cook of all times! From the moment I laid eyes on him, I knew he was the one. Together we would chat, and explore, and grow, and savor all those amazing dishes he would prepare for us. An added bonus to my overall happiness? I comfortably got to keep my distance from the dreaded kitchen! And just when I thought I could get away with that, a child came into our lives!

When your kid is an infant, no real cooking is required from you. Nutritional needs are covered by milk, and (later on) by oddly satisfying and easy to make mushed stuff. I got myself a steamer-blender, and continued to live happily with my inability to prepare an actual dish. But, alas, how fast kids grow! Before you know it, your munchkin is already a toddler, and keen to explore the depths of his tastebuds. Mushed is no longer enough: texture is of the essence. Bang! My cook-less days were abruptly over!

Photo: Rawpixel (Pexels)

I didn’t know what to make of all the herbs and oils found in our kitchen’s cupboards, so I started small. I chose a tiny pot with a glass cover, while allowed me to see what was cooking and intervene accordingly. Gradual ingredient introduction (key to address possible allergies in babies) cut me some much needed slack to confidently build my cooking skills.

Boiling became my mantra for a while. My little one didn’t protest my attempts either, so I kept serving him a fair share of boiled meats and veggies. After I had pinned down how to prepare the first three recipes, I felt confident to experiment some more: new ingredients, different pieces of equipment and various cooking styles. The kid was happily chewing and growing, so I was in business. Still, something felt amiss.

After several months into cooking, I couldn’t help but notice how it still took me a while time to prepare a dish. I had to spend a good three hours in the kitchen every day and, although I was enjoying the creative side of meal prepping, I didn’t see myself growing into an aspiring Master Chef. I just wanted to get the best possible outcome, fast. Get our toddler well-fed, without having to dedicate more time than I could spare. I could compromise with nothing less than Efficiency.

Efficiency, generally defined as the (often measurable) ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money, and time in producing a desired result, is (in brief) an ability to do things well, successfully, and without waste. Cooking is, no doubt, a process that, if let without care, can easily waste your resources leaving you drained from energy, and with a lot of waste in your hands! Having to spend a good three hours standing in a kitchen so as to prepare a single day’s meal, is hardly Efficient. So I went looking for Analogies from those who know best about addressing waste: the Japanese!

Back in the 60s, people at Toyota were operating their production line based on a concept called Just-in-time manufacturing. JIT is a methodology aiming primarily at reducing times within production systems, as well as response times from suppliers and to customers. It’s the predecessor of contemporary Lean manufacturing: a golden standard for adhering to quality requirements in the world of manufacturing. One of the techniques JIT abides by is a workplace organization method called 5s.

More efficient manufacturing allows for easier customization (Peter J Thomson)

The 5S method uses a list of five Japanese words: Seiri (整理), Seiton (整頓), Seisō (清掃), Seiketsu (清潔), and Shitsuke (躾). These have been translated as “Sort”, “Set In order”, “Shine”, “Standardize” and “Sustain”. The method describes how you can organize a work space for efficiency and effectiveness, by identifying and storing the items used, while maintaining the area and items to sustaining the new order. I had come across the method when I was training for my Green Belt, and it proved to be super handy in my cooking!

  • Seiri is about sorting through all items in a location, and removing all unnecessary items from the location. This way you reduce time loss from looking for an item because you get to reduce the number of items, as well as the chance to be distracted distraction by unnecessary items. In brief, I mariekondoed my kitchen cupboards!
  • Seiton is about putting all necessary items in the optimal place for fulfilling their function in the workplace, to make the workflow smooth and easy. I reorganized the contents of some cupboards closer to the cooking area, to minimize walking around in the kitchen. This way, while I was standing right above the pot, I could access all types of herbs, support equipment and oils without having to move around!
  • Seiso is about sweeping, cleaning and inspecting the workplace, tools and machinery on a regular basis, to improve the production process efficiency and safety, reducing waste, and preventing errors and defects. I invested in a good baby-safe multi-purpose antibacterial spray, and got myself acquainted with the latest trends in hygienic food handling!
  • Seiketsu is about standardizing the processes used to sort, order and clean the workplace. You get to establish procedures and schedules to ensure the repetition of the first three ‘S’ practices. My newly developed kitchen structure fully supported my cooking practices, and was quickly integrated in my daily routine.
  • Shitsuke is about sustaining the developed processes through the self-discipline of the workers. You keep your eyes open for improvements whenever possible. Even the slightest change that can save you that second matters. Swap that item you wish you could reach with your right hand to a cupboard that opens from the right side. Stop buying more canned containers that you can safely store. Replace the plain pot with a pressure cooker, and get your life back!

I didn’t just limit my use of 5s in the kitchen cupboards, though. Anything cooking-related place, from the freezer to the way how I chop the veggies is, as we speak, 5s-compliant. Here’s a couple of snapshots from my daily life as a toddler-cook to get the picture.

Seiton: Reorganizing the freezer for optimal space & item handling
Seiri: Sorting chopped veggies to be used in cooking!

So, Momma, how have you been dealing with your own attempts to feed the family? Have your been practicing some of those stuff already? Have you been sorting, sweeping and standardizing steps to make your use of space and time as efficient as it gets? Perhaps you are already familiar with some of the ideas presented here, but you didn’t know they had a name. Well they do, and businesses use them all the time to limit waste and improve profitability. What’s keeping you from transferring that experience to your own household?

As for you, my dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager, what do you look for in a candidate suited for a production support or a quality assurance role? When you see no prior work-related experience listed in their CV, do you automatically assume the candidate is miles away from the notion of efficiency or processes? Don’t underestimate the experience gained during household chores. Perhaps the secret to a candidate’s competences lies in how they manage… their kitchen!

Looking for Efficient ways to survive Parenting? You got this!

Featured Photo: Pixabay (Pexels)

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