Being the month where the rewards of any act of worship and charity are multiplied, Ramadan is a time Muslims look forward to, as we strive to perform more ibadah and good deeds. Unfortunately, it is also when we can easily get distracted, as we tend to devote too much of our time to food, preparing meals for suhoor and iftar.
I know, I know, we’re hungry, we’re tired, aren’t we allowed to at least enjoy a well-prepared, home-cooked meal after a day’s fast? Of course!
However, do keep in mind that Ramadan is not a food festival. It is so much more than that, and like everything else, it does not last. So we need to prioritise because before we know it, the month of Ramadan with all its blessings will be gone, giving way to the other months. This is why just as you may have an ibadah plan for Ramadan, having a planned and organised kitchen is also important, as it will help us become more effective in managing our time when the holy month arrives. This, in turn, will hopefully give us more opportunity to focus on other activities like performing taraweeh, reciting the Qur’an and performing dhikr.
So, without further ado, below are some of my tips to help you become more organised in the kitchen during the month of Ramadan:
1. Have a pre-Ramadan clean-up session
Since we do not want to be spending a lot of time and energy doing any major cleaning up in our kitchen during Ramadan, it makes perfect sense to do this beforehand. Depending on the size and state of your kitchen, you can do this as early as three weeks ahead, although I personally feel that two weeks should be enough time. What we want to tackle for this session is basically what I like to call the “major stuff”.
Now, don’t be put off by the name; it is actually very doable and not too hard at all. However, it does require a little bit more of your time and energy compared to your everyday cleaning routine. To get things done faster, get your family members to help, which will lighten your workload, In sha Allah. The “major stuff” consists of the following:
• Getting rid of any unwanted materials or ingredients to make space for the items that you will need for Ramadan.
• Wiping (inside and outside) your oven, microwave, cabinets, fridge, freezer, windows, kitchen counter, stove top and floor.
• Designating a home for all your ingredients and kitchen utensils or tools.
In my previous article, I have included a detailed explanation of these steps, so do check it out if you want to learn more about them.
Once this task is completed, come Ramadan, your kitchen will be in great condition and all you have to worry about then is maintaining it that way for the rest of the month.
Remember, consistency is everything! Habits like regularly tackling your dirty dishes before they build up, immediately putting things where they belong and instantly wiping spills, dirt or grime will ensure that your kitchen stays clean and neat all the time with minimal effort.
2. Start planning your Ramadan menu
Now that we have got the cleaning covered, it is time to move on to meal planning. I believe that doing this in advance will help make our transition into Ramadan easier. You can start planning the menu two weeks ahead: sit down and spend about an hour or two to list down all the dishes that you plan to serve throughout the entire month and prepare a shopping list for the ingredients that you need. In planning the menu, take into account family favourites and any dietary restrictions so you don’t end up preparing dishes that nobody will eat.
Preparing your meals ahead
I recommend that you consider including meals that can be made ahead of time in your menu. They are essentially dishes that you prepare in advance, and then freeze and reheat when you want to serve them. Examples of such meals include stews, soups, sauces, porridge, curry dishes, and many more. These meals can be made to last for months (most food items will keep up to 3 months if stored properly), which will save you so much precious time during Ramadan.
Allocate a day when you can do all your cooking (perhaps a week or two, or a few days prior to Ramadan) or take a few hours every couple of days and slowly build up your meals. Double or (if you’re up for it!) triple the amount that you usually make and store it in food containers in usable portions so you don’t end up wasting food. By preparing as many meals as you can before entering Ramadan, you will be able to have more free time later on.
Storing fast and easy foods
It also helps to fill up your kitchen with healthy snacks and easy-to-prepare foods, should you find yourself in situations when you’re required to do some quick, last-minute cooking. Trust me, no matter how much we have planned, there will be days like these!
Foods like rice, bread, eggs, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, fruits, canned fish, barley, cereals, frozen vegetables and baked beans are among my kitchen staples. They’re versatile, easy to make and I always make sure I have them around in case I’m in the mood for some instant nourishment without having to put in too much effort to prepare them.
3. Stock up on kitchen helpers
Items like cling wrap, foil, paper towel, plastic bags and food containers (preferably glass if you plan to reheat them in the microwave) come in many brands and sizes, some of which are very, very cheap. They are useful to have in the kitchen, especially when it comes to meal preparation and storing leftovers or make-ahead meals. Now, I’m aware that some of the things I have listed above may not be that eco-friendly, so my advice is to only use these products when necessary, try to reuse them (if possible) and recycle those that can be recycled.
4. Go shopping
Now that you have your list, it’s time to hit the supermarket! Knowing when to buy what is also important. Ideally, we would all want to cross off every single item on our list in one shopping trip. Unfortunately, this is not always practical. If you are going to cook right away, then there’s no problem with this. But if you plan on doing it on some later date, then it is best to stock up on all the kitchen gears and non-perishable foods you will need for Ramadan first (examples: dry foods like grains, canned goods) and leave out the easily perishable ones (examples: fresh herbs and green, leafy vegetables) for later, as they don’t last long. Purchase them a day or two before you plan to use them to ensure they are still in good shape when cooked. So, even though you don’t get to buy everything in one go, at least you get to shop lightly on your subsequent shopping trips since you only have to focus on getting the remaining items.
While we’re still on the subject of shopping, another great way to do this is by buying things online. These days, a lot of major supermarkets around the world offer this facility with either zero or minimal delivery charge. Check with your nearest supermarket if they provide delivery service to your area. Online shopping is not only convenient, but it is also a real time-saver. It is definitely something I would recommend, especially for those who are always busy and those who are too weak or tired to go to the supermarket while fasting. It also minimises impulse buying: since you are not walking through the aisles (on empty stomachs during Ramadan!), it prevents you from buying items that most likely will be unnecessary, unhealthy and expensive.
5. Get familiar with kitchen shortcuts
These are tricks that can make your life as a home cook less stressful, as they help cut your work short. If your goal for this Ramadan is to have an easier time in the kitchen, then you should learn as many shortcuts as possible. For instance, using a food processor to chop onions (especially when you need to use a lot of them) and soaking cut fruits in saltwater to prevent them from turning brown are just a few examples of the many tips available out there. You can get them from the internet, cookbooks, and from your mother! I personally feel that the best tips I got were from my grandmother. A lot of them sounded strange when I first heard them, but they always work perfectly!
6. Keep things uncomplicated when hosting iftar parties
For many Muslims, iftar parties are a must during Ramadan. Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to go overboard in planning them resulting in overly stressed out and tired hosts and banquets of meals that make you too tired for ibadah afterwards. To avoid this, the key is to keep things simple. Plan ahead and be realistic about what you can and cannot do. If you cannot cook for more than 20 people, keep the number of guests below that or if this is not possible, then consider other options like recruiting extra help, serving store-bought foods or better yet, turning it into a “bring-a-dish” party, where everyone pitches in and brings along one dish. Not only is this fun as your guests get to showcase their cooking talent, but it will also lessen your workload. The spirit of Ramadan will also come alive as everyone will take part in feeding other fasting people.
Plus, it is also easier to use disposable plates, cups and utensils (opt for eco-friendly ones, if possible) for these events, especially if you are inviting a large number of guests. I know they don’t exactly represent chic dining, but at least you won’t be stuck washing dirty dishes for hours later on!
7. If things don’t go as planned…relax!
This is firstly a reminder for me, as it is for everyone else. I personally find it difficult to accept when things don’t go according to my plan and I struggle greatly with this as it is just not in my nature to go with the flow. But in my distress, I always remind myself that no matter how perfect I think my plans are, Allah is still The Best Planner. I take comfort in this and it helps me to deal with any unexpected hurdle that might come in my way of being more organised.
So, be it an accident involving the dessert that you have lovingly and painstakingly prepared for iftar, or the unexpected guests arriving at your doorstep five minutes before Maghrib, it helps to remember this and to just try and handle these situations the best you can, without losing too much of your cool. It’s Ramadan after all, a month of mercy and forgiveness. Let us not lose sight of that.
There you have it, sisters! My 7 tips for an organised, Ramadan-ready kitchen! Did you find this useful? Share your comments and tips below!