Instead of commuting from our homes to offices, we’re moving from bedroom to kitchen and back multiple times a day. And if you don’t live alone, that means frequent traffic of a roommate, partner, or maybe even parents on your route that disrupts your cooking flow in tight quarters. Rules for being a good housemate are easy—wash your dishes, take out the trash—but specific guidelines for sharing a kitchen constantly for an undetermined amount of time for three meals a day is new territory.
I’ve been sheltering in place with my parents and younger brother upstate for a month now, and I’ve realized that laying down ground rules and setting routines has greatly improved the way we cook and eat together. I’ve been simultaneously breaking them out of their comfort zones with new foods, teaching them new skills, and finding ways to stretch ingredients (and, in turn, money) with infrequent trips to the grocery store. Although you may not be in my exact situation, these tips will help you make it work no matter who you’re sharing a kitchen with — and hopefully, they’ll be helpful long after this period of isolation ends.
Get Organized—and Stay Organized
The worst part about sharing a small space is constantly running into each other. But your kitchen won’t feel like a game of bumper cars if you’re organized and can flow around each other. Make a system, make sure everyone knows the system, and keep to it so that no one is opening every single cupboard looking for Tupperware for leftovers. Also, keep your counters clear: Put things in drawers and use bins within the pantry and fridge for more room for prep and cooking on the counters. I’m a big fan of keeping a beautiful wooden cutting board or butcher block (like a sturdy Boo’s Block) on the counter at all times, though, so there is a designated prep space. Just be sure to add a plastic cutting board (I love Material Kitchen’s gorgeous reBoards, made out of recycled plastic and sugarcane) when cutting meat to prevent cross-contamination. Another form of organization that’s important is scheduling who is cooking when. Blocking off an hour or so for prep and cooking ahead of time will ensure that three people aren’t starting dinner at 6 pm. Communicate via a group text or even make a little color-coordinated schedule on the fridge if that’s more your jam, but leave a little room for flexibility too.
Sharing Is Caring
Buy in bulk whenever possible. This isn’t about hoarding toilet paper (which you shouldn’t do!) but rather getting a better price on a giant 10- or 20-pound bag of rice for $10 rather than a small 2lbs. or 5lbs. box or bag that costs $5. And this goes beyond pantry staples like flour, beans, pasta, and grains. If everyone cooks a dish that can be served family-style or split into portions (like lasagna, a big pot of soup or stew, or a roast chicken), then there is more variety in your daily meals than if you made a casserole by yourself and had to eat leftovers for four days in a row. It’s kind of like meal prep, except that every meal is made by someone new. If you’re not a great cook and your roommate is, suggest that you split the cost of ingredients, they cook, and you do the dishes. That can be a nice trade-off, and you waste so much less food when you can’t get sick of a dish.
Rice, Rice, Baby
I can’t live without my Zojirushi rice cooker—which I just wrote an ode to here at Domino. It makes perfect fluffy rice, grains, and even steamed vegetables and fish every time. Rice is great for everyone because it’s gluten-free, comes in so many different types, and it’s an inexpensive base for anything from rice bowls to fried rice to crispy rice cakes to dessert. It can feed a twosome or a family of eight easily and it frees up the burners for others who are cooking or making other components of a dish. Don’t get me wrong: Beans are nice. But rice and beans together is even better. Keep the rice cooker on warm all day so people can come and graze when they want without feeling obligated to eat together all the time, and keep a rotation of who is in charge of turning it on every day so there’s never a shortage of great grains.
Take Time to Teach Each Other
Now that you’ve gotten organized, been more creative in the kitchen, and shared dishes so you don’t get sick of the food you make, pay it forward. Encourage each other to try something new, whether that’s exchanging recipes, recommending new ingredients, or teaching techniques (particularly knife skills to make sure everyone is wielding a knife safely). Some of my favorite pantry additions are things that make the everyday feel fancier. This includes luxurious tinned fish (such as octopus with Piri-Piri pepper that can be warmed through with pasta or incredibly tender tuna that will melt in your mouth); Jacobsen’s flaky finishing salt to upgrade everything from scrambled eggs to chocolate chip cookies; and Maille’s black truffle and Chablis mustard to add a *chef’s kiss* to a basic vinaigrette. You can even do a pantry deep dive and challenge yourself and your kitchen cohorts to change up one ingredient in the pantry and see what you can do with it, like an episode of Chopped! Although these tips may not make every meal easy when working with too many cooks in the kitchen, spending quality time and having some teaching moments will give you all some purpose. We are all craving ways to connect, and what better way to do that than over food?