Cut Your Consumption: Energy-wise Cooking

Are you a mindful cook? Sure, sourcing locally and sustainably produced foods can make a world of difference in your health and can also help to reduce the environmental costs of long-transported foods, but how you choose to  prepare your foods also makes a difference

We hear a lot of talk about energy consumption as it relates to how far our food travels to our plates.   Indeed, local, sustainably produced foods make up about 80 – 90% of the foods on my family’s table.   Yet, how far your food travels before it hits your plate tells only part of the story.   On average, the energy you use to prepare your food in your home constitutes about 25% of your food’s total energy footprint.   Essentially, that you can make a bigger difference in greening your plate by cooking efficiently and mindfully than by eating locally alone.   As an added benefit, cooking more efficiently will translate into some real savings for your family’s budget.

Cook Less and Eat More Raw and Fermented Foods to Save Energy

If you’re not turning on your oven, range, slowcooker or other kitchen appliance, you’re not using any energy save your own elbow grease.   By making an effort to cook less and consume more raw foods, you’ll not only consume less energy in your kitchen but you will also reap nutritional benefits as well.   Many micronutrients are damaged or destroyed by heat, so raw foods and fermented raw foods like sauerkraut, preserved lemons, probiotic apple and beetroot relish are rich in vitamins and food enzymes which are essential to a wholesome diet.

Mind Your Pots, Pans and Lids

If cooking on your range, take great care to match your pots and pans to the appropriate burner size.   Using too small a pan for a burner will result in significant heat loss while using too large a pan for a burner will result in uneven cooking.   Similarly, lidding your pots and pans reduces heat loss while to cook foods more quickly and more evenly than cooking in pots and pans without lids.

Prepare More One-pot Meals

By preparing one-pot meals such as casseroles, soups, stews and stirfries, you can help to minimize energy consumption in your kitchen.   Consider this simple meal of roast chicken, steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes.   At a minimum, you’d need to use your oven and two burners on your range and you’d probably use at least three different cooking pots and, possibly more if you use your mixer to mash the potatoes.   By contrast, a chicken soup with vegetables and potatoes would only require a single burner on your slowcooker.   By using multiple, energy-consuming appliances to prepare a single meal you could easily double or triple the energy consumption of a one-pot meal.

Save Your Baking and Roasting for One Day a Week

An oven burns an awful lot of energy.   An gas oven will cost about a nickel or a dime to run for an hour, but an electric oven will cost about $0.30 to $0.60 to run for an hour.   If you’re baking or using your oven for an hour 5 times a week, you’re looking at a cost of   up to $12 each month, which may seem minor, but minimizing its use not only will save you that $12, but also reduce your consumption of energy.   Instead of eliminating baking (I mean, really now, would you want to miss out on goodies like Sprouted Wheat Bread, Easy Roast Chicken and Pumpkin Custard), simply take one day a week to bake, roast and use your oven.   By scheduling a baking day and preparing all your baked and oven-cooked foods that single day you can maximize the space in your oven by baking different items together at the same temperature, and you’ll also be able to take advantage of the residual heat in the oven, thus reducing energy loss caused by preheating.

Use Kitchen Appliances Wisely

In discussing energy-efficient cooking, you’ll hear a lot about slowcookers.   A slowcooker will generally reduce your energy consumption and costs by comparison to an electric range or oven and is comparable in energy cost to a gas range or oven.   For example, when I prepare roast chicken stock in a slowcooker I’ll generally simmer it for 24 to 36 hours depending on when I have time to strain it.   The slowcooker method costs me less than a dollar; however, simmering it stove-top for 12 – 14 hours costs over $4.   If you have an electric range or oven, a slowcooker will generally save you both energy and money.

Comparable Energy Cost of Cooking Appliances

Appliance Energy Cost Per Hour1
Electric Oven $0.30 -$0.60 Per Hour
Electric Range $0.07 – $0.30 Per Hour
Gas Oven $0.05 – $0.11 Per Hour
Gas Range $0.04 – $0.08 Per Hour
Crock Pot or Slowcooker $0.01 – $0.03 Per Hour
Your Own Two Hands FREE!

Energy Cost of Preparing Chicken Stock

Appliance Cooking Time Approximate Total Energy Cost
Electric Range 12 – 14 hours $0.84 – $4.20
Gas Range 12 – 14 hours $0.60 – $1.12
Slowcooker / Crockpot 24 – 36 hours $0.24 – $1.08

Energy Cost of Preparing a Pot Roast

Appliance Cooking Time Approximate Total Energy Cost
Electric Oven 3 – 4 hours $0.90 – $2.40
Gas Oven 3 – 4 hours $0.15 – $0.44
Slowcooker   / Crockpot 10 – 14 hours $0.10 – $0.42

1. Data sourced from Flex Your Power, except Slowcooker Data which was calculated at Nourished Kitchen.

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What people are saying

  1. says

    Great info. Thanks :)
    When we roast a chicken around here we put our potatoes and veggies in the roasting pan. Adds flavour to the chicken and the leftover juice which makes a soup the next day. One pan – two meals! :)

  2. says

    What a thought-provoking post. Thanks for all of those great tips.

    My favorite casserole cookbook is “The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever” by Beatrice Ojakangas. Real food casseroles that are fantastic.

  3. Peg says

    I’ve been hearing about and researching “solar ovens”, which sound like a great alternative to heating up the oven, both for energy savings and for reducing heat in the house during the summer months (especially here in hot South Florida!), though it seems they are used all year round in various climates.

    Anyone own one? There are different models available, or you can make your own. I’m wondering which is the better investment of time and money?

    • Jana says

      I built a solar cooker recently. I’m really happy with it and I use it every sunny day I can. It took me and my partner about 2 hours to build this cooker that we found online:

      http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Minimum_Solar_Box_Cooker

      This oven regularly reaches temperatures of 250 degrees F, sometimes 300 degrees if it’s a very hot day, which makes it great as a “slow cooker”. Plan to put your supper out around noon, and be prepared with a plan “B” if it clouds over or rains before the meal is finished. You will need black colored, covered containers, like enameled roasting pans.

      It is PERFECT for braising meats and baking sprouted wheat bread. I have successfully cooked rice, seafood, steaks, pork chops, chicken thighs, baked potatoes and made ghee.

      Cons are that it’s only appropriate for full sun without strong winds. And it works best if you’re home during the day, so you can turn it to face the sun every once in a while to keep the inside temps high. Also, it doesn’t really get hot enough for browning baked goods. I tried baking custard and bread in it, and they baked but they didn’t get that delicious browned top.

  4. says

    Very good tips that can’t be repeated often enough. Child of the first environmental movement that I am, I’m always a little surprised when I hear about people who don’t do things such as baking more than one dish at a time in the oven (I’d roast the chicken and veggies and bake the taters at the same time). :)

  5. Dave Simonson says

    These are great ideas, but like all things, it can be over done. I like to live somewhere between ascetic and hedonistic. I am so glad that these were tips to consider, and not some Pharisaical edict on how to conduct my life. I like mashed potatoes, but I don’t want to have to boil my chicken with the potatoes. Taking steps to reduce consumption is not a bad thing. It is a very good thing. Being nattered at by some well meaning busy body that should mind their own business is a bad thing.

    The Nourished Kitchen is one of my favorite foodie places on the web. Thank you for doing such a great job. Anyone that can inspire me to start a veggie garden (96 sqft. of squarefoot garden), cook better foods, and explore foods that I had never considered making before (sauerkraut, yogurt, cheese, pickles,…) must be doing a fabulous job, because before I started reading your blog and emails inertia had pretty much won the battle with me!

  6. says

    I love cooking at least one big meal in the crockpot on the weekend and that in turn, turns into lunches for the next week. I also make my bread and yogurt on the weekends as well.

  7. Dave Simonson says

    How does baking work once a week? I don’t like stale breads, and frozen bread is next in line for yucky taste. I like fresh breads and baked goods. Cookies are about the only thing I can tolerate out of the freezer.

    • Meredith says

      Being gluten-free, I have pretty much resigned myself to eating frozen bread. That said, when I bake, I put about half the loaf, sliced, into a plastic Glad container (glass would be better, but I haven’t collected enough yet) but only snap the lid on halfway. It keeps about 3 days that way, since opening it up flushes the air and removes excess moisture. A paper bag is good for about 2 days before it starts to dry out. The rest goes into the freezer.

      Sandwiches made in the morning on frozen bread are ready to eat by lunchtime. And toast just takes longer when the bread is frozen.

    • Jana says

      You can bake several loaves of bread at once, keep one and swap the extras with your friends in exchange for garden vegetables, babysitting, etc.

  8. says

    I like the idea of using the slowcooker more, but have recenlty come across articles talking about the lead leaching from the ceramic through the enamel coatings of slowcookers. I am very worried about this with small children and more on the way. Jenny, do you have concerns or more information about this regarding your slow cooker? It looks like all the brands admit to small amounts coming through. Thank you!

  9. Crystalline Ruby Muse says

    Re: raw foods, there are some arguments out there that in fact, you will receive more nutrition from PLANT FOODS if you cook or process them in some way that breaks down their cell walls, thus liberating the nutrients. Susun Weed claims that chewing & digestive juices do not break down the extremely tough cell walls.
    Here are a couple of links on this perspective.

    http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/april04/healingwise.htm
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nRwn7VRvb8

    According to this view, fermenting, freezing, drying, sprouting, & marinating in oil are other methods to break down cell walls, in addition to cooking. (Note that, according to Sally Fallon, sprouted grains still need to be lightly steamed, to neutralize phytochemicals they produce in order to protect them from being consumed by animals.)

    Dairy, of course, is more nutritionally beneficial when eaten raw, & meats can be as well. However, meats need to be processed in some way (frozen for 14 days or correctly marinated in an acidic medium, such as lemon juice; I don’t know an exact recipe) to kill parasites before eating raw.

  10. says

    Great tips–wonderful things to keep in mind and consider when planning! Thank you for the post! We do a lot of slow-cooking year round. We also do a lot of batch cooking and leftovers-as-lunches, even when we cook on the grill (non-petroleum charcoal is expensive, so we don’t waste it).

    In the summer, we do most of our baking and roasting either after dark or in the early morning, when the house isn’t being heated up by the sun. This saves us in actual energy expended cooking, as you mention, but another thing to consider in the summer is that it saves you in electric cooling costs if you’re using AC. We reverse that in the winter, and cook during the day to utilize the heat from the oven–after all, we’re paying for it, so we might as well benefit twice! We meal-plan a week ahead, so we always check the weather, and plan our oven use for the most appropriate day if possible.

  11. GingerGlitterHarley says

    Thank you for this information. My Hubby and I are moving into 5th wheel this month. This will cut our living space (not to mention costs) by 1/2 and it is dificult at times to figure out what to keep. The slow cooker is moving with us. One less decision!

  12. Melissa says

    Don’t forget the pressure cooker! You can make stew, roasts, soups, vegetables, and even rice in about 25% of the time it would take on the stove, or even the oven.

    Great tips! Thank-you!

  13. says

    Green technology tends to save more money in the long run, detspie being more expensive to begin with for example, motion-sensing light fixtures that only turn on when someone walks into a room are more expensive than regular lights, but after a few years the reduced power usage saves money. What examples of green energy are you looking at that are so cost-inefficient? Around here (Midwest) people have been installing windmills, which are quite green that have consistently proven profitable.

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