Time Saving Cooking Tips

by Ericka Naegel MS Candidate, Dietetic InternLifestyle

Cooking healthy and satisfying meals day in and day out can be tough. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time and motivation. But preparing nourishing, whole foods doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re the type who loves to cook and enjoys food prep, then you may be able to get by easily without these tips. On the other hand, if you find yourself dreading the time you spend in the kitchen, this article is for you! With our tips for organizing and planning, you can treat your body and brain the way they deserve and still have time and energy for the other things in your life.

Keep Your Go-To Ingredients on Hand

Make a permanent list of the foods and ingredients you use regularly and keep it in your phone or written down in the kitchen. That way, you don’t have to make a shopping list from scratch each time you go to the store, and you can quickly check it against what you already have. If you like to make salads for lunch, keep a few staple salad ingredients on the list. If you eat broccoli three times a week, put it on the list. Write down all the things you eat consistently, and you’ll make sure to always have them around.

Invest in the Right Kitchen Tools

It’s easier to prepare healthy meals if we have the right equipment. Take stock of what you spend the most time on, because there might be a time-saving tool out there. A mandoline slicer slices fruit and veggies super fast. Salad spinners wash and dry your greens (and herbs, and tons of other veggies, too) quickly and efficiently, and they make great “crispers” for storing those freshly washed items in the fridge. Look for a small one if the bigger ones won’t fit in your fridge. A mini food processor is great for making dressings, sauces and chopping herbs almost instantaneously.

Let Someone Else Do the Work

Don’t let the time involved in chopping and prepping keep you from making healthy meals. Take advantage of the diced, chopped and otherwise prepared produce available in most grocery stores, from chopped onions and celery, to shredded carrots and Brussels sprouts, to cubed squash and pre-cooked beets. Check the canned and freezer sections for some helpful finds, too. Chopped garlic, ginger and even herbs can now be found in jars or frozen into individual portions for quick additions to your recipes. Pre-cooked grains like quinoa and rice are also available in shelf-stable and frozen packages. In the time it takes to open a few packages, you’ve done all your prep!

Be Ready with Pantry Recipes

Everyone has those days when we realize there’s “nothing” to eat. Keep a few recipes in your arsenal that can be quickly put together using pantry and frozen items. A delicious legume pasta dish can come together in no time if you have some dried pasta and some kale and garlic in the freezer. Canned anchovies and sardines add a delicious umami punch. Make a quick soup with a bag of dried lentils, frozen carrots and whatever herbs and spices you have lying around. Even if it’s been awhile since you went to the grocery store or farmers market, you can still eat a wholesome, veggie-filled meal.

Stock Your Freezer

Your freezer doesn’t have to be the place where leftovers and TV dinners go to die. Freeze small portions of ingredients you don’t regularly have around so they’re there for you when you need them. Blitz herbs with water or olive oil and freeze them in ice cube trays so you can pull out what you need anytime. Freeze sliced chile peppers for when you just need that little bit for a recipe. Most importantly, freeze individual servings of prepared foods so that you can quickly defrost just what you need when there’s no time to cook. A mason jar of soup defrosts nicely overnight in anticipation of lunch the next day. Use painter’s tape to label all of these items and remove the mystery from your freezer.

Substitute, Substitute, Substitute!

If you’re following a recipe and don’t have a specific ingredient, don’t throw in the towel. See what you have and make a swap! If you don’t have shallots, use another allium like yellow, white or red onion. Green veggies like spinach, kale, collards and broccoli can usually sub in for one another. Starches are pretty interchangeable, so consider using chickpeas instead of pasta, or quinoa instead of lentils. Don’t have butternut squash? Use sweet potatoes or another hard squash. Canned tuna, sardines and salmon can substitute for one another. Don’t have a specific vinegar? Use lemon juice, lime juice or a different kind of vinegar! Substitutions may not result in making the exact recipe, but follow your creativity and your tastebuds and you may love the result even more!

Don’t let the idea of eating a healthful diet feel daunting! With these time-saving tips, you can avoid spending hours in the kitchen and still enjoy nourishing, brain-boosting meals.