There are lots of little ways to make meal prep simpler and dinner time less chaotic. Here's a list of ideas. Choose shortcuts that work best with your goals.
Shave time by eliminating steps in cooking that aren't a good fit with your personal preferences, budget, and time limitations. If something is more of a priority to you but is time consuming like working with fresh vegetables, then look at other areas where you can save time.
Come back and revisit this list as your priorities and constraints shift.
Plan your meals for the week ahead to streamline grocery shopping and preparation.
- Outsource chopping.
Purchase pre-cut vegetables, fruits, or meats. Most stores have both freshly chopped and frozen veggies that are ready to add to your recipe.
- Solicit extra hands.
If you have extra people living in your house, have a family member help you do some of the tasks — chopping, dishes, wiping down counters, taking out the trash, etc.
- Use frozen vegetables.
Keep a stash of frozen vegetables on hand for quick and easy additions to meals. Frozen mixed vegetables are ideal for soups and stir-frys.
- Incorporate prepared meats.
Using a hot rotisserie chicken is an easy way to cut down on cook time when preparing a chicken dish. Some types of beef can be purchased already cooked like meatballs which can be season differently with sauce for a variety of easy appetizers and dinners.
- Incorporate canned seafood into your dish.
Try transforming imitation crab, tuna or canned salmon into patties, casseroles and salads.
- Minimize cleanup time.
Opt for recipes that allow you to cook everything in one pot or on a single sheet pan to minimize cleanup time.
- Organize your kitchen.
Keep your kitchen organized and stocked to easily find common ingredients and utensils.
- Clean as you go.
Use cooking time to do quick clean-ups to avoid a pile-up of dishes, tools, and ingredients.
- Cook once, eat twice.
Cook larger quantities and repurpose leftovers for the next day's meal. Transform leftover ingredients into different dishes throughout the week.
- Optimize oven use.
Cook multiple items simultaneously in the oven to save time. Use the oven for hands-off cooking while you focus on other tasks. Many things like bacon, vegetables and potatoes can be cooked in the oven vs. the stove top.
- Use prepared side dishes.
Try using pre-cooked packaged rice, prepared mashed potatoes, bagged salads, microwavable vegetables, canned or cartons of soups, canned veggies or frozen sides that compliment your main course.
- Use pre-made sauces and condiments.
Enhance flavors with store-bought sauces, dressings, or condiments to save time on seasoning. Go for a quality pre-made sauce or condiment for the best flavor. You can also mix several sauces to create new flavors. For example: marinara with alfreso sauce to create a pink sauce. Try adding sweet chili sauce to Asian sauces to enhance the flavor with sweetness and spice.
- Try a charcuterie-board dinner.
This is a great way to use what you have on had and offer a variety of foods. Just arranged different ingredient onto a platter and let your family or guests choose what they want. Incorporate deli meats, cheeses, nuts, fruits, breads, pretzels, crackers, hummus or other dips.
- Be flexible.
The most important thing to remember is to adjust to your time, budget and priorities. All these things may vary week to week, year to year or day to day. You may have an abundance of fresh foods you need to use up, or you may not have been able to make it to the store this week. Always start with where you are right in this moment and build your meals from there. Take shortcuts if you need to without beating yourself up about it.
Have other ways you've found success saving time cooking? Please share below what works for you, what tools you use or what questions you have.