Note: This is a guest post from Rachael of KitchenCourses.com
Eating is a necessity, but cooking doesn’t have to be these days. It’s simple to swing by a drive thru after work to pick up dinner and never really think much about what you’re putting in your body. The truth is that this lifestyle choice isn’t really great for us, and most of us know that. We know we need to make meals that are good for us, but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen when we have a million other things to do each day. Even as someone who loves to cook, I still don’t like to spend hours in the kitchen if I don’t have to.
Putting meals together each day doesn’t have to take a ton of time. With a little bit of planning, thoughtful stocking and arrangement of items in your kitchen, a few key ingredients, and some go-to methods, you’ll be able to make meals to be proud of in no time flat. In the spirit of taking baby steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, here are just a few ways that you can make the most of the time you dedicate to spending in your kitchen, whether it’s an hour a day or just fifteen minutes.
1. Set your kitchen up in a way that works to your advantage
This means regularly stocking your pantry with items you know you’ll keep coming back for and that are healthful choices. When you have items stocked, you don’t have to worry so much about what meals you’re making and trying to think up things to eat. There is also something to be said about organization: when you know where ingredients are stored, you’ll never have to wonder where something is again. Whenever you need a particular ingredient, you’ll always be able to return to that place for that item and not have to wander around wondering what you did with it last time. When you know where ingredients are, pulling meals together can be quick and simple. Having pantry items on hand at all times will help you to bridge the gap between a one-dish meal and a meal with multiple side dishes.
2. Choose quick cooking methods that don’t take up a lot of time
Stir frying vegetables and thinly cut meat is one of the quickest ways to get a flavorful and healthy meal on the table. The most time you’ll have to invest is heating the pan and chopping up vegetables. The key to a good stir fry is starting with a nice hot pan, so don’t be shy, but definitely be careful! Another good choice for quick cooking is grilling indoors. If the meat is thin enough, it will cook up in a flash.
Any weeknight dinner can become a meal with the addition of one or two side dishes. One of the simplest ways of doing this is by eating vegetables raw or by quickly steaming them over boiling water. Not only do most vegetables cook up in under ten minutes using this method, but they also retain a lot more of their nutritional value as well.
3. Turn to quick cooking ingredients that are flavorful and healthy
Ingredients like pasta, canned beans, couscous, quinoa, and canned proteins, like chicken or tuna, can be your best friends when you want to throw a meal together quickly, but still eat well. Not only are these few ingredients quite easy on the wallet, but they’re pantry staples that you can keep around all the time and fall back on when you need them. Pasta, couscous, and quinoa can all be used as a base for a salad and when tossed with a little vinaigrette and vegetables are a perfect compliment to grilled fish, chicken, or steak. These quick cooking grains can also become a complete one-dish meal when mixed with cooked and cubed chicken and a vegetable or two.
4. Plan out your time in the kitchen before you get there
Even if you spend ten seconds thinking about what you’ll be making before you get into the kitchen, those ten seconds will be worth it. Before you take start chopping or pulling ingredients from the fridge or pantry, take a moment to think if you’ll need to preheat the oven or start a pot of boiling water. Preheating the oven can take around 20 minutes to get to the right temperature, while boiling a pot of water can take around 15 minutes. Use that time to your advantage and get a head start on these tasks, while you’re prepping ingredients. A little bit of planning can save you from staring at a pot of not yet boiling water when the rest of your meal is finished and getting cold.
5. Take a little help from technology
Don’t be afraid to use small appliances that can aid in saving you time. Pressure cookers can cut cooking time in half for some dishes and still give you a delicious and flavorful dish. Another time saver in the kitchen is the tried and true crock pot. While it hinges on cooking at low temperatures for a long period of time, you can virtually throw ingredients in them and walk away for up to 8 hours without having to worry about it. This means you can chop your ingredients, put them in the pot, cover, turn it on, and walk away while you make your way through the day. Having dinner ready when you are – now that is time-saving!
Whether you’re making your way through the drive thru more than you’d like to admit or are just looking for a few ways to spend less time in the kitchen and more time gathered around the table with your family, these tips are sure to help you get at whatever goal it is you’re after.
What are some ways that you find help you the most when saving time in the kitchen?
Rachael is the blogger behind KitchenCourses.com and is the author of How to Cook For Yourself: A Complete Beginner’s Guide. She writes about her passion for food, eating well while saving money, and inspires people to get familiar with their kitchens and cook for themselves.