One thing I’m learning in culinary school, besides how to brag about my well-earned cuts and burns, is the importance of mise (pronounced MEEZ) en place—French for “put in place.” This is industry speak for prep: all those little bowls of perfectly chopped and measured items that make food demos look incredibly quick and easy (and hey, if Martha can dump and stir, why can’t I?).

Even though prep work is essential in a restaurant kitchen, I almost never do it at home. I start to sweat the onions before thinking to mince garlic or dice potatoes, sure that I’ve mastered my timing, only to have the onions darken before I’m ready. Or I’m seconds away from getting a quick bread in the oven, only to find I have to stop everything and toast those nuts. But I know I’ll save time (and sanity) by doing just a little legwork beforehand. A few tips:

Read the ingredients like the first step in a recipe.If it calls for 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs, toasted, or 2 minced garlic cloves, do that now, then proceed with step 1.

Invest in cute bowls.Colorful, whimsical, stackable. Use for spices or diced veggies as you cook, then fill with herbs or fresh grated cheese and pass at the table.

Put (it all) in (one) place.Even if you don’t want to measure beforehand or deal with extra bowls, it helps to gather all ingredients together in one place. “Mise en place” really means to just “get ready,” minimizing trips to and from the fridge, spice cabinet, or pantry.

How do you prep when you cook? Let us know in the comments.