9 Ways to Get Dinner on the Table in Less Time
Cook More. Live Better.
Eating healthy and dieting looks easy on paper. The hard part is not letting life get in the way so you can carry out those goals. If you’re worried that spending a lot of time in the kitchen may keep you from following your diet plan, then relax. Healthy meals on the Cooking Light Diet don’t have to take a lot of time, especially when you follow these nine tips to make yourself a superfast cook.
1. Stock the basics.
There’s going to be key ingredients that even the most basic meal preparation requires—salt, pepper, cooking spray, healthy oils like olive or canola, and favorite spices and seasonings for starters. Take inventory of your kitchen to see what staples you need to replenish; then store them in an easy to reach location. If there’s an item you go through quickly, keep a spare on hand. Having these basics at your fingertips will streamline cooking. For a thorough list of kitchen essentials in the pantry and refrigerator, see our list of Healthy Pantry Essentials.
2. Think ahead.
Set aside time once a week to make a grocery list and shop. Then, prep some of your food for the week. This may mean making a soup or assembling a casserole in advance, chopping veggies for a stir-fry later in the week, or portioning out snacks in individual serving containers. Scan your weekly recipes for ingredients that may need to be marinated or defrosted, and set a reminder in your calendar the day before. If you invest a little time in organizing food for the week, you’ll find that meals come together quickly and hassle-free.
3. Fill your freezer.
Keeping your freezer stocked with frozen fruits and vegetables is essential for when you don’t have fresh on hand. Frozen fruits like whole strawberries and blueberries have already been washed and trimmed and are ready to toss in a blender for smoothies. Frozen veggies like broccoli, carrots, green beans, and corn can be steamed in the microwave in less than 5 minutes for quick side dishes to round out meals. Don’t worry about getting fewer nutrients when you opt for frozen over fresh; frozen produce can actually have just as many nutrients since they’re usually frozen just hours after being picked.
4. Perfect knife skills.
If you’ve ever watched chefs cook, you've likely noticed how quickly and efficiently they mince, dice and chop. Learning proper knife skills and techniques can end up saving you lots of time when prepping ingredients. Check out this video to learn culinary knife techniques and tricks or search for other guides on the web. Make sure your knife is sharp though; nothing is more dangerous than chopping with a dull knife.
5. Break it down.
Larger cuts of meat mean longer cook times. To reduce cooking time, place chicken breasts or pork cutlets between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a rolling pin or meat mallet. The thinner pieces will cook in half the time or less and also more evenly. When meatloaf is on the menu, use muffin tins to cook mini-loaves in half the time instead of cooking it in a large bread pan. Our Mini BBQ Meat Loaves with Smashed Blue Cheese Potatoes is an excellent choice.
6. Determine a game plan.
Before you start cooking, read through your recipes and pull together a game plan. Start with the dish that requires the most time, and get it going. Once you’ve got it started, make use of “hands-free” down-time to focus on the getting the rest of the menu together. For example, while you wait for water to boil, chop tomatoes for a salad. Having a game plan allows you to multitask to make efficient use of kitchen time.
7. Let others do the work.
When possible, let others do the prep work and cooking by purchasing ready-to-eat foods. In the produce section, look for bagged salad mixes and washed and trimmed vegetables. In the grocery deli, look for hot rotisserie chickens and grilled salmon. Both can be served immediately as the protein source in your meal or incorporated into a recipe. Buying peeled and deveined shrimp in the seafood section also saves time and can even be requested steamed. Although they may cost a little more, these ready-to-eat products may be worth the price when pressed for time.
8. Cook slowly.
Toss a few ingredients in and eight hours later you’ve got dinner waiting. Sound too easy? On busy days, slow cookers can be a dieter’s best friend. Set your clock to get up 10 minutes early so you have time to pull ingredients together and toss them in. Let them simmer all day, and then walk in the door to a hot, cooked meal.
9. Double up on ingredients.
When you find a recipe you love, double or triple the recipe the next time you make it. Then, freeze the extra servings for when you don’t feel like cooking. You can even freeze individual servings so you have your own homemade frozen meals. Also, cook extra servings of staples such as rice, pasta, or chicken breasts when they’re on the menu. Then when you’re in a pinch, you’ve got healthy basics you can make a quick meal with by topping salad greens with chicken or tossing pasta with frozen veggies.