Are you constantly on the go? Stretched thin? Seeking was to cook faster? These cooking hacks for busy people will let you reclaim some of your time.
What’s for dinner? Some nights, that simple question is the hardest to answer. There’s too much going on, too many things to think about, and not enough time to do it all.
What should I take for lunch? That’s another one. Although the kitchen is filled with ingredients, sometimes it feels like no one knows how to mix them for a good lunch.
If your life falls into the category of “super busy,” as mine does, then you probably know what I am talking about. And even the best meal planner — because let’s face it, when you’re that busy you have to plan meals — sometimes needs last-minute help.
But even if you don’t relate, these tips will still help you cook well, fast.
Ready to learn more? These cooking hacks will help you eat well — fast!
Leftover Today, Lunch Tomorrow
Leftovers don’t go to waste in our house — instead, they become easy grab-and-go lunches. And that’s where the hack comes in.
Pack your leftovers as a meal. With older kids and adults, our leftovers typically go into snuggly sealing reusable containers that they can just pop into a lunch box.
But if meals need to be reheated and that’s not possible, then you’ll want to pack them for thermoses instead.
Here’s how: Use a thermos container to measure the perfect portion size. Transfer the food to a microwavable container (for the fridge) or a freezer bag (to be frozen). If you refrigerate the leftovers, they should be reheated and eaten within the next few days. If you freeze them, they should be reheated from frozen (remove them from the bag to a microwave-safe container and heat for a minute or two on high) and eaten within two months.
It takes a few minutes to organize leftovers like this but pays huge dividends in time savings and lower stress on busy workday mornings.
Say Yes to the Shortcuts
Looking for dinner help? Don’t be afraid to rely on products that make cooking easier — they will help you cook faster.
“If you want to save time, don’t overlook grocery store ‘cheats!’ Whether that means doctoring up a jar of pasta sauce, using a pre-made simmer sauce, or buying prepped veggies from the frozen or refrigerated aisles, you can often toss together something delicious and exciting without much fuss at all,” said Ashley of Confessions of A Grocery Addict.
Seriously, find a jarred sauce you love. Or buy fresh pasta (which cooks in a fraction of the time of dried pasta). Or raid the salad bar for pre-cut veggies for that stirfry. One of my favorite cheats is Rana Basil Pesto, which tastes so much like my own homemade pesto. We use it in pasta, on sandwiches and even as a base for a homemade vinaigrette.
Shortcuts will make dinner come together faster.
The biggest time saver for cooking is in the prep time — and there are so many ways to make this more efficient.
“When prepping produce, always use 3 bowls: one for unchopped produce, one for chopped, and another for scraps. By staying organized, you’ll save time and brain space when cooking AND avoid going to the trash can 34 times,” said Eliza Schuett, who runs the plant-based food blog The Hangry Chickpea.
Working smarter, not harder, is always a great way to speed up your meal-making!
And while you’re at it, consider chopping more than you need (it will help later!).
“It works for all kinds of vegetables, but I especially like to do it with hard-to-chop vegetables such as pumpkin or butternut squash for recipes I make often. I love to chop double the amount of butternut squash, for instance, when I make this delicious Thai chicken and butternut squash curry,” said Helen Schofield, the blogger behind Scrummy Lane.
Or, if you can, prep all those yummy vegetables on your day off — whenever that might be.
“Process all produce and fresh items at the beginning of the week, as soon as they are brought home from the grocery store. I recommend washing fruits and vegetables, chopping and storing firmer vegetables in the fridge for weekly use. Vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, carrots, onions and garlic, or practically any vegetable that does not have a high water content, can be pre-chopped and stored for the week. This cuts down daily prep time, as you can grab and go for a number of dishes, while only having to prep once,” said Sunena Anand, the founder of The Sassy Foodie.
Try a Flavor Bomb
If you love big flavors in your meals, you don’t have to sacrifice it for time. In fact, you can create it while also saving time. Here’s how:
“I used to chop garlic very finely until I discovered you can just run it through the Microplane. I make a quick “flavour bomb” of pureed garlic, lemon zest and a little chilli which I then add to olive oil. This way I save time because I don’t need to wash a cutting board after either, just quick smash the garlic and then rasp it into a puree in seconds,” said Devan Cameron, chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed.
Ingenious, right? It’s amazing how something so simple can elevate food.
The Fastest Way to Cook Dinner
This is the ultimate in cooking hacks. Seriously, do this!
“The fastest way to cook dinner is to not cook dinner at all. Make a nice salad that is loaded with vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, and a simple salad dressing. Serve the salad with some crusty artisan bread and butter, and you will have a delicious meal without any time wasted cooking,” said Gabriel Glasier, founder of Chef Travel Guide.
Another way to use this hack: cook your main dish but serve it with raw vegetables. Carrot spears, sliced bell peppers and cucumbers, cherry tomatoes — they are all delicious on their own, and require little prep and no cooking time.
Plan Around the Week
Probably the most important cooking hack to master is tailoring your meal to the time you have. That means choosing super easy, fast meals on time-stretched nights and saving the risotto for when you have time to spend stirring and stirring and stirring and … you get the idea.
When I am planning our meals on the calendar, I factor in what’s happening each night. For instance, on Thursdays, my daughter has dance class until 7:15pm. That means dinner that night needs to be quick and easy. So I plan meals that can be made in a short time — or that slow cook all day so I don’t have to worry about dinner.
Making Dinner Work for You
Dinner doesn’t have to be a stressor. Planning ahead helps. But so does having a well-stocked kitchen and a few easy options in mind (fancy ramen, for instance, is super easy!). And then, instead of worrying about it, just make dinner. It will be ready before you know it.