Woman Rinsing Vegetables at Sink in Kitchen

How To Make Nutritious Meals Fast With These Easy Tips

The food I put into my body is super important, but I also don’t want to spend hours and hours every day in the kitchen. Are you the same way?

I am a self-taught cook who loves to eat delicious, high-quality food. I would like to share some easy kitchen tips that I have learned over the years. These simple strategies will help you to make nutritious meals fast, without sacrificing flavor or variety.

1. Stick with simple favorites

It can be really fun trying out new recipes, but most of us don’t have time to do that every day, especially on work or school days. It’s hard enough trying to fit in a workout and family obligations, without also having to shop for special ingredients and figure out new cooking techniques!

Weekends and days off are the perfect times to experiment with something new. But for those days when time is short, it’s best to stick with meals you love, and already know how to make.

Keep a list of your favorite simple meals that you can throw together easily, and make sure you always have the ingredients you need on hand.

2. Make a grocery list & shop only once a week

Asparagus stalks beside sheets of paper fastened by paper clip on white desktop
A grocery list will save you time and money!

It can be tempting to just run to the store a couple of times a week, whenever you need something. But this is a huge waste of time and effort! Just one stop at the store after work can end up taking 45 minutes to an hour. Doing this multiple times a week can cost you several hours of precious time, not to mention the frustration of constantly having to replenish your supplies.

I keep a grocery list going at all times, and as I think of it and run out of things, I jot items down on the list throughout the week. Then, on shopping day, I make a final sweep of my kitchen for anything else I need and add it to the list. When I get to the store, I know exactly what and how much to get of each thing.

In addition to saving loads of time, a grocery list will also save you money. When shopping without a list, it’s easy to get tempted by everything that looks good! It can be quite a shock to get up to the register and see that you’ve gone way over your weekly food budget.

When you make your list as you go throughout the week, it saves you from forgetting things, and it also isn’t as big a chore as having to write everything out all at once.

3. Stock up on staples

Weekly shopping trips are not only a time to buy what you need for the week, but it’s also good to get a few items to keep your pantry stocked up.

Staples are those food items you eat regularly, and which make up a large part of your diet. While it’s not really possible to stock up on perishable items, it is smart to keep a good supply of dry goods on your shelves. They usually last for many months, and sometimes several years.

Here are some items to keep stocked:

  • grains (rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, oats, granola, etc)
  • dried beans (black, pinto, kidney, navy, garbanzo, lentils, peas, etc)
  • canned goods (vegetables, fruit, tuna, sardines, etc)
  • jarred/bottled sauces (tomato, pesto, teriyaki, tamari, etc)
  • condiments (mustard, ketchup, mayo, pickles, olives, etc)
  • spices (salt, pepper, basil, oregano, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, etc)

Having these items on hand at all times ensures that you have what you need to make a fast meal at a moment’s notice.

As you’re making your list throughout the week, write down any staple items you are getting low on, and pick up a few on your next shopping trip.

4. Use basic ingredients to add flavor

A sauce or a dressing isn’t the only way to add flavor to a dish. Never underestimate the power of good basic ingredients to give a pop of flavor to your meal!

You can save meal prep time by using simple ingredients you already have on hand.

Try sprinkling or stirring one/some of these over your food to quickly add some pizzazz:

  • lemon/lime juice, or zest
  • soy sauce/tamari
  • specialty salt
  • dried herbs
  • chili flakes
  • mustard
  • vinegar
  • nutritional yeast flakes
  • good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • cracked pepper

5. Use packaged fresh veggies

It’s true that buying fresh vegetables and washing and chopping them yourself will save you a lot of money. But that old saying “time is money” is also true!

Bags of cleaned and cut veggies might not be in the budget for everyday use, but they can certainly be a huge time-saver once in a while. It’s better to spend a bit more for convenience sometimes when you really need it than to forego having veggies with your meal because you just don’t have time to prepare them.

Some veggies commonly available in ready-to-eat bags are:

  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • green beans
  • coleslaw cabbage mix
  • carrots (baby or shredded)

6. Make your own salad dressing

At first glance, it might seem funny to say that making your own salad dressing could save you time in the kitchen. If you were to make a fancy dressing every night for your salad, it would indeed delay getting your dinner on the table.

But if you make a big batch of salad dressing on the weekend, it will be enough to last the whole week. You get the best of both worlds: a delicious dressing with no unhealthy ingredients and, equally important, you’ll save time because it’s already prepared.

Other big bonuses to making your own salad dressing are that it is much less expensive, and tastes way better than bottled dressing from the store!

It takes a little forethought and a few extra minutes on the weekend. But once you get into the habit of doing it, it will be just a normal part of your time-saving (and health-promoting) routine. You’ll never want to go back to bottled dressing.

A few simple salad dressing recipes to try:

Everyday Salad Dressing, Healthy Ranch Dressing, Easy Tahini Dressing (this one calls for vinegar instead of lemon juice, so no cutting and juicing lemons!), Sesame Ginger Dressing (be sure to use tamari if you need it to be gluten-free).

7. Cook a big batch of whole grains

Whole grains have long been an important part of my daily healthy diet. One of my biggest time savers is using a rice cooker to make a big batch to last me throughout the week.

What I do is on Saturday night I measure out my grains, wash them, and place them in the rice cooker with water to soak overnight. On Sunday morning all I have to do is press the button on the rice cooker, and the grains cook unattended while I do other things.

Once they have finished cooking, let them sit for about 30 minutes before stirring. This is important because if you stir them right away they have a tendency to become gummy in texture.

After the grains have cooled completely, place them in a large airtight container and they will keep for one week in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you could portion out the grains into smaller, individual-sized containers.

Rice cookers are not only for cooking rice, though! I have been cooking all of my different types of whole grains in a rice cooker for many years now, and they always come out perfect. The trick is to be sure to use the appropriate ratio of water to grain.

Different types of grain require different amounts of water and cooking times. But don’t worry, the rice cooker automatically adjusts the cooking time to the amount of water in the pot. You literally just press start and forget about it until the grains are done cooking!

8. One-pot meals

Colorful Vegetables in a Pan

When it comes to saving time in the kitchen, one of the best strategies is to make the whole meal in one pot. This method is faster and easier than using multiple pots and/or appliances.

Instead of juggling multiple dishes with different cooking times and techniques, all of your attention is focused on one pot. This one pot could be a skillet, a saucepan, a wok, a Dutch oven, or a slow cooker.

The wonderful thing is that just about every cuisine in the world has some version of the one-pot meal. From Italian to Chinese, Mexican, Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern, Thai, Indian, American, and everything in between, there are so many different tastes to choose from!

Not only is cooking in one pot faster and easier but so is the clean-up. Without multiple pots and pans and various other cooking vessels, washing dishes is a breeze!

Some one-pot meals are more time-intensive than others (such as a stew).

These are the easy and fast go-tos for those busy weeknight dinners:

  • chili
  • curry
  • pasta
  • stir fry

Within each category, there are so many variations. By simply switching up the ingredients, you can have a different taste every time!

9. One-bowl meals

Over the years I have become a huge fan of the one-bowl meal. The concept is similar to the one-pot meal method, but is even faster and easier!

I have followed this way of meal preparation for many years, and have found it really works for my busy lifestyle. But my way of meal prep is different than the typical definition.

When the term “meal prep” comes up, most people think of batch cooking a week’s worth of meals all at one time. The meals are put into compartmentalized containers and kept in the fridge, to be heated up when it’s time to eat.

While it could save lots of time during the week, this way of meal prepping never really appealed to me. One reason is that I don’t want to devote several hours of time on the weekend to cooking. Another reason is that I enjoy my meals more when they have been freshly prepared.

Basically, my version of a one-bowl meal is either a rice bowl, a pasta bowl, or a big salad. I wrote a blog post about it called “A Quick, Easy, and Healthy Daily Food Plan“. Check it out to see just how easy this way of making meals can be!

10. Learn good knife skills

Hands Chopping Garlic With a Knife on a Cutting Board
Having good knife skills keeps you safe and efficient in the kitchen

Many people say they hate cooking because it takes too long to chop up all that food. So they end up resorting to an unhealthy diet of expensive, ready-made meals.

But what if I told you that if you knew how to properly use a knife in the kitchen, chopping up loads of fresh veggies and fruits would be quick and easy? Using a knife might seem like a no-brainer, but it is actually an important skill that needs to be learned.

Learning how to properly hold a knife is important from a safety standpoint, as having the right grip helps you to control what the knife is doing.

In recipes, ingredients are often listed by how they should be cut. In order to understand how to cook a dish, you should be familiar with the different types of chopping and cutting techniques. How a food is cut makes a difference in the cooking time, and also the overall flavor and presentation of the dish.

Using a knife might seem like a no-brainer, but it is actually an important skill that needs to be learned.

If you don’t know the difference between a dice and a chop, or a julienne and a chiffonade, don’t worry! Check out this article to learn basic knife skills, with written descriptions and photos, as well as links to video tutorials. Here is another good article that shows tips and tricks on how to cut specific types of vegetables. Never be intimidated by a butternut squash again!

Feeling confident in your knife skills adds to ease and efficiency in the kitchen. It is worth it to learn and practice the various cutting techniques. Practice is the key here! The more you do it, the easier it will be, and the easier it is, the more time you will save in the kitchen.

11. Clean up as you go

A Woman Washing Dishes With a Sponge at Kitchen Sink
It’s faster & easier to clean up a little at a time

It’s a terrible thing to finish cooking a wonderful meal, only to find yourself elbow-deep in dirty dishes, scattered throughout the kitchen! Not only is it unsightly and overwhelming, but you will end up spending a long time washing dishes after you finish eating.

It’s much more efficient to clean up as you go, rather than waiting until the end to do it all at once. While you have something in the oven, or there’s a pot boiling on the stove, why not use that time to quickly wash up the bowls and utensils that have already accumulated? By the time your meal is done cooking, the kitchen will be mostly already cleaned up.

Besides washing up while the food’s cooking, take a look around the kitchen to see what else you can do. Done with those spices? Put them back on the spice rack. Finished measuring out that butter or milk? Back into the fridge, it goes. Take a moment to clean off the counters, and wipe up any splatters or spills on the stovetop. It’s much easier to clean things before they become hard and crusty!

Another tip is to rinse things like mixing bowls and utensils right away. Also, rinse out pots and pans as soon as you can. If there’s any stuck-on food, be sure to fill them up with water to soak while you eat. They will be so much easier to wash later!

Getting into the habit of cleaning as you cook will save you tons of time. It will also add to your enjoyment of the meal because you won’t be thinking about a huge cleanup after you finish eating.

12. Read the recipe, pre-heat, & measure ingredients

Hand Turning On Oven

Before you actually begin cooking, there are some things you should do first that will save you time while preparing the meal.

  1. The first thing is to read the recipe thoroughly. Be sure you understand the steps involved, and determine if anything needs to be prepped beforehand (such as chilling, bringing to room temperature, thawing, etc).
  2. Next, if you’re using the oven or broiler, preheat to the designated temperature before you do anything else. If your recipe calls for something to be boiled, get that pot of water heating up on the stove.
  3. After that, begin gathering your equipment on the counter. Get out your cutting board, knife, mixing bowls, blender/food processor, utensils, measuring cups/spoons, etc.
  4. Next, get your ingredients together and start measuring them out. Spices that will be added at the same time can be measured out together in a small bowl. Those that will be added later can be measured and placed in a separate bowl. Measure out any liquid or other dry ingredients so they’re ready to go.
  5. The final preparatory step will be to measure out, and then cut, slice, or chop your veggies, nuts, meat, etc. This is where your knife skills come into play! Take note of how the recipe specifies to cut up each ingredient; it makes a huge difference in the outcome of the recipe.

Doing all of these steps before starting to cook ensures that no time is wasted, and everything is ready to go. You won’t have to stop midway through the recipe, because you need to chop walnuts, wait for the water to come to a boil, or for the oven to heat up.

13. Have a plan

Woman in Brown Apron and Bandana Standing in the Kitchen  Thinking and Holding a Magazine
Planning is everything!

Walking into the kitchen without knowing what you’re going to make is a recipe for wasting time! It really pays to take a few minutes to think about what the day’s meals will be. This can be done either the night before or in the morning.

I’m not one for planning out an entire week’s worth of meals, but I do like to have an idea of what I will be making for the day. Breakfast is a good time to go over what you’d like to have for lunch and dinner. This gives you some time to look for recipes (if needed), and to be sure you have the ingredients on hand.

Going over your recipes early in the day also gives you a chance to prepare. Maybe an ingredient needs to thaw out, chill in the fridge, or come to room temperature. Or you might want to hunt down that certain gadget hiding out in a drawer or pull your blender out from the back of the cabinet.

Saving time is all about being prepared! Having a plan will keep you on schedule, and help you to avoid last-minute chaos that could slow you down.

14. Basic kitchen equipment

Another very important key to ease and efficiency in the kitchen is having the right tools and equipment. It’s really easy, though, to end up buying a bunch of cool little kitchen gadgets and appliances, but fall short on the necessary basics.

It might be fun to have an air fryer, a pasta machine, a specialty avocado slicer, or an egg cuber tool. But how much are these items going to really help you on a daily basis?

When it comes to saving time cooking nutritious meals, you really need to have certain basic pieces of kitchen equipment. Without them, you will waste time scrounging around to find something that will “work” (sort of).

Sometimes, not having the right tool for the job can keep you from properly preparing a recipe. Or, it can end up causing a big mess, which takes extra time to clean up (I know this from experience)!

Here are the basic and necessary pieces of tools & equipment that you should have:

  • knives (8″ chefs, serrated, & paring)
  • cutting boards (at least 2)
  • utensils (spatula, large spoons, whisk, tongs)
  • colander
  • saucepans (small & large)
  • skillets (small & large)
  • mixing bowls (glass or metal)
  • food storage containers (glass or plastic)
  • baking dishes (small & large)
  • baking sheets (2)
  • oven mitts and potholders
  • measuring cups & spoons
  • blender and/or food processor

A blender or food processor is at the end of the list because these items aren’t really necessary for everyone, although they can be great time savers. If you are a person who often makes things like pesto sauce, hummus, smoothies, or nut butter from scratch, then having these appliances will definitely save you time (and money).

But if you’re a super minimalist when it comes to food and cooking, you probably won’t use a full-size blender or food processor much. In that case, you might want to just get a mini version to have on hand for smaller jobs.

15. Double the recipe & repurpose leftovers

I combined these last two tips into one because I think they go hand-in-hand. When we go to the trouble of cooking something delicious, it makes sense to make extra servings. Those extra servings can then be used for another meal, which is a great time saver.

Whenever I make something like soup, chili, stir fry, stew, curry, roasted veggies, meat, baked potatoes, or even a simple pot of beans, I make enough for another couple of meals. Then I decide if I’m going to eat them in the next few days. If not, I freeze them to be used another time.

Most leftovers can also be used to create something different than their original form. Use your imagination to come up with ideas, or check out recipes to see where you could use your leftover ingredients.

For example, try serving your chili with cornbread one day, and then another day spoon it over a baked sweet potato. Or have your curry with rice one night, and the next day wrap it in a tortilla for lunch. Those roasted veggies might be delicious mixed with pasta, and then a few days later you could make tacos with them, and add in some beans or meat.

The possibilities are endless, and leftovers are a great way to save time preparing healthy and delicious meals. It usually doesn’t take any more effort (or time) to double a recipe, so why not?

Summary

If you’re like me, then healthy eating is a priority in your life. But you probably also don’t want to spend all day cooking! I hope my tips for making nutritious meals fast will help you to eat delicious and healthy food, while still having time to enjoy the rest of your life.

Let me know in the comments below if these tips have helped you. Also, please tell me about your tried-and-true strategies for saving time in the kitchen!

Assorted Colorful Vegetables Arranged on Round Stainless Steel Plate

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