These time-saving tips for cooking and meal-prep will help you save time in the kitchen so you can make healthy home-cooked meals and still have time to get things done!
Cooking at home is one of the best ways to keep yourself healthy + well, because you’re in control of the ingredients and you know EXACTLY what you’re putting in your body.
Now, I love eating out, but the truth is you just don’t know what you’re getting when you eat out. There’s almost surely some unhealthy + processed stuff in there somewhere.
Cooking healthy meals at home with whole and nutrient-dense foods gives your body the fuel it needs so you’ll have more energy, feel better, and look better.
But cooking can also be REALLY time-consuming (especially if you’re super slow in the kitchen like me).
So today I’m sharing some tips and tricks I’ve picked up that help me get healthy meals ready a little faster . . . because every minute saved in the kitchen is a minute you can be building your empire and pursuing your dreams (and it’ll help you stay healthy + well along the journey)!
Some of these tips are tiny little tweaks, and some are a little more involved. But they’ll all work for you no matter what level of cook you are (I’m a mediocre/intermediate-level cook AT BEST).
Tips & tricks that will save time + make healthy cooking easier
1. Have a plan.
I know I sound like a broken record on this one, but it’s just SO important.
Having a plan means planning your meals for the week (or two-weeks or month if you’re really ambitious).
It also means checking your pantry and fridge for the ingredients you’ll need, and making a shopping list before heading to the grocery store.
And last, it means taking into account what kind of week you have ahead before deciding what to cook.
You might have dinner plans one night, or a day when you’re gonna need to work extra late. Be sure to take those things into account when thinking about how many meals you’ll need and what kind of meals you’ll make. You might want to plan to make something that will give you a lot of leftovers for a quick meal on a night when you’ll be working late.
2. Shop once for the whole week.
Nothing sucks away your time like multiple trips to the grocery store. Another benefit of planning your meals is you’ll know exactly what ingredients you need for the week. You can make one list, set aside time for a grocery shopping trip, and get it all done in one fell swoop!
3. Use a store-specific shopping list.
Okay, this takes a little time on the front-end, but will save you a lot of time in the long-run.
If there’s a certain store where you shop, next time you’re in there take pics of the signs telling what’s on each aisle. Then make a shopping list template in Word or Google docs with space to write items under each aisle. I did this when I was doing my own shopping, and it REALLY saved me a lot of time.
4. Let someone else do the shopping for you.
One of my personal favorites! I use Instacart and LOVE it! It’s so easy and saves me SO much time.
If you want to get $10 off your first Instacart order, sign up HERE! (and I’ll get $10 off my next order too — it’s a win-win!)
Another option is Amazon Fresh (loved it at first, but then had some not stellar experiences so I dropped them and moved to InstaCart).
A new option that I haven’t had the chance to try yet is Amazon’s delivery service from Whole Foods. I *think* delivery is free for Amazon Prime members, and it’s a 2-hour delivery window. If you have Whole Foods in your area, it may be worth checking out. (I plan to test it and will report back on how it goes.)
5. Use pre-made meal plans or a meal service.
Pre-made meal plans will save you the time of looking through recipes and food blogs for ideas, because the meals are already planned out for you. Most of them also include a pre-made shopping list — a double win!
A couple of benefits for The Fresh 20 are that they give you a ton of different meal plans to choose from, so it will support a wide variety of eating styles (including vegetarian and gluten-free). It’s also set up to simplify your cooking by requiring only 20 ingredients a week for all your meals.
One of the things I especially love about PrepDish is it’s set up for you to prep and cook ahead for the week. You take a couple of hours over the weekend, follow the instructions for prepping and doing some of the cooking, and then you have very little to do during the week. It’s AWESOME!
The only reason I’m not currently using PrepDish is that it’s very meat-heavy, and I like to eat a mostly plant-based diet (oh how I wish she would make a vegetarian or flexitarian version!). But she offers Paleo and gluten-free plans, and all the meals I’ve made were delicious and super healthy. If you’re okay with eating meat most nights of the week, I highly recommend this one!
If you want to save time on the planning AND the shopping, try a boxed meal service. There are a lot of good ones out there (I’ve tried A LOT of them) — Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, Field to Meal and SunBasket.
These were all good, but my hands-down favorite is SunBasket. They offer a big variety of meal types (vegetarian to Paleo and everything in between), the meals are DELICIOUS, everything is responsibly and sustainably sourced (organic produce, grass-fed and pastured meats, etc.), and pretty much all of their packaging is recyclable or compostable. LOVE IT!!
6. Eat the same thing for breakfast all week.
If you’re like me and pretty ambivalent about breakfast, you might be okay just eating the same thing for breakfast all week like I do.
This way I’m not spending time and energy having to think of different breakfast options and then preparing them.
I like to make one thing I can eat all week, and then I just swap it out once a week.
A few of my favorites are: smoothies, make-ahead oatmeal, chia seed pudding, boiled eggs and sliced avocado, avocado toast, and raw nuts or seeds (like pumpkin seeds — super healthy!) with fruit.
7. Prep and/or cook your food ahead of time.
Nothing new here, but if you’ve never tried it, I think you’ll love it (not so much while you’re doing it, but when the work week comes and you’re already so far ahead of the game, you’ll be SO happy you did it!).
One simple thing you can do is, as you’re unloading your groceries, go ahead and wash all the produce. That alone will save you a surprising amount of time during the week (and every minute counts!).
You could also go ahead and do all the chopping, dicing, grating, etc.
If you’re really feeling ambitious, you could make some or all of your meals over the weekend so that all you have to do during the week is heat them up. (I’ve found that wine and good music make this task much more enjoyable :).
Bonus tip: One of my favorite time-saving tools for chopping is my Breville all-in-one processing station (mini-chopper, immersion blender, mini-food processor — it does everything!). I use this almost every time I cook.
8. Skip the steps of washing and chopping by buying frozen vegetables.
I tend to forget about frozen vegetables, but they really are awesome for saving time and energy in the kitchen.
And as an added bonus, they’re actually often fresher and higher in nutrients than fresh fruit and veggies you buy from the produce department.
A few good picks are frozen chopped onions, chopped greens like collards or kale (especially good for soups or casseroles), broccoli florets or chopped broccoli, and I even found frozen shiitake mushrooms at the grocery store the other day!
Bonus tip: If you use ginger a lot like I do, try this organic minced ginger — it tastes really fresh and will save you SO much time when you have a recipe that calls for ginger (and it’s way more flavorful than dried ginger).
9. Double up your meals and freeze half for another week.
Either double a recipe or, if you’re cooking something that makes a lot of extra food — like soups — freeze some for another week and you’ll always have a meal in the freezer.
Sometimes I freeze enough for two servings so my husband and I can eat it for dinner, or sometimes I freeze individual servings to take for lunch. Either way, it’s a win!
10. Use a “formula” for your meal planning.
Sometimes having a little structure makes meal planning easier. One way to do this is to make a “formula” for yourself, where you assign a different type of meal to each night of the week that you plan to cook.
I always cook at home Monday through Thursday, but it’s a toss-up the rest of the week — we eat out quite a bit during the weekend, or sometimes we’ll finish up leftovers on one of those nights.
But on the nights that I cook, I sometimes follow a formula of what type of meal to have each night. Here’s one example I’ve used . . .
Monday: Soup + salad
This is just one example and the possibilities are endless! I like doing this because having that little bit of structure helps me decide faster what to cook each night when I’m planning my meals for the week. Otherwise, I tend to get a little overwhelmed by all the recipe options out there.
11. Build a collection of go-to healthy recipes that are quick + easy.
I love trying new recipes and usually try at least one new one a week, but that’s not a great strategy if you’re trying to save time in the kitchen.
Having a collection of recipes you’ve tried, like, and know how to cook that are quick + easy will make your life so much easier.
I bet you already have at least a few that qualify. Start a list in Trello or your note-taking app of preference, and keep updating it as you discover tasty new quick and healthy recipes.
If you need some inspiration in this department, check out my recipe guide for whole-food recipe that are quick, easy, and yummy!
And stay tuned next week, when I’ll be sharing some of my favorite quick + easy healthy recipes from around the web.
12. Plan your meals for a month in advance.
Okay, full disclosure . . . I haven’t actually done this, but I love the idea of it.
As you build your collection of go-to healthy recipes, you can start building out a month’s worth of meals.
Once you have a full month, just repeat it each month. Be sure to save your shopping lists from each week so you can reuse them.
13. Always have a prepared meal in the freezer you can thaw for dinner.
If you follow my suggestion of doubling your recipes and freezing the extra, this one will be a snap! And you’ll ALWAYS have something on hand for dinner.
Anytime I have leftovers I’m tired of eating, I just stick them in the freezer and save them for later. Saves me time and cuts down on waste — a double win!
14. Make more one-dish, one-pot, and one-bowl meals.
Things like stir-frys, soups with lots of veggies, Buddha bowls, and sheet-pan dinners are all good options for this.
Just be sure you’re choosing recipes that have a lot of veggies so you’re getting adequate servings of vegetables with your meal. I like to shoot for 3 servings of different vegetables at dinner.
Or just add a big salad or some chopped raw veggies for a quick way to get in extra veggies.
15. Eat leftovers for lunch.
By eating leftovers for lunch, you don’t have the added step of figuring out what to eat for lunch.
And any time you can avoid spending time and mental energy on planning something (like what to eat for lunch), it frees up that time and energy for more important things (like how you’re going to build your empire, or what your next big adventure is going to be).
16. Keep homemade sauces and dressings on hand to quickly dress up a basic meal.
A good sauce or dressing can totally make a meal. I’ll be sharing some of my favorites in next week’s blog post!
17. Use time-saving tools like the slow cooker and Instant Pot.
Two of my faves! (Actually, just one since the Instant Pot serves double-duty as a pressure cooker and slow cooker.)
Admittedly I’m not using the Instant Pot to its full potential, but I still manage to save a lot of time with it.
18. Keep staples like cooked quinoa and brown rice in the freezer.
This is another time when you can make more than the recipe calls for and freeze the extra.
When you have a recipe that calls for one of these, just take out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the night before, and it’ll be ready to go for dinner the next night.
19. Ask grocery store staff for help with tough prepping.
One of the best grocery store lessons I ever learned is that they will do some of your prep work for you!
My favorite example is asking someone in the produce department to slice a butternut or spaghetti squash in half for you.
If you’ve ever halved one of these squashes, you know it’s not easy + kind of dangerous. But they’re always so nice about it and will halve it for you, wrap it up, and save you the time and treachery of having to cut it yourself.
You can also ask the meat department to do things like chopping a whole chicken into pieces, peeling and deveining shrimp, or even steaming shrimp for you.
20. Cook a whole chicken in the Instant Pot (or roast it in the oven), and use it in recipes all week.
The Instant Pot makes this a breeze (you can even cook it frozen!). Or make a roast chicken with veggies in the oven one night and use the remaining chicken in another recipe, or make chicken salad for lunch.
21. Stick with simple recipes/meals during the week and save more complicated recipes for the weekend when you’re not pressed for time.
This one probably goes without say, but since it’s something I tend to have a problem with, I thought I’d mention it.
I really like experimenting with new recipes, and sometimes I get excited about one without thinking through how much time and effort it’s actually gonna take on a weeknight when time is short.
So be realistic about how much time (and energy) you’ll have for dinner by the end of the day, and pick a recipe that’s a good fit.
22. Substitute jarred roasted bell peppers for chopped fresh bell peppers.
I try to keep a jar of these on hand for when I’m feeling extra rushed (or just lazy). Depending on the recipe, this can be a time-saving substitute. Just try to find organic ones if at all possible.
23. Read the entire recipe BEFORE you start cooking.
It’s a mystery to me why I can’t seem to do this, but I’ve screwed up so many times by not reading the whole recipe first, and then realizing (once it’s too late) that it needs to marinate overnight or there are 25 steps that I just don’t have time for.
So learn from my mistake (maybe one of these days I will!), and be sure to read your recipe all the way through. Actually, I’d read it through while you’re doing your meal planning to make sure it’ll work for you during the week, and then I’d read it all the way through again before you start cooking.
24. Preheat the oven before doing anything else.
Why don’t all recipes list this as the first step??
If your oven takes FOREVER to preheat like mine does, this one’s especially important. Because we don’t have time to be standing around waiting for the oven to heat up!
25. Skip the peeling.
Don’t bother peeling the skin from veggies and fruits like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, or apples. Just wash them really well (and buy organic whenever possible). The skin often provides extra fiber and nutrients.
26. Line pans and baking dishes with aluminum foil or parchment paper for easy clean-up.
Sometimes you don’t even have to wash the dish after — that’s my kind of clean-up!
27. Cover the pot when you’re boiling water.
I can’t remember the science behind it, but covering the pot will make the water (or whatever liquid is in there) boil significantly faster.
28. Stop stripping the leaves off of cilantro.
I love cilantro, but I always dread when I see “chopped cilantro” in a recipe because it’s such a pain. Even my beloved Breville mini-chopper hates cilantro.
But one day I figured out a better way to chop cilantro (also works for parsley), and now I only get mildly annoyed when I have to do it.
Keep the cilantro together in a bunch and wash it, then dry it with a towel. Then, instead of pulling all the leaves off each individual stem, just cut the top part of the cilantro off (the section where there are a bunch of leaves), and just chop that up. You’ll get a few little pieces of stems, but not many. And it’s so much faster than stripping the leaves off first. Total game-changer.
29. Use a garbage bowl.
Like most people of my generation, I learned this from Rachael Ray.
The garbage bowl is awesome — especially if you have a big kitchen.
I do not have a big kitchen, but it still saves me a few steps, which saves me a few minutes (and every minute in the kitchen is a minute I could be doing something else!).
If you’re not familiar with the garbage bowl, you just put a big bowl on the counter in your workspace, and put all your garbage in it (stems and ends from produce, packaging that food was in, etc.) in the bowl as you go (instead of carrying each thing over to the trash can or letting it pile up on the counter).
Then you empty the bowl when you’re done cooking. If you use the technique batching in your business or work, it’s sort of like batching for garbage.
And as an added bonus, it gives you an excuse to leave one of your really pretty bowls on the counter all the time (I use a beautiful handmade pottery bowl that my best friend Sarah gave me). This way I get to use it every day, and it always makes me think of her.
30. Gather all your ingredients together before you start cooking.
I admit I don’t always do this, but when I do, it makes me feel so much more organized and it saves me time from going back and forth across the kitchen multiple times to get what I need.
And that way it doesn’t interrupt my “flow.” I actually don’t think I’m a good enough cook to get into a “flow” while cooking, which is all the more reason for me to limit the number of disruptions while cooking.
31. Clean as you go.
Ah . . . an oldie but a goodie. One easy way to do this is fill the sink with warm soapy water and drop dirty dishes and utensils in as you go. When you’re done cooking, the dishes can go straight into the dishwasher with no scrubbing (or be washed by hand much more easily).
I hope these tips will save you some time and make it a little easier to cook more at home and protect your health and wellness through healthy eating.
Next week I’ll be sharing some of MY go-to quick + easy recipes from around the web.
What are some of your favorite time-saving cooking tips? Comment below and share — I’m always on the lookout for new ideas!
Photo credit: mali maeder from Pexels