Kitchen Tips for Getting Healthy Meals on the Table- Fast
With all the innovation of today’s chefs and home cooks alike, it’s easier than ever to find fun, healthy recipes. Spending even 20 minutes on Pinterest and recipe sites can yield exciting new ideas for nutritious, appetizing meals.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the time to make those meals.
Starting with whole foods is a lot healthier, but it can be hard to find the time to do so with work, family commitments, and everything else filling up your schedule. Here is a long list of kitchen hacks that will help you get healthy meals on the dinner table quickly.
Kitchen Organization Ideas
- Keep like items together. Keep everything you need for making coffee and tea in one spot for easy morning access. Keep pots, pans, and lids near the stove, and make sure the utensils you need to stir with are within arm’s length. Think about items you use in conjunction with each other and organize your kitchen accordingly.
- Expand your food prep space. You can easily expand your work area using a drawer and a cutting board. Installing a cutting board in a drawer with a trash can below it can give you more room to prepare food without having to walk back and forth to the garbage can when you need to clear the board. If you compost, this is also a great way to keep food waste from going into the general garbage!
- Keep your food prep area clear. Try not to keep too many items on your counter; they’ll just get in the way when you’re trying to prepare meals. Don’t use your kitchen counter space to store mail or items unrelated to food prep. If you don’t use an item multiple times a week, it can go in a cupboard, not on the counter.
- Optimize your space with organization. Even small kitchens can be organized for maximum space usage on a budget. Utilizing magnet strips for knives or well-placed spice racks can help you build a streamlined kitchen where everything is placed for accessibility and ease of use.
Food Prep Ideas
- Use the slow cooker. I love my slow cooker. It’s so easy just to throw a whole meal into it in the morning. Then the house smells wonderful when I get home from work, and dinner is usually a stir away.
- Freeze herbs in olive oil. If you’re hesitant to buy fresh herbs because you never manage to use them all, fear no more. When you chop up some herbs for a recipe, take the opportunity and cut up the whole bunch. Then, distribute in ice trays, fill the trays up with olive oil, and freeze. Now you’ve got perfectly portioned herb bombs ready to be heated up in skillet dishes and soups.
- Plan meals with shared ingredients. Some people plan their meals weekly, others monthly. Either way, meal planning is a great way to make sure you can avoid last-minute trips to the store. When you’re planning meals, pick recipes that share ingredients with other recipes on your menu. This not only means that you can buy in bulk and save a bit of money, but it also allows you to cut down on prep. I’ll often cook a whole week’s worth of chicken in the slow cooker on Monday, shred it, then use it in recipes throughout the week. If you’re only using half an onion in a recipe, but using the other half later in the week, you can cut it all at once and store, for faster prep later on. These steps each save you a little bit of time, which can add up throughout the week, especially by Friday when it gets tempting to skip cooking and splurge on eating out.
- Pre-chop vegetables. If you dread chopping vegetables, take some time to do it in advance at the beginning of the week. Store the chopped vegetables in storage containers in the fridge until ready to use. You can even combine the vegetables into the correct portions for your recipes so that you can just dump them all in a skillet when you’re ready to cook! Just make sure you pay attention to recipes and don’t combine vegetables that are added at different steps in the cooking process.
- Find recipes for one-pot meals. A lot of cooking is relatively simple, but you know what takes a lot of work? Dishes. If a recipe calls for three pots, along with a cutting board and other prep tools, I’m going to think long and hard about whether it’s worth all the work. One-pot meals usually require cutting and letting things cook together, so you’re not only saving yourself from lots of dishes, but the actual cooking is likely to be simple as well.
- Keep a stock of frozen vegetables. I’m all for fresh products, but did you know that freezing vegetables is usually the most healthy way to preserve them? It doesn’t require any preservatives, and the packaging protects the vegetables from light and air. So stock up on some frozen vegetables that you can just heat up for a quick side dish.
- Buy dry goods in bulk. We all know that buying in bulk saves money, but it also makes your menu planning easier! If you keep a stock of rice and certain herbs, you’ve already got a starting place to build meals around!
- Cook in big batches. Even if you’re not a fan of leftovers, cooking in large batches saves a lot of time. Cooking extra meat means you can use the leftovers for sandwiches the next day. Soups usually taste better a day or two later because all the flavors have had time to meld. Leftover stir-fry can be used to make delicious omelets. Look at your meal plan and see if any of the recipes will result in leftovers that can be repurposed. Maybe you just want to make extra sauce to use later in the week. Being strategic upfront results in more food for less work!
- Balance premade items with scratch ingredients where it counts. I love making things from scratch, but when you’re busy, you have to find a balance. I make my own pita bread when we have gyros because pita is outrageously expensive at the store and relatively easy to make. I don’t make my own hamburger buns though because those take a lot of work and they’re really cheap. Salad dressings are quick and easy to whip up, but making your own mayonnaise can be a bit daunting, and it spoils quickly. Vegetable broth can be made in large batches in less than two hours, but meat broths need to simmer all day. Decide which time and cost commitments you’re willing to make, and balance it with the nutritional differences between homemade and pre-made products. Choose to make the products that will affect your budget and health most, then settle for pre-made on the ones that aren’t worth the effort.
- Make hearty “all-in-one” meals. Some meals take a few more dishes than one pot but still result in one dish (as opposed to an entree and some sides). Hearty entrees like this chicken and goat cheese salad are a great example. Making one hearty dish instead of three separate components can save a lot of time and energy.
- Increase your intake of raw foods. Some foods don’t need much prep in order to be delicious. Many fruits are good to go once you peel and cut them. Nuts can be added to any dish without any manipulation. Many vegetables are delicious raw if you cut and dress them right. This is a great strategy for avoiding a hot kitchen in the summer. Plan a couple of meals a week with minimal or no cooking. You’ll have dinner on the table in no time!
These are just some ways to speed up your meal preparation without resorting to unhealthy premade meals. Do you have more quick cooking tips? Share in the comments!
Check out this video for 5 healthy and simple slow cooker meals!
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