Just about everyone could use a little extra time in their day. That’s especially true when you’ve got a busy family. No matter how much you enjoy cooking, you probably have a long list of other things to tackle. Luckily, cooking healthy and nutritious meals doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen. If your schedule could use some more room for fun (or for rest), then try taking a look at your approach to food prep. Here are seven meal prep tips to make it more efficient.
1. Sharpen Your Knives
Nothing cuts down your prep time like a sharp, heavy knife—plus, it’s safer to use. When you’re slicing and dicing vegetables and meat, a sharp blade makes each cut faster and easier. The most professional way to take care of your blades is by regularly sharpening them with a whetstone, but that’s one of several options. Some everyday knives come with a sleeve that sharpens every time you insert or remove your tool, or you could hire a pro to do the work for you. To ensure your knives last, make sure to wash and dry them by hand, instead of in the dishwasher, and always use a wooden or plastic cutting board.
2. Use Fewer Ingredients
Cooking with more ingredients can take more prep time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the meal you’re preparing will be healthier. When you’re cooking with whole foods, a few ingredients can go a long way. In contrast, meals that have too many ingredients can actually encourage overeating, and they may be harder to digest. To minimize your meal prep time, try cooking meals using five whole-food ingredients or fewer. Simplify your meal by reusing the same vegetables for your main, side, and appetizer. Plus, when you add ingredients with big flavors, such as Godshall’s real wood-smoked turkey bacon, into simple recipes, they can really shine.
3. Prep Ahead of Time
When you prepare your grocery list for the week, you’ve already got some idea of the meals you’ll make. Why not take planning one step further? Sliced fruit and vegetables will keep in the fridge for days, so you can prepare what you need for several meals all at once. And since they’ll already be stored in the fridge overnight, you can also take the opportunity to boost nutrition and flavor (and reduce cooking time) with a marinade.
4. Make Use of the Freezer
You may already store whole ingredients, such as meats, and cooked foods, such as soups, in your freezer, but you can also make it part of your meal prep routine. Freezing foods can even make some ingredients easier to cook with by changing their texture. Your freezer strategy can be as simple as freezing cut fruit, so it’ll be ready for your next smoothie, or you can go even further with ready-to-cook meals. For example, trying putting together a casserole, but leaving the baking to another day. Or pre-bake pizza crusts or pie shells for topping or filling when you’ve got time for part two.
5. Try a Gadget
Don’t take it from us, take it from Julia Child: gadgets are great. A food processor is one of the most versatile kitchen appliances; it can do anything from chopping to blending in minutes. Some other easy-to-clean classics are a mandolin, for making thin slices, and an immersion blender, for mixing and pureeing right in the pot. Post-prep, you can even let a slow cooker or pressure cooker take care of the cooking.
6. Get Blanching
Blanching, a technique that’s perfect for vegetables, means submerging them in boiling water for a short time (usually just until it returns to a boil). This method makes many vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, ready to eat in minutes, but you can also use it to get a head start. To reduce their cooking time, try blanching sliced potatoes before frying them for hash browns or roasting them in the oven. And if you need to remove a peel, blanching might be your best friend. For tomatoes, cut an “x” in the peel before adding them to a boiling pot to help it slip right off.
7. Put It All in One Pot
Cleaning up after cooking can sometimes take as long as the cooking itself. But that’s not the case with one-pot meals. For many stews, soups, curries, and stir-fries, all the cooking can happen in one pot. Ideal for using frozen or pre-prepped ingredients, many one-pot meals also freeze well. Plus, you can make big batches of staple foods and re-create them over the week. For example, transform one night’s pot of chili into the next day’s burrito, taco, or scramble.
Make More Time for You
A healthy lifestyle is more than just nutritious eating—it’s about finding a balance. And luckily, good food doesn’t have to take a long time to prepare. Gentler cooking methods actually preserve more vitamins and nutrients. So, for the health of your mind, body, and schedule, you can’t go wrong with these meal prep tips.