17 Time-Saving Tips for Cooking Real Food

Reader Contribution by Anne Marie Bonneau

If you’ve decide to cut down on your plastic footprint, you’ll start cooking more—unless you already cook everything from scratch. That’s because when you reduce your plastic consumption, you cut packaged, processed food from your diet and replace these food-like substances with home-cooked versions.

When you cook more, you not only reduce your waste, you also eat tastier food, improve your health—unless you only cook chocolate chip cookies—reduce your dependency on corporations to feed you, spend more time with your family and save money. I know cooking real food requires takes time. These tips will help save you some.

Plan Ahead

1. Cook Simple Food

I make a lot of one-pot meals and other simple food—minestrone soup, dal, frittata, pizza, refried beans. These types of dishes also help you use up food you have on hand so you waste less of it. I don’t cook anything very elaborate but it all tastes good.

Minestrone soup. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

2. Start Early

I love to eat steel-cut oats for breakfast. At night before bed, I combine them with water in a pot, bring everything to a boil and then turn off the heat. By morning, they have cooked and I simply heat them up. If I forget to do this, they take about 45 minutes to cook in the morning. I don’t have 45 minutes in the morning. (Go here for the full recipe.)

3. Stock Up on Non-Perishable Staples When You Shop

When I use up ingredients, I add them to my running shopping list. When I need staples like rice, beans, sugar, salt, baking soda and so on, I buy lots. I hate to realize just as I start cooking that I’ve run out of an important ingredient.

4. Buy Organic Produce and Don’t Waste Time Peeling It

I don’t recommend eating the peels of industrially grown produce. Stick with organic, stop peeling potatoes and carrots and save time.

Organic produce from the farmers’ market. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

Choose Your Equipment

5. Keep Your Knives Sharp

Dull knives can slip and cut you. A sharp one will speed up chopping and help keep your digits intact.

6. Use a Pressure Cooker

Friends and readers kept telling me to get a pressure cooker and am I ever glad I finally did. I love it. I’m actually a bit obsessed with it. After soaking chickpeas, I can cook them in minutes and they taste spectacular. I have to admit that opening a can does take less time but the contents can’t compare with beans you cook yourself. You’ll save money too. (Read more about using a pressure cooker here.)

7. Use a Crock Pot

I make stock in my crock pot regularly. I have also made good minestrone soup in it. You just toss everything in there and let it sit all day.

8. Choose the Right Tool for the Job

For example, if you want to make a vat of soup, use one large pot, not four tiny pots occupying all the burners on your stove. Trying to cook with the wrong tools leads to frustration and inefficiency.

At Your Station

9. Organize a Mise en Place

This French phrase means “put in place.” Before you start to cook, chop and measure out everything and set it on your countertop. Then just grab what you need as you cook. This saves so much time.

10. Organize Your Tools

I have a tiny kitchen. One of my favorite accoutrements is the bar in the pic below, which holds all the utensils I constantly use. I don’t have to search through drawers or cupboards for these when I need them.

Tools of the trade within easy reach. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.

11. Double or Triple Recipes

Cook a vat of soup and you can eat it all week and freeze some of it for later. Making extra doesn’t require much more effort and will save you lots of time in the long run.

12. Prep What You Can in Advance

When I come home from the farmer’s market on the Sunday, I prep some of my vegetables. I trim carrots and beets, or roast them or both. I clean and chop greens and stash them in the refrigerator—just as convenient as the bagged stuff! I may cook beans. I might make salad dressing. It depends on the meal plan.

13. Keep Your Compost Bowl Close by When Prepping

This helps keep your countertop clean and organized. If you don’t compost, here’s a post on how to compost the lazy way.

14. Cram More Into Your Oven

If you’re making, say, eggplant parmigiana at 350 F, bake a pie or cobbler, bake potatoes or roast vegetables or do all of the above while you have the oven on.

15. Clean As You Go

I am trying to instill this in my kids. Every good chef knows this rule. Clean as you cook and you’ll work more efficiently and won’t face a sink piled high with dishes when you’re done.

Lifestyle Tips

16. Get Your Neighbors and Friends Involved

Students often ask me how they can find the time to cook. I always suggest that they take turns with their friends and roommates making vats of food for the entire group at the beginning of the week. In other words, we can all work together and share! It’s a radical idea.

17. Farm Out the Cooking to Your Children

Yes, it takes time to teach them but once your kids have learned how to cook, they can cook dinner regularly. I don’t buy snack food because I don’t buy processed, packaged food. When my kids want cookies, they make cookies! This is such an important skill—cooking in general, not just baking cookies, although that is also very important.

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