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8 Ways To Make Cooking Easier And Faster Than Takeout

It’s 6:30pm. You’ve just gotten home from a long day at the office and the last thing you want to think about is what to eat for dinner.

If your spouse asks you “What’s for dinner?” again, you probably want to punch them in the face (and/or hand them the pizza delivery menu).

But you know you can’t live off delivery and take out every night.

It seems like anytime you make the commitment to eat healthier, time disappears into thin air and sooner or later, you’re right back to your old ways.

Believe me, making the transition to eating more real food can be a challenge. Cooking from scratch takes time. Learning how to cook new vegetables is scary. Buying fresh can be more work than stopping for take out.

But, once you figure out a system, cooking for yourself can actually be a time saver!

Here are 8 ways to make cooking easier and faster than takeout:

1. Make a Menu

Writing down what you want to eat for the week ensures that you have the ingredients on hand when it comes to meal time. It also relieves that stress of wondering what in the world you’re gonna eat for dinner. Some of us are great at just throwing together ingredients and making a tasty meal, but others do better with the reassurance and guidance of a recipe. With time, you’ll get better at cooking without a recipe, but until then, use recipes and menus to take the burden off of deciding what to cook last minute.

2. Schedule Grocery Shopping Trips

Those post-work trips to the grocery store are inconvenient, especially when you’re battling rush hour traffic to go out of your way for yet another stop. Inevitably, shopping right after work means you’re hungry and hungry shoppers are more likely to splurge on convenience foods and snacks. Ease that temptation and shop only once or twice per week so you can get home sooner and spend less time running around town. If you frequent a farmers’ market or receive a farm box, you can plan your menu around what’s in season.

3. Stock Your Pantry and Freezer

Any chef has a well-stocked pantry, so they can whip together a quick meal with only a few perishable ingredients. Consider having onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and winter squash on hand (those don’t need to go in the refrigerator). A can of tomatoes is a few steps away from being a delicious marinara sauce or a bowl of tomato soup (jarred marinara sauce is also a great time saver). Coconut milk can make a quick curry (or filling smoothie if it’s that kind of a night). Olive tapenade, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto make a flavorful topping for cooked meat, spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, or even salads. Have chopped spinach ready in the freezer when you’ve forgotten to pick up fresh greens that week. Keep ice cubes of homemade stock handy for making quick sauces or soups.

It might take a little getting used to, but having a few of these on hand means you can have a nutritious meal on the table even when it seems like “there’s no food in the house”. You may even find some healthier pre-prepared meals in the freezer section of your health food store (like Trader Joe’s) for nights when you’re too tired to cook!

4. Work on Your Knife Skills

Any real food meal is incomplete without vegetables. Even if they aren’t the star ingredients, they are inevitably needed to add flavor to the dish (like onions, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes, etc). If you’re uncomfortable with your knife (or God forbid you have a dull knife), your meal prep will take forever! Do yourself a favor and check out knife tutorials on YouTube, watch some more cooking shows, and simply practice cutting up vegetables. It gets easier and faster the more you do it. I don’t have formal culinary training, but years of practice have cut my meal prep down to mere minutes. That means I can multitask (like getting an onion sauteeing while I prep the other ingredients) without worrying about burning the house down!

5. Batch Cook

One of my favorite ways to save time in the kitchen is to cook in bulk. It virtually halves the time you spend standing over the stove. Imagine having a pre-made dinner ready to go right when you get home. Sounds pretty tempting, so let’s pretend you’re cooking for a dinner party, even if it’s just you (or your family).

Making one pan of Low Carb Lasagne with zucchini noodles? Why not make two and stash one in the freezer for next week?
Making a small pot of Carrot Ginger Squash Soup? Why not double the recipe and freeze it for later or save some for lunch tomorrow?
Roasting vegetables? Why not make extra and have those leftover vegetables for the rest of the week? (Many roasted vegetables are delicious eaten cold atop a green salad)

6. Use Your Oven

Hands-off meals are the best! It seems everyone thinks a quick meal is stir-fry and, yes, while stir fry is “easy”, it means you have to stand over the stove making sure nothing burns. (Plus, you have to carefully plan which vegetables are added at what time so they all cook evenly. Hardly a beginners dish!)

Cooking food in the oven is a “set it and forget it” operation. Simply prep your ingredients, season, place in a baking pan and go lounge on the couch with a glass of wine for the next 30-60 minutes. If you have a copy of my ebook “Veggies: Eat Them Because You Want To, Not Because You Have To“, you know that I rely heavily on roasted vegetables (and you know why when you taste them!). But meat and poultry are also fantastic cooked in the oven. Bonus points because you can cook multiple dishes at once (batch-cooking anyone?)!

7. Make Friends With The Slow Cooker

Similar to the oven, a slow cooker is a fantastic option when you’re too busy to cook. Obviously it’s not something you can start at dinner time and expect to eat that night (unless of course, you want to eat dinner at 1am…), but with a little planning, you can have dinner ready right when you open the front door! Soups, casseroles, chili, pulled pork, beef roast, even a whole chicken can be cooked in a slow cooker! When searching for recipes, choose ones with simple ingredients and real spices (no cans of condensed soup or flavor packets). I promise you, with the low and slow cooking, the simplest of ingredients turn into some amazing flavors! Often slow cooker recipes are large enough to provide leftovers, too.

Which leads me to my next point…

8. Embrace Leftovers

I’m always shocked when people tell me they “don’t like leftovers”. Leftovers are a busy person’s best friend! Cook once and eat three or four times? Sign me up! Of course, not everything is delicious leftover. Cooked fish is better off made into fish cakes or added to a salad than reheated. Leftover cooked greens can be mushy. Salads that are pre-tossed with dressing get wilted and slimy.

But many things are delicious leftover. Soup, chili, roasted curried cauliflower, Asian beet slaw, cooked chicken, beef or pork, curry, and casseroles are all fantastic the next day. Some dishes even taste better when the flavors have had a chance to meld.

Hopefully these 8 ways to make cooking easier and faster than takeout sparked some ideas. If so, tell me which tip you’re going to implement this week in the comments below.

For those of you who’ve devised their own system around cooking from scratch, spill the beans in the comments section. I know my readers always have great suggestions and we can all learn from each other!

Until next week,
Lily

Veggies: Eat them because you want to, not because you have to

Your guide to making vegetables taste seriously good

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

22 Comments

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  1. Thank you so much for these tips, Lily! As a budding personal chef, I already do about half of these, but I need to work on my knife speed, roasting vegetables (there’s a roasted broccoli bagna cauda I’ve been itching to make). I’m bookmarking this page for the day when I get clients who want to learn how to cook instead of/in addition to having me cook for them.

    • I have to say, Jake, knife skills (and a good sharp knife) are better than almost any kitchen gadget. Practice, practice, practice!

      PS – Roasted broccoli bagna cauda sounds ah-mazing!

  2. I’m a ‘use the oven’ fan. Everything from roasted veggies to grilled steak – sear it on the grill then finish it in the oven.

  3. Ohhhh, I needed this. I really need to start planning a menu more than anything! I used to make several meals at once and freeze them. That would be good to get back into again. Thanks for the reminders 🙂

    • Batch cooking and freezing is a life changer, Melissa!

  4. These are such great tips Lily! During the winter time my crock pot is my best friend and since my husband and are both super busy we do a lot chopping and batch cooking on the weekend. I also mostly just use a pan or oven to reheat left overs and that is SO much better than reheating in the microwave! Plus soups and chili are even better as left overs.

    • I agree, Robin. Re-heating food in a pan, oven, or toaster oven trumps the microwave!

  5. Haha… ’embrace leftovers’ … I can’t believe how many people don’t actually cook enough for 2 days. I ALWAYS make sure I have enough. Now that my kids have grown and eat a bit more, I’ve increased the size of my recipes so I can accommodate 2 nights. I stock broth and soup in glass jars in my freezer. Great tips!

    • I’m also a fiend for leftovers (and homemade broth/stock!) Having meals prepped ahead of time is really helpful when you’re feeding a family.

  6. I absolutely love these tips Lily! Especially improving my knife skills. I’ve been wanting to take a knife skills class and this was a reminder to enroll in a class before the end of the year!

    • A knife skills class sounds fantastic. Sign me up, too!

  7. I am proud to say that I do most of these. I am always stunned when I talk to people who eat out virtually every meal.

    I also look at what I am making the next day and prep what I can for dinner tomorrow night.

    • Eating out is convenient, but boy does your body pay the price over time. I feel so much better eating home-cooked, even if it takes a bit more planning. Happy to hear you’re living proof these tips work, Cynthia!

  8. Great tips! I need to try batch cooking and get out that crockpot! I just printed out some new crockpot recipes from Pinterest yesterday & hope to try one next week. It is for Rootbeer BBQ Chicken Drumsticks. (kids might love it) Oh yes… and start saving leftovers.

    • Crock pots are a life saver!

    • How could I leave it off? It has a permanent place on my kitchen counter, Kamila! 🙂

  9. These are great tips for stress-free cooking Lily! I think we totally overcomplicate things and keeping it simple is so important 🙂

    • I follow the KISS rule for just about everything. 🙂

  10. Thank you for these great tips! I need to work on eating leftovers…I let way too much food go to waste!

    • Thanks Lindsay!

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