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5 best time-saving cooking tips: what ingredients save you time?

By Hilary Meyer, September 15, 2011 - 11:22am

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I have a friend who always joked with me while I was pregnant by saying, “Kids ruin everything.” Luckily he’s been mostly wrong. Except in the dinner department. My baby doesn’t intentionally ruin dinner, but inadvertently she put the kibosh on what my husband and I used to do in the evenings, which was spend an uninterrupted hour or two making dinner. 

As an associate food editor at EatingWell Magazine, healthy homemade dinner is important to me, but since my daughter was born, I’ve had to cut some corners. So I’ve turned to a few key time-saving ingredients to help me get dinner ready before mommy-duty calls.

Recipes to Try: 20-Minute Dinner Recipes

Here are my top 5 time-saving cooking tips:

1. Plan ahead.

Gone are the days when I decided what was for dinner at 4 p.m. Now, I plan ahead. On Sunday, I take an inventory of what I have in the fridge and plan my meals for Monday through Friday. Then I make a list and go to the store. This eliminates the “What’s for Dinner” conundrum and also can save a bit of cash if I plan my meals around ingredients that I already have on hand.
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2. Use healthy convenience products like canned beans.

Dried beans are delicious, but they take several hours to cook (not to mention the hours they spend soaking before they even hit the pot). But they are a healthy staple (7 grams of fiber per 1/2-cup serving!) in my house for making healthy dinners. Canned beans do tend to harbor a lot of sodium so look for brands that have “reduced sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. Rinsing canned beans can also lower salt content by about 35%. Try Summer Squash & White Bean Saute and More Budget-Friendly Recipes with Canned Beans.

3. Opt for quick-cooking whole grains.

Getting dinner on the table quickly is hard enough, but keeping it healthy is an added challenge. We all know by now that we should be eating more whole grains, but they can be a challenge to fit into dinner when you’re working with a time crunch. That’s why I like quinoa. It takes only 15 to 20 minutes to cook and delivers 3 grams of fiber per 1/2-cup serving. Try it tonight with one of these 9 Easy Quinoa Recipes

4. Don’t be afraid to use frozen vegetable mixes.

I love fresh vegetables, but they take time to prep and cook—especially if you want a variety on your plate. So if I’m making a stir-fry or a soup in a hurry, I’ll opt for frozen vegetable “medleys” instead. I don’t feel guilty choosing frozen—when fresh vegetables are out of season, choosing frozen may deliver more nutrients, since they are usually picked and frozen at the height of ripeness. Try Tortellini Primavera and More Easy Recipes That Use Frozen Vegetables.

5. Pick up some prepared veggies.

Unless you’re a magician with a knife, it’s easy to sock a bunch of time into chopping vegetables. I’m not a huge fan of buying vegetables in bags, but they do save a TON of time, so I use them when I’m in a hurry. Coleslaw mixes are great for recipes that call for shredded cabbage. Even bags of broccoli florets can “chop” a few minutes off of prep time.

Related: The Best Ways to Cook 20 Vegetables

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TAGS: Hilary Meyer, Healthy Cooking Blog

Hilary Meyer
Hilary Meyer develops and tests healthy recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

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