No matter how much you enjoy cooking, there are days when spending even 30 minutes making dinner feels like an unpleasant chore. Add to that the morning rush to prepare breakfasts, pack lunches and get out of the door on time, and you’re in dire need of some time-saving kitchen shortcuts. Cutting down on the time and energy you spend cooking doesn’t necessarily involve ready-made meals or unhealthful processed foods. It means knowing what supermarket items to buy to save yourself time, as well as some simple preparations you can do in advance so that you don’t need to think about them later.
Five or Fewer Ingredients
Save recipes with long lists of ingredients for the weekends or days when you feel like having fun in the kitchen. For other days, compile a list of favorite dishes with five or fewer ingredients. Such minimalist meals can be just as satisfying and tasty as more complicated ones. A quick and easy soup needs only stock -- from a can, frozen homemade or a cube -- one or two vegetables and some seasonings. For example, saute a diced onion and a bag of baby carrots with a spoonful of curry paste, simmer in chicken stock until the vegetables are soft, then blend until smooth. Quesadillas are another simple dinner with few ingredients required, as is French bread pizza. A large baked potato, which you can par-cook in the microwave before baking, requires almost no preparation time. Make it a satisfying meal with a scoop of coleslaw, handful of grated cheese or can of baked beans on top.
Use Frozen and Canned Produce
Frozen and canned foods are most versatile when they are minimally processed. Instead of cans of soup, for example, keep your pantry stocked with canned tomatoes and beans, which can be transformed into a homemade pasta sauce, casserole or chilli with just a few other ingredients. When you are boiling pasta, throw a handful of frozen peas, spinach or broccoli in the pan for the final few minutes. Drain the vegetables and pasta together and toss with sauce for a very quick, one-pot dinner. Frozen seafood also takes just minutes to warm through. Look for bags of frozen vegetables sold as stir-fry mix to heat with Asian sauces, or Italian blends to add to a risotto. These mixed bags include numerous vegetables that would take quite some time to prepare from scratch.
Refrigerator Salad Bar
Salads are always more satisfying when they have a lot of different toppings, but sometimes all that chopping is too much work. As soon as you return from grocery shopping, wash, peel and chop salad fixings all at once and store them in the refrigerator. Chop some tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions and mushrooms. Thaw some frozen corn, drain beans from a can and hard boil some eggs for more variety. Purchase a whole rotisserie chicken and items from the store's salad bar to eliminate the prep work entirely. Combine all these fixings in one container, ready to sprinkle over lettuce at dinner time, or package them separately for custom salads. Prepared toppings are also handy for adding to omelets, pasta dishes and pizzas.
Dried herbs, spices and seasoning blends are a hurried cook's friend, especially when preparing fresh garlic, ginger, chilies, herbs and spices seems too cumbersome. Infuse fresh flavors into your meals at any time with some advanced preparation. Peel one or two whole bulbs of garlic at a time, mince the cloves in a food processor -- a mini one is ideal -- and transfer them to a lidded jar. Cover the garlic with oil or melted butter and store in the refrigerator, ready to add to dishes by the spoonful. You can do the same with grated fresh ginger and minced fresh chilies. If you often make dishes combining garlic, ginger and chilies, blend the three together in a single jar. Keep fresh herbs at the ready in a similar way, by freezing them in oil or melted butter in ice cube trays. This works best with hardier herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano. Throw a frozen herb cube in a pan with new potatoes or other root vegetables to roast; add one to a simmering soup; or saute with mushrooms and serve over toast for an easy appetizer. Grated citrus zest also freezes well.