Always have a plan
To jump right into dinner prep, you'll need to know what you're making (roughly) and have those ingredients on hand. Having a plan will also keep you honest, knowing you have the good intention to cook from home and not order in from your folder of take-out menus. Map out a dinner plan for the week and make a shopping list for all those ingredients. Group the shopping items by location in the store such as dairy, fresh produce, and pantry to speed through the market. Check out these secrets to healthier grocery shopping.
No, not Chinese food. This online ordering is for ingredients. If you have no time to hit the market, look into local delivery services for your groceries. You will be amazed at how quickly and easily you can create a master list of kitchen staples. Many of these delivery services are inexpensive or even free, and you can order online, in pajamas! Ordering online can free up part of your day to do the actual prepping and cooking.
Prep food immediately
We often go grocery shopping over the leisurely weekend and then rush like mad to prep for dinner on weeknights. Instead of all that frantic hustling, take the time on Saturday or Sunday to wash and chop the ingredients you'll use in the week's recipes. You'll save time and energy later, and also possibly save money if it means keeping your foods from wilting or spoiling. To that end, take the time to store the freshly prepped foods properly—which means keeping out air and moisture: Wrap vegetables in paper towels, and wrap meat or fish in wax paper and then foil (and even in a third layer of a Ziplock bag if you can for the freezer). If time allows, measure out the amount you'll need for dinner and store that separately—package up any extras in individual servings for handy snacking or packing lunches.
Using meals or ingredients that you've pre-preped and frozen is a fantastic trick for getting dinner done faster—as long as you remember to take it out in time! Set an alarm the night before to transfer the food from freezer to fridge for a gentle overnight thaw. If that plan falls through, soak a Ziplock bag of frozen meat, stew, or vegetables in a large bowl of warm water and keep replacing the water if it cools until your food is defrosted. If the food is already fully cooked, you can also zap it in the microwave or bake it directly. Try these freezing and defrosting tips to help save you time and money.
Sneak in food prep
Few of us have a whole lot of time right before dinner, so steal time from other parts of your day to sneak some in. That could mean chopping vegetables as the kids eat breakfast in the morning, boiling eggs while waiting for your lunch to heat up in the microwave, or taking 10 minutes before bed to get beans soaking or meat marinating. Check out these other genius ideas for making weeknight meal prep faster and easier.
Have the right tools
Who has time to slide and dice? Make quick work of your food prep using appliances and gadgets that save time and energy. Use a food processor to grate, shred and chop vegetables, cheese and even meat. Consider a spiralizer to create zoodles (vegetable noodles). Stick an immersion blender into a pot to puree soups so you won't have to transfer it into a blender. A small herb chopper will have that basil, parsley, or sage ready in seconds. Use a hand-held citrus juicer to get every last drop out of that lemon or lime. (Have you tried any of these bizarre cooking gadgets?)
One of the best ways to save time cooking is to let someone or something do it for you. One example is a rice cooker to make any kind of grain—just measure, pour, and press a button. Your grains will be ready and still warm when you get home. Other great tools are the slow cooker and the pressure cooker. (Avoid making these surprising slow cooker mistakes.) Use these appliances to cook soups, stews, cuts of meat, and even lasagnas while you're at work!
Take advantage of convenient packaging
No one ever said that delicious homemade meals with healthy ingredients start with washing, slicing and dicing every ingredient from scratch. Take advantage of already prepared fresh foods such pre-washed greens in a bag for salad, pre-chopped onion, shredded carrots, and even pre-chopped frozen herbs. For taco night, make your life easier with bags of shredded cheese, cans of refried beans, cooked rotisserie chicken, fresh avocados and jars of salsa. Voila, dinner is served.