We all want to eat better. And while most people know (and research indicates) that preparing healthy meals at home is one of the best ways to do that, it often doesn’t happen. Let’s face it: At the end of a busy day, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend hours cooking and then scrubbing dirty dishes! That’s likely why a survey released in 2019 found that 56 percent of Americans ordered takeout or delivery two to three times per week.
But what if cooking something delicious and nutritious at home were just as easy — or even easier — than ordering takeout? No, it’s not impossible. Here are some steps you can take to make a quick, healthy dinner that will have you in and out of the kitchen in no time.
Chop Ingredients Into Small Pieces
The smaller you cut your ingredients, the faster they will cook, notes Reader’s Digest. This works especially well for vegetables and meat, so err on the small side in order to get dinner done in a hurry. The same is true for ground meats, which come already “cut” in a way that makes them cook up much quicker than other cuts of meat. You can do the prep work ahead of time and freeze pre-chopped fruits and vegetables to get an extra serving of produce on the table quickly.
Choose Quick-Cooking Ingredients
Some healthy ingredients don’t make the best picks for a quick meal because they naturally take a long time to cook. Take brown rice, for example, which is a healthy whole grain. Unfortunately, brown rice can take 30 minutes or more of cooking in order to reach the desired tenderness. Cooking your grains ahead of time or choosing a quick-cooking or already fully cooked version can get dinner ready faster. And of course, meals you don’t have to cook at all are naturally speedy options.
Opt for Prepared (Low-Sodium) Sauces and Spice Blends
While prepared sauces and spice mixtures are generally avoided by those seeking to follow a healthy diet, the right sauce or spice blend can be the perfect time-saving option in a pinch, allowing you to add lots of flavor to your food in one quick step! Many prepared sauces and seasonings are high in sodium, so check the label and choose low-sodium options when possible.
Choose the Right Tools
Slow cookers are a helpful kitchen tool to have on hand, but not when speed is the name of the game! Instead, a pressure cooker (which cooks food more quickly in a high-pressure environment), is the way to go. In the same way, there are a number of other kitchen gadgets that slice and dice quickly, helping you cut back on your chopping time. These are especially helpful if your knife skills are lacking or you don’t have a good set of kitchen knives.
Cook at a High Temperature and Use a Cover
Perhaps not surprisingly, a hot stove will cook your food more quickly. Just keep in mind that high heat can also cause your food to brown and even burn, so you’ll have to keep a close eye on things as they cook and stir them frequently to prevent an undesirable outcome. As Bon Appétit recommends, cover your food as it cooks to keep in the heat, and you’ll save even more time.
You may already consider yourself a multitasking master, but doing two things at once in the kitchen can really help to get your meal done more quickly. For example, while the pasta or veggies cook, start chopping and measuring the remaining ingredients so that you can quickly assemble them when the time comes. If you find yourself standing around waiting for something to finish cooking, ask yourself if there’s something else you could be doing to keep the recipe moving.
Keep Ingredients (and Dishes) to a Minimum
It stands to reason that the fewer ingredients you use, the less time you’ll need to spend assembling them. When you’re in a hurry, keep it simple. There’s no need for lengthy ingredient lists to maximize health or flavor.
To save you even more time, we’ve done the planning for you and come up with 9 recipes you’ll want to keep in your back pocket for hectic weeknights. Each has just five main ingredients (not counting oil and seasonings). Many cook in a single pot or pan, and can be on the table in 20 minutes or less, and with hardly any dirty dishes to show for it. Enjoy your free time!