Cooking takes time, there’s no doubt about it, but these time-saving tips can help you put healthy homemade meals on your table in less time than you might expect.
I think that sometimes people (myself included) forget to plan time for cooking. We fit appointments, meetings, kids’ activities, work, and more into our schedules, but we forget to set aside enough time for cooking. After all, that’s one reason why fast food is so popular, right?
But aside from the fact that it’s more difficult to eat fast food when you have to be gluten free, home cooked meals are almost always healthier and less expensive than eating out. With a little planning and these shortcuts, you can have dinner ready in 30 – 45 minutes.
Time-Saving Cooking Tips
1. Cut it
Anything that’s cut up cooks faster than when it’s whole. Put that knowledge to use by preparing food in smaller portions. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Don’t want to wait an hour for that meatloaf to bake? Divide it among the cups of a muffin tin and your mini meatloaves will bake in almost half the time.
- Cut a large thick roast into two smaller roasts.
- Large boneless chicken breasts can be pounded so they are thinner. This makes them an even thickness so the whole breast gets done in the same amount of time. You can also cut large breasts into smaller pieces.
- Cut vegetables and potatoes into smaller pieces to cook more quickly.
2. Cover it
Holding in the heat, especially when there is steam, helps food cook more quickly. Add a little water or broth to the skillet on the stove or dish in the oven, and then cover it with a lid or foil. While this won’t work for a recipe that requires a crispy crust, there are many foods that it does work for. And sometimes when the family is hungry, opting for getting the food done more quickly is better than getting it perfect. Try it with fish, potatoes, or slow-to-cook vegetables.
3. Turn up the heat
I usually start my electric stove on high, helping the burner and pot (with food or water in it) to heat up more quickly. Then I reduce the heat to the desired level for cooking. As long as you don’t walk away and forget about it, starting out on high heat can save you a little time.
For baking things like casseroles or roasting meat or vegetables, you can often turn the oven up by 25 degrees to help get dinner done a little more quickly.
4. Scrub, don’t peel
Peeling vegetables takes time and usually causes a loss of nutrients. Scrub your potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and most anything you would peel. Then trim, cut, and cook. If using thinner skinned potatoes, you can even mash them with the skins on.
5. Use small appliances
Electric Kettle: I love using my electric kettle to heat water for pasta and more. The kettle heats faster than the stove top, so while I get the pot with a small amount of water started on the stove (on high!), the electric kettle heats up the rest of the water. Then I add the water from the teapot, bring it back to a boil, and add my pasta. If you don’t have an electric kettle, just heat the water in two pots on the stove. Once hot, combine it into one pot before adding the pasta.
Toaster Oven: You can bake in a toaster oven, which doesn’t require preheating and sometimes offers a quicker convection setting. This is a good option if you’re cooking for one or two people.
Slow Cooker: The slow cooker saves you time by doing the cooking for you while you are away doing other things. It takes planning, but it can make evening time much less stressful. You can find all of my slow cooker recipes here.
Rice Cooker: I don’t own a rice cooker, but if you cook a lot of rice, it can be useful. Just like the slow cooker, it allows you to be away while it does the cooking. The timer function allows you to put the ingredients in the cooker ahead of time and have it ready when you want it.
Microwave: Of course, the microwave heats many things quickly. I don’t use it often, but when it comes to being fast, the microwave is king. If you’re really short on time, consider cooking part of your meal in the microwave, though I don’t recommend it for cooking meat which can turn out rubbery.
6. Skip browning
Slow cooker recipes often call for browning beef before putting it in the crock. Whether it’s a pot roast or stew meat, that step can be completely omitted. If you like, put a little gluten-free soy sauce on the meat for color.
When you want to really save yourself time in the morning what do you do? You shower the night before and have your clothes ironed and ready to go. Try thinking the same way about dinner.
Do as much of the food preparation in advance as you can. Thaw, chop, pre-measure, assemble, and even cook part of the meal the night before or earlier in the day. Use appliances that cook while you’re away such as a rice cooker or slow cooker to get parts of your meal ready. When you prepare, you’ll find that your meal comes together quickly and with much less stress.
Putting it all together
Here’s an example of how you might use these tips to make pot roast with potatoes and broccoli. The night before, scrub but don’t peel some red skinned potatoes. Wash the broccoli and cut it into small pieces. In the morning, quarter the potatoes and put them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the roast with seasoning on top (without browning) along with some water. Cover and turn it on low.
When you get home, heat some water in an electric tea kettle or microwave then put it into a pot with a steamer basket and the cut-up broccoli. Start it on high and reduce the heat once it is steaming well (remember to keep the lid on). Because the broccoli is in small pieces it only needs to steam about 5 minutes. When done, drain and season.
While the broccoli is cooking, remove the pot roast and potatoes from the slow cooker. Let the meat rest while you mash the potatoes (or not). Slice the meat, and dinner is ready in about 20 minutes.
Most of us don’t want to feed our families fast food or highly processed, not to mention expensive, gluten-free prepared foods, but sometimes a home-cooked meal seems out of reach. As you develop the habit of using time-saving strategies, you may realize that cooking at home is more doable than you thought, even on busy nights.