If you’re facing a jam-packed day filled with to-dos, it might feel like the last thing you have time for is cooking. But whipping up healthy, homemade meals doesn’t have to feel like a chore. In fact, with a few clever hacks you can get grub ready at top speed. And taking a few extra moments to make your food can have big payoffs. Research shows that people who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less. Try these simple tips to serve up every meal faster.
Let it cook while you sleep. Before you head to bed, spray the inside of a 5-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray, add 1 cup of steel-cut oats, 4 cups of water, and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt (optional), set to low, and let it cook while you catch some z’s (about eight hours). If you’re feeding a crowd in the morning, set up a make-your-own oatmeal bar with toppings like dried fruit and nuts, so that everyone can help themselves to a quick, nourishing morning meal.
Make eggs to go. A little bit of prep work can yield days’ worth of protein-packed breakfasts. To make to-go “egg muffins,” simply whisk together a dozen eggs, add a teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and whatever additional ingredients you’d like (consider leftover cooked veggies, turkey sausage, or low-fat cheese). Spray nonstick cooking spray into a muffin pan, soup the egg mixture into the cups, and bake at 350 degrees F until firm (10 to 12 minutes). Once cooled, pop the “muffins” into a ziplock bag and store in the freezer. On busy mornings, simply pull one out and warm it in the microwave.
Have a prep day. Set aside an hour on your “prep day” for cooking and you could have nearly a week’s worth of healthy lunches ready to go. Simply cook one protein (like chicken breast or grilled salmon), a grain (try brown rice or quinoa), and an assortment of your favorite veggies (oven-roasting is a great no-fuss option). Once everything is cooked and cooled, set out three to four reusable containers and drop in one serving each of protein, grain, and veggies. Store all containers in the refrigerator, then pull out a meal in the morning before you head out the door, healthy lunch in hand.
Make the most of leftovers. Getting creative with your leftovers can cut down on prep time for dinner. For example, leftover Roasted Chicken from dinner one night can be transformed into Chicken Tortilla Soup the next.
Deep-freeze. The freezer is a busy cook’s best friend. Whenever you’re making a pot of soup, a casserole , or meatloaf, double the recipe so you have a full batch of leftovers to store in the freezer for a future busy night. For superfast pasta dinners, place cooled pasta sauce, pesto, or chicken stock in quart- or gallon-size freezer bags, and then store them flat in the freezer. When you’re ready to use, simply thaw and heat up with some cooked whole-wheat pasta. If you keep a bag of mixed frozen vegetables on hand, they’ll be a nutritious addition too.