Always struggle with preparing quick meals after coming home from work? Want to prepare a warm and nutritious home-cooked meal for your family every night, but find that it’s never a reality? Well, let me tell you this. It can be a reality. A lot of times, recipes that promote quick “30-minute meals” work ONLY because systems have already been set up in place. With a kitchen that’s ready for cooking, you have everything within reach for food preparation to go smoothly. So how then, you ask, how can I make my kitchen a conducive one for cooking? Read on, I’ll run through some things you can do to help you spend less time cooking, and more time enjoying delicious food with your family.
1. Certain kitchen equipment make meal preparation faster
Tools were created to make our lives easier, and we should use them to our advantage! I don’t mean fancy machines that cost a bomb. What I’m referring to are essential basics that will get you going with simple meals. My top 4 would be a garlic press, a food processor, an electric kettle, and a hand-held blender. Find out why here.
To get my list of essential kitchen items (they’re not all equipment) for fuss-free cooking, all you need to do is leave your email address on the pop-up that appears when you visit my website.
2. Time management
To spend less time cooking, of course you have to watch your timing. To me, cooking is kind of like lab work during science class. Remember those times where your biology teacher got you to read through the experiment thoroughly and make sure you know what you’re doing before you start? It’s the same with cooking. You have to know what you’re cooking and be mentally aware of the steps you’re going to take for each dish. This may take you a bit more time at the start, but you will become quicker each time you cook the same dish.
If you’re cooking more than a dish at a time, make sure you cook the dish that takes the longest first. Since I cook rice and side dishes quite a bit, that means I always cook rice first. While the rice is cooking, I’ll prep the ingredients for my stir-fries. My rice would finish cooking by the time I finish my stir-fries, so dinner can be served all at once. However, if you’re cooking stews or soups, you may want to cook that first and get it going, while you prepare your other dishes. This applies with marinating too; always marinate meats beforehand and you can prepare other ingredients while the meats are marinating.
3. Cook one-pot meals
You may need protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates at each meal but that doesn’t mean that each of them needs to be a separate dish in itself. Cooking only one-pot meals is the best way to spend less time cooking.
I grew up in a Chinese household where a typical week night meal always consisted of two to three dishes. There would be rice as a staple, paired with a dish of protein (ginger pork, stewed chicken, or steamed fish) and a dish of vegetables (usually a stir-fry). If we’re lucky and my mum is feeling fancy, we may have some kind of a nourishing soup with our meal. I always admired her for the amount of time she spent in the kitchen and the effort she put in to create our elaborate dinner meal. But she was a full-time mum, and while that may be ideal for having a household that runs on clockwork, it’s not always practical. In today’s world, most families have both parents in the workforce who don’t have the luxury of time to prepare such meals.
As a student who studied abroad, I discovered the wonders of one-pot meals. Here are some of my favourites:
Because these dishes require only one pot (plus a chopping board and a knife), it also means less dishes are used and less wash up after! As a general rule, recipes of stews or soups that you find online are one pot meals too, because you can just eat them with some bread. However, do make sure they are balanced. If they contain mostly vegetables (e.g. potato and leek soup, or minestrone soup), you can add shredded chicken or minced beef, respectively. If they contain mostly meat (e.g. sesame chicken, or beef and mushroom stew), you can add bok choy, or carrots and celery, respectively. In that way, recipes are not like science experiments, you can tweak them and add on to them.
4. Use frozen or canned foods if you have to
The problem with certain vegetables is that they take forever to prepare. You have to pick out rotten leaves, wash them a few times, and chop them up before you can finally cook them. Or, you can check out my other post here that ranks vegetables based on ease of preparation and gives you a list of easy-to-prepare vegetables, along with some cooking tips.
Well, you’d definitely spend less time cooking if you’re using frozen or canned vegetables. Some of my favourites include:
- Whole tinned tomatoes for pasta sauce and my Mexican bean soup
- Frozen mixed corn and peas for fried rice and tuna pasta bake
- Capers and Beetroot that adds a refreshing twang to salads
If you think canned and frozen food are unhealthy, do check out my blog post here. I highlight the differences between the variety of canned foods available and the benefits of certain canned and frozen foods.
These foods are a real time saver as they cut your prep time by about 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Practise practise practise!
How do you think Jamie Oliver produces his 30-minute meals program? Is he a new cook that has just stepped into the kitchen? Of course not! He’s had years of experience and his knife skills are on point. It also helps that he has everything he needs within reach in his well-stocked kitchen. A recipe may require only 30 minutes for a seasoned cook but it’s normal for you to spend a bit more time. Take comfort in knowing that the more you practise, the better you’d get at it.
Also, the more you cook, the more in tune you’d be with the cooking requirements of each ingredient or each dish. For example, you wouldn’t spend 10 minutes heating oil over a low flame only to eventually have it too hot, burn your garlic, and have to chuck it all, scour the pan and start all over again. You also wouldn’t under-cook your chicken breast, serve it to discover it’s raw, and have to throw it back on the pan.
Take all this extra time you’re spending in the kitchen as “learning time”. Don’t regard it as time wasted in the kitchen, get frustrated, and give up. See them as learning opportunities to help you get faster in future. Over time, you’ll grow to realise that you do in fact, spend less time cooking than before.