You’re not one to brag (okay, maybe a little), but you know how to work a kitchen. And even though you’ve already mastered a whole host of prepping and cooking time-savers, you’re always on the hunt for more. Learning new ways to streamline your process is basically your side hustle, because no matter how skilled you are in the kitchen or how much you love to cook, you’ve got a life to live—and you shouldn’t have to dilute the quality of your eating habits in order to live it.
We hear you–which is why we went to the experts for intel on the quick kitchen shortcuts they recommend to their clients most.
Buy, wash, chop, repeat
“While it may seem like a huge time suck to immediately wash and chop produce after purchasing it, in the long run it saves time because you only have to go through this process (and mess) once,” says Christen Cupples Cooper, assistant professor in the nutrition and dietetics program at the College of Health Professions at Pace University in New York. Not only will meals like stir fries, soups and salads take a fraction of the time to make, but with your produce now in a grab-and-go format, you’ll be more likely to nosh on healthy snacks between meals, too.
Partake in partial meal prep
Many of us resist meal prep because we envision spending our entire Sunday stuck in the kitchen when we’d rather use that time for, well, anything else. “The truth is, you don’t have to compromise your free time to plan for the next five days,” says Florida-based registered dietitian Alyssa Cohen.
Instead, utilize your time more efficiently by prepping foods when you’re hanging out at home anyway. Take five minutes to prep chicken, fish, veggies or ingredients for any other recipe that doesn’t require much babysitting, pop it in the oven and go about your business. “You can shower, clean, relax, spend time with the family, while your oven does all the work,” says Cohen. It won’t be long before you’ve compiled a steady rotation of super healthy main courses and side dishes without compromising your R&R.
Clean as you go
“While the onions are sautéing, clean dishes and wipe down counters so you won’t have to spend time doing it after dinner,” says Mara Weber, clinical inpatient dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “You’ll also have an easier time getting things clean if the mess is still fresh.”
Master your microwave
Almost everyone has a microwave, but most of us only use it to nuke leftovers or warm up our coffee. “A microwave can be your best friend if you’re trying to eat healthy and spend less time in the kitchen,” says Boston-based registered dietitian Sheri Kasper. You can make tons of healthy foods in the microwave, including oatmeal, eggs, quinoa, fish and sweet potatoes. “Aside from the obvious fact that microwaves cook foods faster, using the microwave typically generates way fewer dishes to wash,” she adds.
Streamline your smoothies
As delicious as smoothies are, making them can sometimes be as messy—and time-consuming—as cooking an entire meal. Simplify the process by making freezer packs of your go-to smoothie recipes. “Add everything you need for your smoothies (like frozen wild blueberries, banana, spinach, oats and almond butter) into individually portioned freezer bags,” says Kara Lydon, a Boston-based intuitive eating counselor. One prep session can equal smoothies for several days–and only one mess to clean. All you have to do in the a.m. is dump the contents into your blender, add your liquid, and you’re good to go.
Save new recipes for weekends
“When you stick with your tried-and-true recipes during the week, you won’t be rushing to get ingredients together or hovering over the recipe card to make sure you did everything just right,” says Weber. Experiment with new recipes when you’re less pressed for time, like during the weekends.
If your budget allows, buy pre-chopped, pre-shredded, and pre-sliced foods to shave even more time off weekday cooking.
Stretch your takeout
Salad spots make for super-easy (and healthy) lunch and dinner stops, but that giant bowl of veggies can sometimes be too much, leading to overeating or food waste, says Sydney Greene, of Middleberg Nutrition in New York.
The solution? Go half takeout, half homemade: Batch cook some protein—say, hard boiling a half-dozen eggs, baking a few chicken breasts, or stocking up on canned wild tuna or salmon—then order your salad with only veggies and dressing on the side. Put half the salad in another container, and top both portions with your own protein. Refrigerate the container for that night’s dinner or lunch the next day, and you’ll have two meals in the time it takes to assemble one. “Not only does this save you anywhere from $2 to $5 a pop, but you get two meals out of it,” says Greene. “It’s a win-win for your stomach and your wallet.”
Buy pre-prepped herbs and spices
Enjoy the delicious flavor of fresh herbs and spices—without taking the time to chop and grate them yourself. “Companies like Gourmet Garden sell stir-in pastes, including cilantro, garlic, and ginger,” says Jessica Levinson, a New York-based culinary nutrition expert. “Another brand, Dorot Gardens, also sells trays of frozen herb and spice cubes.”
Freeze leftover ingredients
When recipes call for one or two tablespoons of an ingredient like tomato paste, you’re left with practically an entire can to use up. Portion out the rest into one-tablespoon dollops on a piece of wax paper atop a baking sheet or plate and freeze, suggests Levinson. Once frozen, store them in freezer bags for quick and easy use in future recipes.
Ditch the rules
Remember: Dinners don’t have to be traditional or complicated, says New York-based registered dietitian Amy Shapiro. All that matters is that the meals you eat offer a wide range of nutrients and cover the important bases: lean protein, complex carbs, healthy fats.