Cooking efficiently while still keeping things tasty and keeping together doesn’t have to require some special skills only chefs have. With some smart planning and picking up helpful tips, getting yummy meals on the table can feel like a breeze instead of a big chore that eats up your time.

This article will break down useful ways busy people can cook fast but still make food they get excited about – from getting your prep down to picking appliances and tools that make cooking easier.

The goal here is to help you see your kitchen as a place where creating deliciousness happens smoothly instead of somewhere that stresses you out.

Efficient Meal Planning Techniques

1. Map your week's meals

Jot down what you’ll eat each day based on your schedule – task certain nights as pizza or takeout nights. Plan to use up leftovers so nothing gets wasted.

2. Cook components in batches

Double a soup or grain recipe, enjoy some now, and stash portions in the freezer for 10-minute future meals. Roasting sheet pans of veggies gives you quick access to ingredients.

3. Prep produce for the week

Wash, chop, and store veggies right when you get home from the store. You’ll be glad later.

4. Quick marinades are your friend

Mix up flavorful wet ingredients like lemon juice, oil, herbs, etc. ahead of time to pour over proteins and veggies, then just let them hang out together for a bit before cooking. The fridge lets everything infuse while you multitask.

Must-Have Kitchen Tools

1. All-in-One Appliances

  • An Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker makes shockingly fast work of dishes that typically require lengthy simmering like stews, hearty beans, and tough cuts of meat. The pressurized environment gently forces liquid and flavor into the food, accomplishing in 30-60 minutes what would normally take hours on the stovetop or oven.
  • Keep an air fryer handy for crisping foods like chicken wings, fritters, and french fries with little to no oil needed. The convection heat technology surrounds food with a whipping hot air flow that browns and crisps to perfection.
  • A slow cooker allows you to build flavor in a pot over time with minimal hands-on effort. Toss in ingredients in the morning, and come home to a fork-tender, meltingly delicious meal.

2. Quality Knives

  • Look for a classic chef’s knife, handy paring knife, long serrated bread knife, and cleaver if you handle lots of bone-in meat.
  • While you don’t need an exhaustive set, opt for individual knives that feel balanced and comfortable in your grip.
  • Treat your knives well by hand washing them gently and storing them in sheaths or a magnetic strip.

3. Designated Zones

  • Keep cutting boards, sharp knives, peelers, colanders, and prep bowls close to the sink for washing and preparing fruits and vegetables.
  • Store pans and utensils right near the stove or countertops where you’ll need them.
  • Have platters and serving tools handy in the dining area for seamlessly transferring food to the table.
  • Keep a cleaning zone fully stocked with dish towels, brushes, soap, and sponges.

4. Smart Storage

  • Clear, airtight canisters neatly display pastas, grains, and baking ingredients allowing you to see what you have at a glance.
  • Mounted pot racks free up precious cabinet space while displaying essential pans and lids where they’re instantly visible.
  • Taking a bit of time to properly label shelves, boxes, and freezer bags also goes a tremendously long way helping locate exactly what you need when racing against the clock.

Effective Cooking Techniques

1. Stir-Frying

Have all the sliced veggies and proteins prepped and ready before turning on the heat. Then use a big nonstick wok or skillet to avoid overcrowding as you toss everything together over high heat. Keeping ingredients moving ensures fast, even cooking.

2. Boiling and Simmering

Pasta, grains, and eggs turn out best when started in cold water before cranking up the heat. Set a phone timer though so you pull things off heat at just the right moment before reaching mushy overdone territory!

3. Sheet Pan Magic

Simply lining a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper, tossing on vegetables and proteins, and popping into the oven results in a super simple, fuss-free dinner with barely any cleanup. Change up oil, herbs, spices, and protein choices for totally different meal vibes.

4. One-Pot Wonders

First sauté aromatics like onion, garlic, and ginger to build a flavor base. Then add liquids like wine, broth, and let the meats or beans simmer away. Layering ingredients and flavors all in one vessel result in a dynamic finished dish without dirtying multiple pots and pans along the way.

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Prepping Certain Foods

1. Fruits and Veggies

A quality swivel peeler makes smoothing sliding off the squash and melon skin a total breeze. Then a melon baller doubles as a handy coring tool plus a swift slicer all in one for chopping fruited up fast.

2. Herbs

Plucking leafy herbs like cilantro or basil from stems with your fingers is way faster than using a knife. Then neatly stacking leaves and rolling them into a bundle allows you to swiftly chiffonade everything all at once into slender ribbons and ready to scatter over finished dishes. Freeze any excess chopped herbs suspended in olive oil in an ice cube tray for a flavor punch long after peak season is over.

3. Tough Veggies and Meats

Pull out your pressure cooker when faced with notoriously long-cooking foods like brisket, ribs, or even dense veggies like beets or turnips. The pressurized steam tenderizes cuts in a fraction of the time of oven braising or stovetop simmering. Quickly release pressure after minimum cooking times when dealing with delicate veggies or fish. But let the pot gradually depressurize and cool down naturally for meats to continue gently braising in the residual heat and moisture.

Next-Level Meal Prep

1. Batch Cook Pantry Staples

  • Hard boil a bunch of eggs for protein-packed meals and snacks ready in an instant.
  • Cook up a big pot of quinoa, brown rice, or other hearty grain to use as side dishes or quickly pile into grain bowls later on.
  • Roast sheet pans heaped with vegetables that you can repurpose into easy sides, salads, sandwiches, omelets, and more throughout the week.

2. Assembly Line Lunches

  • Designate minutes to make neatly organized jars, boxes, or bags stuffed with prepped salad components, grains, proteins, dressings – whatever elements someone would want for lunch on the go.
  • Keep a variety of divided containers on hand expressly for grab-and-go meals to make things beyond easy.

3. Freeze with Care

  • Take the time when freezing meal prep portions to flash freeze items in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet before transferring them to airtight bags or containers. This stops big frozen chunks from forming.
  • Be diligent in labeling contents plus dates before stashing them away.

Manage Your Time Well

1. Designate Time Blocks

Glance through all the recipes you plan to tackle and think through what will be required as far as prepping ingredients, actual cooking, and cleaning up after. Be realistic about how long each meal may take, but also schedule in some padding since kitchen work often takes longer than we expect.

2. Prioritize Balance

Avoid a dinner crunch by doing all your slicing, dicing, measuring, and marinating as your first push. Then move into staggered cooking based on what dishes take the longest. Maybe grains then sheet pan veggies in the oven first before searing proteins.

Check off steps across all recipes so final components finish at the same time.

3. Communicate Between Dishes

Call out when sides or sauces are ready for proteins to be nestled in or topped with. Set timers for when seared meats should come out of the pan and rest before being sliced and served. And, prompt yourself through the ideal workflow sequence so nothing gets cold or overcooked.

In A Nutshell

As you can see, getting efficient at cooking is really about having good plans in place for tackling recipes quickly. Prepping ingredients ahead of time, using handy tools to make tasks easier, and just practicing good kitchen workflow habits, in general, will be total game changers. Before you know it, you’ll be whipping up awesome meals without all the stress or wasted time.

Of course, it helps when you start with great ingredients too! That’s why you should drop by Fresh Farms to shop for fresh quality produce, dairy, proteins, and other staples for your next home-cooked meal.

So don’t let cooking intimidate you. Pick up some helpful efficiency tips then head to Fresh Farms to get your hands on the best ingredients going into those family favorites, quick weeknight dinners, and weekend chef creations you’ll look forward to making.