I know that many people are put off making their own meals from scratch (or doing so more often) because it can seem like such a time suck.
And it can be, in fairness. You can quite easily spend hours in the kitchen producing just one meal. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Healthy Enough approach to cooking focuses on simplicity, efficiency, and enjoyment. With that in mind, this article offers some key practical steps to making cooking a simple, efficient, and enjoyable process – perhaps even something you’ll actively want to do.
Let’s get to it!
1. Invest in Time-Saving Tools
Although ‘less is more’ often applies when it comes to kitchen tools, there is a relatively small list of what I would consider ‘essentials’ (in the sense that they’ll enable you to prepare and make meals much more quickly).
Obviously you’re going to need pots, pans, baking trays, and such – don’t take the list below as comprehensive. What I’m focusing on is advice relating to things that you know you need, as well as suggestions for things you might not have thought to buy.
- Sharp knife. A blunt knife is no fun at all when it comes to preparing meals, while a sharp knife is a joy. I’d recommend you buy one high-quality chef’s knife, rather than a cheap set of knives.
- Knife sharpener. While whetstones and steels are the best means of sharpening and honing knives, they’re certainly not the most practical for your average home cook. Instead, buy a reasonably priced knife sharpener tool (such as this), and reap the rewards for years.
- Garlic press. Preparing garlic is a rather fiddly task at the best of times, but a garlic press makes doing so an absolute cinch. I personally use (and love) this tool.
- Speed peeler. Peeling can be a pretty tedious job, so spend a few quid on a decent speed peeler (such as this) to make the task far easier.
- Dishwasher-friendly chopping board. Hand-washing chopping boards is a bit of a chore, so do yourself a favour and purchase one or two that you can throw in the dishwasher when you’re done.
- Rubber spatula. Wooden spoons are all well and good, but rubber spatulas enable you to get into every crack and crevice of your pots and pans.
- Measuring spoons. While a pinch of salt here and a dash of pepper there is perfectly acceptable in many recipes, sometimes you need to be more precise in your measurements (e.g. when adding yeast to a bread mix). For such times, I recommend you invest in a set of measuring spoons.
- Electronic scales. When it comes to measuring out ingredients, weight never lies. For that reason, you’ll never see me giving measurements in cups within the recipes here on Healthy Enough. Buy a decent set of electronic scales and you’ll always know exactly what you’re putting into your meals.
You’ll notice that I’ve made no concrete brand recommendations above. The reason for this is simple: depending on where you live and when you read this article, my suggestions may not be valid. My suggestion would be to browse Amazon for tools that are (a) not the very cheapest (you’ll get what you pay for), and (b) have a star rating of 4½ or higher.
2. Learn How to Use a Kitchen Knife
There are few things more rewarding in cooking than learning how to use a kitchen knife effectively. It needn’t be intimidating either – the most important thing to learn is the easiest way to chop the most common ingredients you’ll work with. In other words, concern yourself less with technical skill, and more about how you approach common knife-related tasks in the most efficient way possible.
Google is again your friend here – if you find yourself regularly chopping certain ingredients, just google “best way to [action] [ingredient]” – e.g. “best way to chop onions” or “best way to slice peppers”.
That aside, I have an overall tip relating to cutting and chopping ingredients: don’t be afraid to waste a little if it makes your life easier. For example, you don’t have to chop onions right down to the root; you can simply discard the last ½cm or so. There is a practical limit to preventing food waste!
3. Learn All the Handy Kitchen ‘Hacks’
Nothing beats the little burst of dopamine you get when you discover how to perform a regular task more efficiently. There are a huge number of such tips relating to preparing and making food – more than I can list here (in fact, I’m sure there are plenty I don’t yet know).
However, to get you on the right path, here is a selection of my favourites:
- In a pinch, use kitchen foil as a pot lid.
- Grate cold butter to quickly get it to room temperature.
- Put a damp dishcloth under your chopping board to stop it from moving around.
- Easily cut cakes, soft cheeses, etc., with unscented dental floss.
- Wet your finger before retrieving rogue pieces of eggshell, and you’ll never have to chase them around the bowl again.
- Easily skin ginger with the back of a teaspoon.
- To prevent freezer burn and ensure the longevity of frozen foods, ‘Vacuum-Seal’ storage bags by sucking all the air out with a straw before sealing them (not recommended for raw meat!).
If there’s anything you do in the kitchen that you find overly time-consuming and/or frustrating, try googling along the lines of “how to [insert task here] more quickly”. You’ll likely find a better way of doing it
4. Buy Pre-Prepared Ingredients (If You Want To)
Now, let’s get practical. You may find the idea of chopping vegetables beyond boring. If the difference between making your own meals is whether or not you have to chop ingredients, I’m going to suggest you buy pre-prepared ingredients instead. It’ll cost you more than if you bought fresh ingredients, but will lead to a better end result in terms of you still making your own meals.
Most fresh ingredients you can think of are available pre-prepared. For example, we have a particularly appropriately named brand here in the UK, Very Lazy, that offer up everything from chopped onions to ginger paste. Don’t let an aversion to prepping get in your way!
5. Prepare Everything First
There so many well-known quotes about the importance of preparation that it would be trite of me to mention any. Let’s just take it as given that to be well prepared, in all walks of life, is the ideal.
Making meals is no different. I recommend you prepare everything before you start cooking – by which I mean you’ll have all your ingredients out, measured, chopped, and ready to use. This is known as mise en place – a French term that translates literally as “to put in place”.
The benefits of this are manifold. Most importantly, you’ll know that you have everything you need (or will realise you don’t and adjust accordingly), and you won’t reach that awful point in a recipe when you realise you need to do something right now that isn’t yet done.
6. Wash Up As You Go
I haven’t always adhered to the principle of mise en place on the basis that there are usually windows of time during the course of a recipe where you can get preparation done. Things didn’t always turn out that way (with occasionally disastrous results), but it was a rule I tended to follow nonetheless.
However, my thinking was short-sighted. If you get all your prep done before you start cooking, that spare time between steps in the recipe can be used to clean up. As a result, you’ll have far less washing up to do after the meal, which is always a good thing.
Making your own meals represents a huge step towards promoting sustainable weight loss. The more you’re aware (and in control) of what you put in your body, the more likely you are to make better decisions about what you eat.
With that in mind, I hope that my tips above have encouraged you to start cooking your own meals more often. I personally love cooking, and that is likely as much a result of making it easier for myself, than it is simply because I enjoy doing it.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, or if you have some tips of your own that you’d like to share!