There's no getting around it: life gets really busy sometimes. And when you're juggling responsibilities — like kids or a full-time job — cooking dinner can often feel like the last priority on your list. But there are plenty of ways to save time and effort in the kitchen while still cooking satisfying, nourishing and delicious meals. So Redditor u/apple-white-red asked, "How do you manage cooking every day when you work five days a week?" Here's what people said.
1."When I'm already cooking pasta, I add vegetables into the boiling water during the last few minutes of cooking. The veggies soak up that starchy deliciousness and turn many of my recipes into one-pot meals."
2."Cook several things at once by dividing your sheet pan using foil. If, for example, you need to cook chickpeas and potatoes at the same time, just divide your pan with a thin wall made out of foil. That way, if one item cooks faster than the other, you can pop the entire section out of the tray and continue roasting the other half. (This trick is especially great if you don't like your foods touching.)"
3."I plan ahead and keep dinner simple. Most nights I like to cook one protein (often: chicken) and one veggie (like roasted broccoli) for dinner. it doesn't need to be anything more."
4."I make frozen veggies often. Don't be afraid of frozen veggies! They're just as 'healthy' as the fresh stuff, they last longer, and they taste great when prepared right. I usually blanch them before doing anything else to them."
5."I buy lots of garlic, peel it, and put it in the food processor or blender. Then I flatten out the garlic in plastic storage bags and store it in the freezer. Whenever I need garlic, I just break off however much I want from the sheet. It keeps forever, saves time down the line, and tastes much better than the stuff you get in the jar from the supermarket."
6."I pound chicken breasts to a uniform thickness before I cook them. It makes them cook more evenly and quickly."
7."For me, it’s been learning to mise en place. I can get so stressed out easily when cooking, but preparing and laying out my ingredients in advance really helps make it more manageable."
8."I've started keeping notes about the recipes I make. I jot down the quantities of ingredients I used, how many servings it made, and helpful pointers about the cooking process. I also rate recipes so I know which to make again. You can improve on them by changing a few variables at a time, and when you make it again in a month or in a year, you'll know exactly how to do it."
9."Investing in a food processor has made a huge difference. It might sound lazy, but since getting this appliance I can’t live without it. When I need to chop up an onion for spaghetti sauce, it takes 30 seconds (and doesn’t make me cry). If I need to shred a block of cheese for lasagna, my arms don’t get sore from the grating, and I can get every last bit of cheese without grating my fingers. When I need thin discs of eggplant for ratatouille, the food processor does it easily and perfectly uniform."
10."I use my slow cooker! This appliance is nice because you can just drop all the ingredients into the pot, set it to low, and by the time you come home your house smells delicious and dinner is basically ready. Slow cooker recipes also generally provide leftovers, so one day of cooking might cover two nights of food."
11."I clean up as I go. There's nothing worse than cooking a lovely meal and having a giant sink of dishes waiting for you. I always make sure I have an empty dishwasher before I start cooking, and then everything I use while cooking goes straight into the dishwasher as soon as I'm done with it."
12."I have an arsenal of Trader Joe's three-ingredient meals that I rely upon time and time again. These are life-savers for me when I either don't feel like cooking or simply don't have the time to make something time-consuming."
13."I get frozen chicken nuggets and one of those salad kit bags from the grocery store that already has all the ingredients and dressing included. Then I put the cooked chicken nuggets on top of the salad. It's tasty, plus there's protein, veggies, and fat in it. It's pretty effortless, practical, and delicious."
14."I devote an hour Sundays to preparing ingredients I know I'll use throughout the week. It isn't meal prep, per se, because I'm not planning out a whole menu. But I'll hard boil half a dozen eggs, roast a bunch of broccoli or sweet potato, or make a big pot of brown rice. Then I can quickly incorporate these ingredients into meals throughout the week or pack them into quick on-the-go lunches."
15."Get a vacuum sealer and for every meal you make, ask yourself if a portion of it will freeze well. Soups, stews, spaghetti sauce, and doughs all freeze perfectly. Take advantage of any leftovers by storing them for later."
16."Embrace sheet pan/one pot dishes. Not only are these recipes often faster and easier to cook, but they also reduce the number of pans you get dirty, which saves you clean-up time."
17."When I'm time-pressed and want to make something fast, I'll put just about anything on toast — for example, baked beans, hummus, guacamole, or cream cheese — with some Everything but the Bagel seasoning from Trader Joe's and red chili flakes. It's not a proper recipe, but there's nothing much easier than this 'toast, spread, and shake' method."
18."One thing that finally worked for me and my wife was creating a weekly menu. Once we establish the meals we want to cook, we don't have to make decisions about food throughout the week."
19."It helps me to have a bunch of go-to 'pantry meals' that I know my family likes. I'm talking recipes that you can make on the fly with items that are almost always on hand (canned, frozen, etc...)."
20."I spread out one side throughout multiple meals. This works best with carbs and grains like rice. I make one giant pot of rice early in the week and then I have my grains covered for the next four-or-so meals. Plus, rice is so versatile you can use it as a side with so many recipes."
21."Fill your freezer with homemade frozen meals so you can come home to something healthy and delicious after a long day. Store them in Ziploc baggies or invest in a vacuum sealer. Unlike store-bought frozen dinners, you'll know exactly what's in these meals. Think of them as your backup meal prep; the meals you turn to when even 10 minutes of cooking seems impossible."
22."I love finding ways to use leftovers quickly in different recipes to introduce some variety into my cooking without much effort. For example, if I slow roast a pork shoulder on Sunday I could use the meat to make an omelet one day, tacos the next, and sandwiches the following day."
23."I keep a Google Doc of recipes that I've tried and loved and others that I haven't yet tried but want to make. I sort the recipes by theme — such as meatless, chicken recipes, seafood, or 30-minute meals. This helps me with meal planning. At the beginning of the week, I stick to tried-and-true or quick recipes for nights that I know will be busy, and aim to make new recipes when I have the time."
24."I pay attention to surface area while cooking. When I want quick pasta and need to boil water quickly I use my stock pot and put just an inch of water in it. I place it on the biggest burner at highest heat and put the noodles in right away (so long as they aren't fresh pasta). The water boils very quickly since it's shallow, and the noodles will start to rehydrate as the water heats up. This allows me to cook pasta way faster than if I were to use a small pot with the same amount of water."
25."Rotisserie or roast chicken! We do a roast chicken on Sunday (or pick up a rotisserie chicken from the market) and then make chicken soup, chicken wraps or sandwiches, and more chicken recipes that get us through some of the week."
26."Take shortcuts when you need to. There's nothing wrong with whipping up frozen lasagna or frozen pizza with salad to get through the busy nights. I have plenty of other dinner shortcuts I use often, like putting canned chili on baked potatoes."
27."I make a lot of breakfast for dinner recipes. It takes maybe 10 minutes from start to finish to cook some eggs, heat up some ham, stir fry some spinach, cut a piece of fruit, and make toast. If I have a bit more time, I'll make bacon in the oven and eat the leftover bacon throughout the week for breakfast, BLTs, and more."
28."I don't bother peeling most ingredients. Most vegetable skins (besides garlic and onions) are edible and they taste no different with the skins on. Plus, they even have more vitamins supposedly."
29."I pre-make lots of sauces that I use for multiple recipes. Every once in a while I make a large amount of sauce or gravy. I put single-serve quantities in storage bags and freeze them flat. Then I use them as needed. This process works with soup, too."
30."I use an Instant Pot to replace slow cooker recipes. 30 minutes in the pressure cooker versus six hours in a slow cooker? Yes, please!"
What are your best tips and tricks for balancing cooking with a busy schedule? Tell us in the comments!