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    19 Small Cooking Habits That Can Actually Have A Big Payoff Over Time

    Tiny changes, big payoff.

    I don't know about you, but New Year's resolutions stress me out and I always end up giving up on them. So this year, I'm only picking low-key, super doable goals.

    If you're like me and you're looking for really easy, small kitchen habits that actually can have a big payoff, here are a few ideas on things to adopt. These can take your kitchen game to the next level without much effort in 2021.

    1. Stop throwing away food scraps.

    A pot of veggie stock made with kitchen scraps

    So much of our food goes to waste when it really doesn't have to. Whenever you peel veggies like carrots, onions, or celery, save the scraps in your freezer. Over time, you'll accumulate more and more scraps – enough to make homemade veggie broth out of them. You can then use that to boost the flavor of soups, risottos, and pasta. And it's basically free!

    Get the recipe: How to Make Veggie Stock With Kitchen Scraps

    2. Save this cheat sheet to quickly upgrade chicken — or any other protein.

    Infographics showing combinations of ingredients to make marinades.
    Jenny Chang /

    A great way to turn simple chicken breasts into a delicious, not-boring meal is to make a quick and flavor-packed marinade. And the good news is, you don't even need that many ingredients.

    Get the recipes: 31 Brilliant Ways to Dress up a Pound of Chicken

    3. Clean as you go.

    Disney–ABC Domestic Television /

    It's so basic and yet we so often get lazy and ignore this time-saving tip. Don't wait until you're done with cooking and eating to start cleaning, otherwise you might get overwhelmed by all the mess. The better route? As soon as you're done with prepping your ingredients, clean your knife, chopping board, and peeler. Clean your baking bowls once you've put your cake in the oven. And wipe surfaces clean as you go. You get the idea! It'll make for a much smoother cooking process and you can be sure Future You will be very thankful.

    4. Salt your food throughout the cooking process, not just at the end.

    Cropped shot of a person's hand adding salt to a pan of tomatoes in the kitchen
    Peopleimages / Getty Images

    Good seasoning is what makes the difference between a "meh" dish and a great one. To make sure your food is properly seasoned, adding salt at the very end of cooking definitely isn't enough. You need to season your dish throughout: when you start cooking and several times along the way. Taste your food throughout as well, to make sure the seasoning tastes right at every step.

    5. Make your own pickled vegetables.

    6. Transfer bagged foods into glass jars for better aesthetics, organization, and a potentially longer shelf life.

    mason jar filled with sesame seeds
    Veena Nair / Getty Images

    Triple win. You can use Mason jars or any other glass or plastic container, it doesn't really matter. Just don't leave your food in bags. It's messy, spatially inefficient, the food often goes stale faster, and it can attract flour moths and other pests.

    Read more: 16 Clever Things You Can Do With Empty Mason Jars

    7. Meal-prep ingredients for the week over the weekend.

    Taylor Miller /

    I love cooking but doing it every day is a chore and a hassle. When you know you're in for a busy week but don't want to get delivery every night, set a couple of hours aside on Sunday, roast a large batch of veggies, and prep some protein and some grains. This way, you'll be just 10 minutes away from a delicious home cooked meal every night of the week.

    Here's an example: How to Meal Prep a Week of Lunches on a Budget

    8. Invest in a good knife.

    Picture of hand using a knife to cut meat

    There aren't actually that many tools and gadgets you *truly* need in a good kitchen. But one you really can't skip on is a good chef knife. There is nothing more annoying that trying to chop food with a dull knife. It's a recipe for injury — you press down so hard with the blade that you're more likely to slip and cut yourself — and a source of frustration in a process that could otherwise be relaxing. This $85 Japanese knife is a great investment if you can swing it, and this $43 one is a solid cheaper option.

    9. And keep that knife sharp.

    It'd be a bummer to invest in a good knife and then not take care of it. Even the best knives get dull, so to prevent this from happening, there are two things you should absolutely do: 1) Hone your knife every time you use it (or at least once a week). And 2) Sharpen them yourself regularly using a whetstone.

    Read more: How to Take Care of Your Knives Like a Real Chef

    10. For more flavorful baked chicken breasts, brine them for 15 minutes before tossing them in the oven.

    Brining chicken breasts

    This might be my favorite baked chicken breasts recipe. The secret? A 15-minute brine that makes the chicken extra juicy and flavorful. All you need to do is add the meat to a bowl of salted water. After 15 minutes, give it a rinse, pat it dry, and season it before popping it into the oven. Try it and you'll see!

    Get the recipe: Baked Chicken Breasts

    11. To prevent rice from getting gloopy, rinse it before cooking.

    Studio Ghibli /

    This will remove excess starch which will make your rice super fluffy and prevent it from being sticky. Place your rice in a strainer and rinse it with water, swirling it around with your hand. You can rinse it once if you're in a hurry or repeat the operation until the water comes out perfectly clear for an even better result.

    Read more: 12 Rice Hacks That'll Make Sure it Comes Out Perfect Every Time

    12. Don't just plan your meals — plan your leftovers, too.

    Five days worth of meals
    Marie Telling / Ryan Pattie /

    On the one hand, leftovers are great because they're cheap and easy to make. On the other hand, they can quickly get pretty boring. If you want to avoid eating the same meal three nights in a row, think about easy ways to repurpose your leftovers. Got a rotisserie chicken? You can add it to a salad one night, a chili another, and make some quick and easy nachos the last day.

    Get the 5-day meal plan: Five Meals For $30

    13. Add acid to your dishes for more flavor.

    Close-up of female hand squeezing lemon juice on salad in a bowl
    Zoranm / Getty Images

    Much like salt, acidity is one of the secret ingredients to flavorful dishes. Almost any savory dish can be improved by a splash of acid, be it a bit of lemon juice, some white wine, or a spoonful of vinegar. This will brighten your plate and bring out a balance of flavor that is key to any great recipe.

    Read more: All About Acid, Cooking's Most Versatile Ingredient

    14. Invest in a food scale.

    Weighing flour and adding it from a paper bag to a bowl to prepare the cookie dough.
    Ethamphoto / Getty Images

    This is especially true for baking, where precision is key and measuring cups will only take you so far. But food scales are super useful for cooking too. They're fairly cheap (this one only costs $14), quick and easy to use, leave much less room for error, and if you're using a recipe where the ingredients are listed in grams instead of ounces, you'll be able to measure everything out on the scale. Once you start using one, you'll never go back to measuring by volume.

    15. Learn how to store your herbs so they don't go bad as quickly.

    Cilantro stored upright in a jar of water and covered with a ziplock bag
    J. Kenji López-Alt /

    Say goodbye to limp, brownish cilantro. Serious Eats tested several storage methods and the best way to prevent fresh herbs from going bad too soon is to place them upright, in a jar of water (as if it were a bouquet!) and leave them in the fridge. They'll remain green and fresh for days, if not weeks.

    Learn more: The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs

    16. Toast nuts and seeds before using them to maximize their flavor.

    Toasting walnuts
    Apartment Therapy /

    Nuts and seeds are a great addition to salads, stews, baked goods, grain bowls, you name it! But the best way to get the most flavor out of them is to toast them for a few minutes in the oven before you add them to your dish. Try it and you'll see that it makes a world of a difference.

    Get the recipe: How to Roast Nuts in the Oven

    17. Always deglaze your pan.

    Those brown bits at the bottom of the pan — fond — are basically gold. So make sure to deglaze your pan with a bit of wine, vinegar, tomato sauce, broth (or even just water!) to turn them into a delicious sauce.

    Read more: How to Deglaze

    18. For the easiest meal prep, save this cheat sheet for roasting veggies.

    19. Read the whole recipe before you start cooking.

    Cartoon showing a woman who regrets not reading the recipe all the way through
    Maritsa Patrinos /

    This year, it's finally time to stop starting a recipe without reading it completely first. I know it's annoying to read all these steps, and that you just want to get cooking. But when you end up at step #10 and realize you need to let your dough rest for 24 more hours, you'll be sorry you didn't spend four extra minutes reading the whole thing before getting into it.

    What's one kitchen habit you wish you'd adopted earlier than you did? Share in the comments!