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Switching over to a healthier, real food lifestyle can seem a little bit daunting at first, especially if you’re used to grabbing fast food on the way home from work or popping a TV dinner in the microwave.
Cooking your own meals is the best way to save money, avoid the artificial ingredients in many processed foods, and ensure that the food you’re eating is good quality (since you know exactly what ingredients you’re using and how you’re preparing them.)
When you hear the phrase “cooking from scratch,” though, you might think of someone from your great-grandmother’s generation, spending hours and hours in the kitchen. But while it’s true that cooking healthy food from scratch takes might take more time than popping a TV dinner in the microwave, it doesn’t mean you have to spend all day in the kitchen either!
There are lots of ways to save time in the kitchen so you can eat the healthy food you want to eat but still have time to do the other things you want to do too. And as old-fashioned as I might be about some things, I can very much appreciate the modern conveniences that make cooking from scratch so much easier and faster than they were in previous generations.
With the right time-saving techniques and modern conveniences, you can cook from scratch like your great-grandmother without having to spend all day doing it. Here are my 10 favorite tips for saving time in the kitchen:
1) Use a Slow Cooker
In our modern era, we have dozens of different appliances available to make cooking easier and faster, but one of my favorites for saving time is using a slow cooker. Slow cookers can be used for anything from making soups and stews to things like making homemade broth or even applesauce. I love being able to put a few ingredients together and then just let the slow cooker do the work while I do other things.
2) Make Ahead “Frozen Waffles”
This is one of my favorite ways to have a home-cooked breakfast without having to spend time actually cooking in the mornings. When it’s convenient, I’ll make a big batch of waffles or pancakes (and I can get other stuff done like folding laundry or tidying in the kitchen while I’m waiting for them to cook), and then I’ll put them in the freezer, in layers separated with parchment paper so they don’t stick together. Then, in the morning I can just take a couple out and heat them up in the toaster.
3) Make Single Serving Soup
Rather than buying homemade soup cans at the store, I’ll make a big batch of soup in the slow cooker and then divide them up into single serving Mason jars that I keep in the freezer. (I use the freezer-safe half pint jars.) Then, whenever I’m in the mood for soup, I have some ready to go, and I can just take a jar or two out to defrost.
4) Double Recipes and Freeze Extras
You can save a lot of time by just doubling whatever recipe you’re making and saving half of it in the freezer for another time. Since you’ve already got all of the ingredients out and you’re already chopping, or mixing, or stirring whatever you’re making, you can do that work one time but get two meals out of it.
This can really be a big time saver, and it’s a nice feeling when you realize that you’ve already prepared a meal ahead of time and all you have to do is take it out of the freezer and heat up.
5) Use Meal Plans
Meal plans are another great way to save time because if you have a menu already planned out, you can avoid wasting time standing in the grocery store trying to decide what you want to cook that week. You can make your own meal plans by making a list of all of the meals you and your family enjoy eating (and you can make them even more organized by writing down all of the ingredients, too, so you already have a shopping list for the grocery store.)
Or, if you want to save even more time, you can use ready-made meals plans. I like the Real Plans service because it’s focused on healthy, real foods and it’s very customizable, so you can adapt them to different diets (vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, etc.) or eliminate ingredients if your family has any allergies or dietary restrictions.
6) Use Organic Convenience Foods
Cooking from scratch doesn’t necessarily mean doing every single step by hand yourself. You can buy “convenience foods” that are good quality, natural, and organic that can save you time.
For example, the last time I made soup, I wanted to add butternut squash, but I didn’t want to spend the time cutting open the squash and roasting it in the oven, so I bought a bag of organic frozen butternut squash that was already peeled and cubed. It saved me a lot of time because when I went to make the soup, all I had to do was open up the bag and add it to the pot.
7) Make Ahead Spice Mixes
If you have certain favorite meals that use a lot of dried herbs and spices for seasonings, you can prepare your own spice mixes to save time. Following your recipe, you can measure out the amounts of spices (either enough for one serving or a larger amount in bulk) and label it with the name of the recipe when the time comes to cook you’ll have them all ready to go.
8) Make Ahead Dry Ingredients
For any baking that you do frequently, you can also make your own dry ingredient mixes so when you want to bake all you have to do is add the wet ingredients.
9) Order Healthy Foods Online
Ordering healthy foods online can be a great way to save the time you would spend going to the store, especially if you have to travel a distance to a health food store or if you have to go to more than one store to get everything you need. A couple of good options for finding real food are:
Thrive Market – this one is great because it’s all centered around healthy foods, so you can find all of the natural and organic brands that you’re already using at discounted prices.
Amazon.com – this is a good option because of the “subscribe and save” feature that gives you a discount and free shipping when you schedule regular deliveries of products that you use frequently.
10) Don’t Try to Do it All
I think this might be the most important tip because the real food lifestyle doesn’t have to be all or nothing! If you can’t cook every single meal from scratch, then that’s perfectly fine. Just do whatever you can, and every little bit helps.
Even if you’re only able to cook supper from scratch, but you’re still eating out for breakfast and lunch, then that’s better than nothing because at least you’re having one healthy, home-cooked meal every day. While eating healthy food might be important, finding a good balance in your healthy lifestyle is even more important.
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