8 tips for cooking all your meals in 20 minutes or less
By Clare Goodwin
Last updated: September 3, 2020
Do you get home from work everyday exhausted and hangry, feeling like the last thing you want to be doing is spending an hour in the kitchen? Do you promptly flop on the couch and pull out your phone to order Uber Eats instead?
Or maybe you feel that you’re spending all of your time in the kitchen preparing healthy food? Now that you’ve ditched the cereal for breakfast and sammies for lunch, you’re finding that you’re having to cook three meals a day and prepare everything from scratch to avoid added sugars and preservatives.
I’ve been cooking most of my food for years now, whilst also working in a busy corporate job. However, it’s not always been as easy and effortless as it is now. Over the past few years I’ve tried a variety of different ways to ensure that I’m eating as much freshly-prepared food as possible, from spending hours in the kitchen cooking three meals a day, to bulk cooking on a Sunday and eating the same thing for seven days in a row. Fortunately, I’ve now reached a point where I’m eating a variety of fresh and flavoursome foods and preparing all of my meals in 20 minutes or less.
The excellent thing is that I’ve never had to buy discounted salads on the way home from work and I can whip up a more delicious meal than Uber Eats ever could, saving myself valuable time (and money!).
I know what you’re thinking: how have I managed to reach this point? Well, here are my seven tips for cooking all of your meals in 20 minutes or less.
Invest in good tools
There are so many kitchen tools and gadgets available, but I believe that there are only a few which are really essential, including:
- A food processor: why waste time chopping when a food processor can do all of the hard work for you?
- A cast iron frying pan: an incredibly versatile tool that will help you to save on time and extra washing up. Just make sure that you stay away from any chemical, non-stick pans.
- Good, sharp knives: you’ll find that cooking is much quicker and enjoyable when you have good knives.
- A variety of storage containers: these are great for transporting, refrigerating, or freezing food. Always make sure to buy glass or metal containers, as plastic is bad for those of us with PCOS.
- Slow (or pressure pot) cooker: these are great for making meals in bulk and essential for hearty winter cooking.
Optimise your freezer
I cannot extol the virtues of a freezer enough. One thing that used to keep me in the kitchen for hours was not being able to freeze anything. When I finally decided to invest in a larger freezer I wished I’d done it years ago. Some of the best products that you can freeze include:
- Meat: not only does this mean that you will always have meat available, it also allows you to buy the best quality meat in bulk for a lower cost.
- Fruit and vegetables: fresh produce, especially things like berries, always taste better when they’re in season. Stock your freezer with them to have the best-tasting food all year round.
- Onion and garlic: dice, slice, or chop before freezing and save yourself some valuable time when preparing meals.
- Fresh herbs: chop fresh herbs and store them in an ice cube tray with a little olive oil. When a recipe calls for fresh herbs, you’ll be able to pop out a cube and throw it in the pan.
Prep in bulk
Ingredients like onions and garlic are a staple in so many dishes that you can easily end up feeling like you’re constantly stood at the chopping board. Alternatives, like jarred garlic, may seem convenient, but they don’t have as much flavour and can sometimes contain added ingredients, like phosphoric acid.
The solution? Whizz up a load of onion or garlic in a food processor and store it in a container in the fridge or freezer. Prepping onions in bulk will also save those tears – bonus!
Make meals in bulk
I always make enough dinner so that I have some leftover for tomorrow’s lunch. Simply prepare your meal, put one portion on your plate and divide the remaining portions into food containers.Alternatively, some people like to make everything on a Sunday night and then not cook for the rest of the week.
A word of caution when storing food. Always used glass or metal containers, never plastic. Even a glass jar is preferable over a BPA-filled plastic container. If there really is no alternative to plastic, then definitely ensure that you don’t reheat your food in the microwave in it.
Have a monthly meal plan
Deciding what you’re going to eat, then finding that you don’t have half of the ingredients you need, can be frustrating and time-consuming. But creating a meal plan is an excellent way to save time and take the thinking out of your meals. Planning ahead can also allow you to be much more proactive with making meals in bulk and means that you’ll save money by only buying ingredients that you know that you’re going to use.
I have a four-week plan that I recycle, well, every four weeks. As well as planning all of my meals in advance, I also make various fridge staples (listed below) in Week 1 so that I can then have them on hand for the rest of the month. This makes the remaining weeks so much easier and means that I don’t ever have to resort to buying things like pre-made sauces
As an example, in Week 1, I’ll make a big batch of my Roasted Tomato Sauce and use it that night over some courgetti, with grilled chicken and avocado. I’ll store the rest in a jar in the fridge for next week, when I’ll use it over some steamed fish and vegetables.
Make your own fridge staples
This doesn’t mean making two big dishes on a Sunday and then eating them every day for a week. Although this might work for some people, it really isn’t my cup of tea.
Instead, I make condiments, marinades, dressings and pestos with different flavours that I can keep in the fridge and quickly add to different dishes to give them boosts of flavour.
The manufactured versions of these staples often contain ingredients that promote inflammation, such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, seed oils, and soy. My versions are not only free from these, but are also very quick and easy to make
Here are my staples:
- Mayonnaise: I make mine using avocado oil and egg yolks. It can also be adapted to make:
- Aioli: add garlic and lemon.
- Tartar Sauce: add some dill and capers.
- Herby Mayo: add whichever chopped herbs you like to make a delicious accompaniment to vegetables.
- Roasted Tomato Sauce: This excellent staple can be added to courgetti for a ‘pasta’ sauce, pureed to make a soup, add eggs to make Shakshuka (Turkish baked eggs). Also add some fresh herbs for great Italian flavours.
- Pesto : Green, red, or whatever type you fancy. Use it in salads and as a rub for meat.
- Vinaigrette: Perfectly for livening up a green salad.
- Salsa Verde: This herby sauce can be made using whatever herbs you have and is great as a sauce for meat. Mint is especially good with lamb.
- Moroccan Rub: This will provide a perfect punch of flavour for meat, or can added to some coconut cream or my 2 minute mayo to make a dipping sauce.
- Thai Coconut Amino-Based Sauce: Coconut Aminos are a soy-free alternative to soy sauce. I use my Thai sauce as both a meat marinade and a stir fry sauce.
- Vietnamese Sauce: I use this on salads, as a dipping sauce, and as a stir fry sauce.
- Sauerkraut and Kimchi: Both of these are great anti-inflammatory foods and are staple side dishes for every meal.
Create an ingredient inventory
One of the easiest ways to save yourself some valuable time is to reduce the number of times that you visit the supermarket each week. By creating a spreadsheet of everything that you have in your cupboards, you’ll never be without that key ingredient which you need for a meal. I have a list of all of the longlife ingredients which I always like to have to hand (spices, oils, salt, nuts, coconut cream), and I just add these to my online delivery shop once a month.
I prefer to get my vegetables and meat from markets so I adapt my recipes to include whatevers in season. However, I’m not super strict about buying seasonally. If I want tomatoes in winter and know that I can buy them from the supermarket then I’ll get them. Avocados are another good example, I disregard my seasonal rules and eat them all year round.
Have 2 signature dishes in your repertoire that you can nail every time for those special occasions
This one isn’t essential, but I’ve personally found it so helpful to have a couple of dishes that I know by heart that are great for having guests over. I love entertaining at home, and find it really relaxing to be able to be social but in control of what I’m eating. So to make it more enjoyable, I love to have a few dishes up my sleeve that I know I can nail every time. When choosing your own signature dishes, I’d recommend that they have the following characteristics:
They are able to be scaled up or down for a dinner for two or a group of friends.
You can do the pre-work up front so time is spent with your guests, rather than working in the kitchen
Be delicious enough that you are willing to try them over again in order to get them perfect and the ingredients needed to be easily sourced.
Here are mine:
Side of salmon with capers and roasted tomatoes and courgettes and a side of crispy roast potatoes.
It looks amazing but is so easy. I just smother the side of salmon in whatever pesto or herby salsa verde I have in the fridge, scatter over some capers, add some chopped courgette and tomatoes around the side and swish with a bit of olive oil for roasting.
This can be scaled back to two fillets for a dinner for two or save the rest for lunches (no need to not use that time in the kitchen to make extra meals).
Braised lamb shanks with star anise plus cauliflower puree and green beans. This sounds and tastes super fancy, but really is just a matter of putting the lamb shanks in the slow cooker and letting them do their thing. Shhhh! Don’t tell my friends!
Allocate one lamb shank per person or again, so you can scale this up or down to suit your numbers or add in some extras for lunches.
Now I want to hear from you! What are your cooking hacks that are massive time savers? I’d love to hear.