There isn’t much doubt: cooking or preparing your own food saves your weight, your waist-line, your health, and yes, money.

Unfortunately, the tradeoff is that cooking can take more time than simply stopping at the drive-through.

However, there are ways minimize the time you spend on (the unpleasant parts of) cooking.

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A woman standing in front of a kitchen area, holding a clock in front of her face
  1. The single most important thing you can do to make cooking easy is to make a weekly menu. Then make a shopping list of the things you need and don’t have—and buy them. The last thing you want to have to do is stop at the store on the way home.
  2. Stock your pantry with the shelf staples: heart-healthy oils; whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa; canned veggies such as tomatoes and paste; dried and canned beans; broth and low-sodium bullions and stocks. These can always form the basis of simple meals.
  3. Have a selection of spices and herbs and condiments such as ketchup or Worcestershire sauce. They can turn an ordinary meal into a special one and liven up leftovers with a lot of flavor and very few calories. Strongly flavored foods, such as anchovies, capers and really good Parmesan (expensive, but just a little adds amazing flavor) can be used in similar ways.
  4. When your supermarket is running sales on such basics as meat, fish and poultry, milk, butter and bread, store them in your freezer. (Remove the butcher paper from the meat, fish and poultry and store in freezer bags.) Likewise, make a home for frozen veggies in your freezer. All of these expand your options for fast meals.
  5. Organize your kitchen. Make it easy to find stuff, and store like with like: for example, measuring cups and spoons should go together. Get used to replacing stuff in its proper position every time and it will become easy to find. Keep your most-used cooking implements, such as spatulas and an assortment of wooden spoons, in a stovetop container, such as a wine cooler. Equipment you use the most should be easier to access than equipment you use the least.
  6. “Mise en place” is French for, “Put in place.” Begin cooking by measuring, chopping, slicing and dicing your ingredients so they’re ready to go. The only time you should not use this technique is if your recipe is broken down into stages, such as, “While the onions are sautéing, cut meat into cubes.”
  7. Speaking of prep work, master basic cooking techniques, such as caramelizing onions and carrots to intensify their flavor. Basic knife skills are incredibly important because chopping, dicing, and slicing are the backbone of cooking.
  8. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on kitchen equipment to be a great cook. However, you should invest in 2 or 3 very good knives, then keep them razor-sharp. This is time and money well-spent because it makes prep work so much easier and faster. Just—be careful with them.
  9. Cook once, prepare many ways: for example, roast chicken can become the basis of an excellent chicken and vegetable stew, chili or chicken salad the following night.
  10. It’s usually a lot easier to make a double portion of something, then freeze left overs, than it is to make the same thing twice. If you know you’re going to be eating on leftovers for a few days, don’t season while you cook. Instead, add different seasonings each night. However, if leftovers tend to be very tempting, it’s important to freeze them promptly. And label and date everything so you don’t accidentally serve beef brisket instead of vegetarian chili.
  11. Meals don’t have to be separate dishes of meat, two vegetables and a starch. Casseroles can easily combine protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrates in a single pot, such as Cheap and Flexible Lentil Stew. Master a couple of these for those nights when you’re too tired for anything fancy but you still want a good meal.
  12. Use your slow-cooker so you come home to a hot meal.
  13. Create flavor bombs from small scraps of meals, like maple-smoked bacon grease, chicken drippings, stuffing to puree for a base for soup, leftover marinades or spice rubs. This will save you time and money—and add great flavor.
  14. Generally speaking, cooking at high temperatures is not just faster but better, because the high heat caramelizes, adding savory, umami flavors to your food. So don’t start with cold pans: heat them before adding your ingredients.
  15. Sauté vegetables before adding stock, broth or water. This reduces cooking time and intensifies flavor.
  16. Get into the habit of inventorying your pantry and replacing your basics every week. Recycle your favorite meals and menus.
  17. An excellent way to reduce the mess and cleanup time is to clean as you cook—or better yet, if you’re cooking for a family, someone else should be cleaning up as you’re cooking.
  18. What if you’re cooking for a family? Adopt the principle of those who will not work, shall not eat. It’s a changing—but still true—fact that the lion’s share of domestic work falls on women. No matter how hard they work outside of the home. Assign chores so that everyone is doing a fair share of cooking and cleaning. If your partner believes fire is just a passing fad and can’t be trusted to caramelize an onion to save his life, he can prep for you. Or clean up. The kids can help set the table and then clear it afterward.

These simple steps go a long, long way to making cooking faster, easier and more pleasant.

The Trim Down Club’s Menu Planner takes the guesswork out and makes meal planning easy. Learn more.

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Comments 74

  1. Profile photo of renajon

    Hi have just started a weeks trial. Am overwhelmed by the fact that everything has to be home made. Are there any ready made food that you can just buy and use in the planner? Haven’t got time or the inclination to make everything from scratch.

    • Profile photo of ossie-sharon

      Hi, renajon. For part of the time, you can try purchasing readymade foods from health-oriented shops such as http://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk.
      For the rest, consider making large batches of healthy foods when you do have time, then freezing portions for later heating during the week. Note that these foods don’t need to be complicated or 100% from scratch – for example, pasta with lean ground beef and jarred tomato sauce with a salad, or make-ahead baked beans with a cheese sandwich made from 100% whole grain store-bought or bakery bread and real cheese plus fruit.

    • Profile photo of ossie-sharon

      Hi, bowmansgr, and welcome. Exchanges are units of major nutrients that can be used to build menus. You can see how many of each are allotted to you at meals and for the day by clicking on “Exchange mode” in the toolbar above any of your menus. Exchanges have the following general nutritional values:
      1 carb exchange = 15 grams of carbohydrates + up to 3 grams of protein
      1 protein exchange = 7 grams of protein + up to 5 grams of fat
      1 fat exchange = 5 grams of fat
      1 fruit exchange = 15 grams of carbohydrates
      1 vegetable exchange = 5 grams of carbohydrates + up to 2 grams of protein
      1 sweet exchange = up to 15 grams of carbohydrates + up to 5 grams of fat
      1 free exchange = up to 5 grams of carbohydrates or up to 2 grams of protein or fat

      You can see our list of exchanges here: http://www.trimdownclub.com/exchanges-lists.

  2. Profile photo of blossomsOnit

    I am having problems navigating around the site. Plus my first week’s menu is so repetitious. Same breakfast and dinner for 4 days Yuck. I thought I marked lots of proteins. If I can maneuver through the site, I suppose I will understand more.

  3. Profile photo of rubyo

    Hello Sharon, I’ve noticed that at the end of each day’s carb/protein/fat count in the menus I build using the menu planner, the values differ for each day. Is there a golden rule I should be trying to attain so that every day is roughly the same, ie 14 carb, 10 protein, 3 fruit etc?

    • Profile photo of ossie-sharon

      Hi, Rubyo. Just shoot for something within the range you get for the week. There will be some variability from day to day, which is how regular eating is. If you post your height, I can give you the basic numbers upon which your menu pattern is based.

  4. Profile photo of savedbyfaith18

    This plan uses vegan or pastured natural ingredients, foods I have never heard of, and omits every type of food I am used to eating. Is there a list of good alternative foods that I can select from? Tried quinoa, yuck. Don’t like.

  5. Profile photo of ossie-sharon

    Hi, Sergiojudy. Almond milk is good, especially if it is fortified with calcium and vitamins – just keep in mind that it has far less protein than usual milks. Cereals that are best are those that are based on whole grains, with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, sodium less than 140 mg per serving, and no added sugar (hopefully less than 5 grams of sugar overall). Other than reading labels, the best way to tell is to select cereals from health-oriented stores such as Whole Foods, and from relatively small companies.

  6. Profile photo of BlueJay21TDC

    Hi, Jehebenstreit. A crumpet is basically just a British English muffin. I don’t know why English muffins aren’t British.

    Must disagree with you. A crumpet and an English Muffin are two different things. They may be interchangeable, but they are not the same. Check the web to find out how to make each.

    I have been enjoying this TDC regime, but like others, find it extremely expensive. I always buy organic, but the first time I went shopping for the ingredients, my bill was twice what I normally spend. I will stick with it, however, because I want to return to my trim figure.

  7. Profile photo of lmwill

    I found most of these ideas good and I have adopted many.. I have been on this journey for my life and finally convinced myself that it is mainly portion size and eating foods that are good for my body…giving up surgar and some fats.. or healthy was of enjoying foods..my discovery of roasted veggies has been great.. Making smoothies with fruit and some other item I don’t especially like to eat..avcardo. kale spinach…disappears in the smoothes and is good…

  8. Profile photo of ossie-sharon

    Hi, nyky. That’s great! As for the bread, you can split up the exchanges in your menu however you wish.
    Regarding the dyslexia issue, you can request from Customer Service the option of getting audio versions of materials, if you need them – you can reach the department through the “Contact Us” link below.

  9. Profile photo of nyky

    For my lunch I eat tuna because I don’t eat any outside of seafood if I don’t I get sick. I very healthy but at 5″11 181 I want to trim …I love the program I’ve been on only for one week and I already look different but my question is , Should I eat one slice of whole grain bread at lunch or 1 so I can have a slice at dinner. I’m very dyslexic so it easier for me if you tell me or I can listen to you explain.

  10. Profile photo of sherryewilliams

    While going thru the cancer-riding processes(radiation, mammograms, etc) I was told I was obese! One hundred eighty pounds is overweight— but obese! To say the least I was NOT a happy patient! Help! I have been told Cancer loves sugar, so I need to go on an anti-sugar diet. How!?!?

  11. Profile photo of ossie-sharon

    Hi, Shirley. Sorry to read! We wish you a speedy recovery. Homemade soups are an excellent idea – not only because they have fluids built in (which you especially now need lots of, as you likely know), but you can throw in a square meal (proteins, vegetables, carbohydrates) as well as healing seasonings such as fresh garlic. Just try to keep the sodium down, and be on the look-out for undesirables such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) in your boullion. If you would like ideas, please do take advantage of the TDC soup recipe collection – http://www.trimdownclub.com/recipe_type/soups.

  12. Profile photo of ossie-sharon

    Hi, Lalica. In your profile, you can note those sensitivities, as well as a need for low sugar. If you don’t find your sensitivities there, I suggest you use the full Menu Planner application (in “Apps” above) so that you can select the foods that work for you and avoid the ones that don’t. Keep in mind that the entire program is designed to support diabetics, pre-diabetics, and anyone else concerned about sugar and insulin.

  13. Profile photo of UncleBob

    Ok, I keep reading and reading. I am a new member and I am a 63 years young male. I do not really know what a carb, protein, gluten ect. really are. I also have my own business of a one man UPS type driver. I do not have a scheduled meal time as I eat on the go when available. I eat a bowl of “All Bran” cereal for breakfast with black coffee and then eat snacks and lunch as time allows. Every day is the same for me. I take a sandwich an apple and 2 pieces of string cheese with one more cup of coffee and 2 bottles of water. So far what I have changed is my sandwich was with whole wheat bread and now it is sourdough.

  14. Profile photo of Dozierbrenda

    Hi : ) just joined and prepared my 1st day’s menu. I will be shopping tomorrow for my week’s meals. I work long days and am on call 24-7 so i have neglected myself to care for others. So looking forward to TLC for myself. Prepping the menus will take committment but i am excited to have a plan. Glad to be here.

  15. Profile photo of castro97

    Reading through everything and watching the videos before I actually start a new way of living. I want to do this right. I am starting to void out junk and make the transition. I just finished making my menus out. Read and watch all that is mentioned to do, it will make it more easy to follow the planed course. Need to lose 50lbs so I am in it for the long haul.

  16. Profile photo of ossie-sharon

    Hi, Kathy. I sincerely hope that we are your last stop, and that you find your bliss here.
    To answer your question about the Quinoa Pudding, each serving yields 1 carb (which is equal to a slice of bread or 1/2 cup of bran flakes cereal) and 1/2 protein + 1 fat (together equal to 1 tablespoon of nut butter or 1/2 cup of whole milk). You can get more combination ideas from the exchange lists here: http://www.trimdownclub.com/exchanges-lists.

  17. Profile photo of Kathy212

    Hi, I joined the Trim down club last week. I am one of many who have tried every diet on the planet. I was put on my first diet at the age of 10 and given a 1,000 cal a day, very hard for a child, I did lose 2st but of course as soon as I stopped back it all went and so for the last 55 years I have been on a diet of some kind or another. I am finding getting to grips with all the different foods and their carbs, fat etc content hard to grasp. I don`t yet understand the exchange process. Could you please let me know if there is a specific section I should read, I know about the exchange on the menu but, say I want to have `quinoa pudding` for example what would I have to exchange for this?

  18. Profile photo of maz69

    Hi I’m an Australian newcomer, joining this week. I have been slowly attempting changes in my habits e.g. no processed
    foods, changing my cooking methods, introducing almond meal, coconut flour, coconut oil, and coconut sugar, and stumbled on the TDC accidently and was very interested and encouraged in viewing the introductory video. I’m really enjoying my venture, and have several questions. I do enjoy my Whey protein (www.wheyless.com.au)and my green juices, consisting of kale, cucumber, lemon, apple and ginger, topped with a fermented supplement(www.bodyecology.com) is this possible to continue and with your support , recipes and ideas , hopefully will be a healthier person in 2015 after many years of struggles.
    Maz69

  19. Profile photo of ossie-sharon

    Hi, Betty, and welcome. It depends how much syrup you poured over it, because that much sugar may work against your goals here. It would be more recommended to blend a cup of berries with a low-carb sweetener and put it over the waffles, with just a drizzle of syrup.

  20. Profile photo of bettypr1952

    I am just starting this diet. I have had my breakfast and am very serious about trying to eat healthy. I am retired now, and I will always try to take the time to make good healthy meals.
    I do have a question….when I made my waffles this morning, I used a pad of butter on each waffle and poured organic maple syrup on them, is this ok?

  21. Profile photo of austinsm

    January 26th, I have also just joined and started reading the fabulous material provided. I am encouraged by reading different reviews and definitely agree diets are not the answer, have tried so many of them and the yoyo effect is very disheartening. So here’s to a new chapter and better health. Grateful for the menu plan.

  22. Profile photo of TrudyHaveman

    Hi! I am a 77 year old gramma who has been in a support group for years and has grown very lax in maintaining. Am 10 pounds above goal and find the 18 tips ” right on ” and they really work because I’ve been doing most of them. I just needed to be reminded. Thank you so much!!

  23. Profile photo of Maggie35

    To Lindalou45140 it helped me to join the New Beginnings Support Group. From it I learned that on your profile page that you click few recipes, low sugar. From the menu planner you click only the foods you know you will eat and can get. When you get used to it you can increase variety of foods. I hope this helps. If you join the support group you will get more detailed instructions.

  24. Profile photo of Kattie

    Hello, I’m slowly working into the proper eating world. I know it will take me a few weeks to get my pantry cleaned out and filled up with the proper healthy food. I have gotten rid of the cakes and cookies. Good luck to everyone. May we all have success in our new way of healthy eating changes. Have a great day.

  25. Profile photo of GillianGilchrist

    Glad to see that I’m not alone in trying to lose some weight……..I think this is going to be good for me, it’s definitely encouraging to see the chart going down every week, even though it’s a small amount, it’s the right direction!! I still haven’t got all my meal plans worked out, but have cut out all biscuits and sweets and no more Christmas cake!! Good luck to everyone on this journey.

  26. Profile photo of CathyRa

    I have just joined. Looks as though plenty of variety but will take a bit to try and find the right bread. Don’t no if in New Zealand. Have only got 10 kilos to lose this time around. Lost 30 kilos 3 years ago, kept it of for 18 months but have started piling it back on again. Hopefully this time it will be permanent. It has to be. Cheers everyone and good luck

  27. Profile photo of allardc

    Hi there
    Like the rest of you online I just joined yesterday! I’m still learning how to navigate the site and especially to put the food planner to work! Everything I’ve read so far is inspiring and encouraging! Common sense and user-friendly reading articles are full of good ideas! Those tools, along with the TDC team support and my fellow weight loss companions are going to be the backbone of my fortitude throughout journey!

  28. Profile photo of lmutchler

    Well I just joined and I’m a little nervous but I’m ready to get this weight off my body! So praying to God and my group I will be successful. I have high Cholesterol and I love sweets so much, if I can just break this strong hold from sweets I’ll be well on my way. I want to Hello to everyone and we are in this together so if I can do anything to help anyone please feel free to msg me etc.

  29. Profile photo of MarilynSidebottom

    Hello all, My name Is Marilyn and I am just getting started. I have been working on my diet for a long time without success. Like the add said I lose weight and then gain it back. I have been working on simply making my “diet” more healthy. What ever kind of program I am on I need to be able to live with it. It cannot be a plan that will only last a few months. I am starting slowly and hope to have some luck. I appreciate all of the support that I am seeing so far. Good luck to all, like me who have started this past week and also to those that are making progress.

  30. Profile photo of luciart

    I am just starting. Lots of stress and I get distracted. I have had a problem with my thyroid and metabolism for years. I am too sedentary because I am retired and love artwork and do not like Winter in this area any more. But I do eat good things mostly and no fast food and probably not enough food and later in the day. And not enough water. I only drink water or some coconut milk. Good luck to all that are starting. Luci

  31. Profile photo of KSilverberg

    jleath63 – I’m with you: capable of this, but keep backsliding when left to my own. And what’s worked for me in the past doesn’t seem to work for me now. At 50, I’m just getting into that change myself! I’m hoping that logging in at least once a week to get a new week’s menu and shopping list will get me on the right track. I’m on a computer all day at work, so it’s hard for me to go home and log in. But we have to do this! 🙂 A quote from Zig Ziglar: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – I think that’s our clue: we need to visit this website on a consistent basis to renew that motivation. Warning: I’m not tech savvy at all, so if you reply, I may not see it (I won’t know how to get back to this post! :)). Best wishes for a healthier new year to you!

  32. Profile photo of Vonpick

    I joined yesterday and woke up this morning in a mad panick as I have had nothing in. I have broke the rule on the first day by only having breakfast but I’ve done my big shop now for the week and rady to go. We can do it, let’s get thinner, let’s get healthier , let’s feel better about ourselves, were worth it.

  33. Profile photo of pamr52

    I am used to cooking everyday even though I work. I don’t like most prepackaged food. I find the breakfast menu limited because I don’t like eggs and the breakfast pizza does not appeal to me. I am going have to do a lot of substitution for breakfast.

  34. Profile photo of SandraCA

    jleath – Welcome to the club, I’ve been here a week now and down 3 ibs and my blood sugar levels are already evening out. Stick with it. Weight is intended to come off slowly while we learn a “lifestyle” of healthy eating. Keep with it and you’ll not only see the clothes get baggy but you’ll feel healthy.

    Feeling and being healthy is better than anything in the world.

  35. Profile photo of jleath63

    I am just starting out with Trim Down club. This all sounds wonderful but a total life change for me. I am more than capable of doing all of this but worry about staying motivated. I eat fast food a lot because of time and convenience. Having said that, I am more tired and creaky than I believe I should be at this age and gaining weight at an alarming rate since I entered “the change of life”. I definitely want to change the way I do things but it will require a 180 degree turn for me from my usual habits. Any words of encouragement or motivation are welcomed.

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