Have you ever tried, with the best of intentions, to eat healthily, only to find that it’s too bloody time consuming!? Trust me, you aren’t alone! I would imagine that this means that you’ve ended up eating ready meals and take away food regularly, which are massively packed full of salt and damaging fats. Jonny and I were both guilty of this, but with a few simple tricks we are now able to produce delicious healthy meals without it being too time consuming. This process took us a while but, luckily for you, we’ve laid out a few of the tips that we discovered to help make cooking feel like less of a drain on our time and energy.
1. Pre-chop vegetables and freeze them
Many vegetables can be frozen once chopped into the desired size. This can save a lot of time, as you will be able to chop vegetables for multiple meals in one go. The best time to freeze vegetables is when they are freshly picked and at their peak ripeness. This won’t be possible for everyone, but if you are able to grow your own vegetables or buy them from a farmer’s market, you will be in the best position to retain the most nutrients in your frozen vegetables. Once washed and chopped, blanch the vegetables (put into boiling water for a couple of minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and submerge in icy water) then dry thoroughly. Once you have done this, freeze the vegetables quickly. Once dried, freeze in heavy duty, air-tight containers (you can use freezer bags but we are trying to reduce our use of plastic – we do have a few freezer bags left over from before we started trying to live more sustainably, so we reuse these as many times as we can and will not buy new ones). It is possible to buy frozen vegetables from the supermarket, but as mentioned above, we are trying to reduce our plastic consumption so we try to avoid buying frozen vegetables from the shops as they tend to come in non-recyclable packaging.
2. Use a silicone baking mat
This is a great investment, not only as a time saver but also to reduce waste. A good quality silicone baking mat will be durable, heat-resistant and, most importantly, safe for cooking. They provide a reusable, non-stick surface without having to worry about cutting up baking paper or remembering to put it on your shopping list when you run out. Not only are they convenient, but they are easy to clean and don’t take up much storage space in your kitchen. You can buy different sized baking mats depending on the type of baking you want to do. We tend to use ours for either baking tofu or cooking vegetables.
3. Make your own vegetable stock and in ice cubes to use later
One top tip for cooking delicious whole food plant based recipes with no oil is to use vegetable stock to fry or sauté your food. This is a great way to do it, as it prevents the food from sticking to the cooking utensil and adds extra flavour. The problem is that most recipes require a small amount of stock, but you will need to use it frequently. I found it frustrating at first that I never seemed to have the right about of stock, and was always having to prepare more. I then read a hack about making my own stock using leftover vegetable peels and it helped solve this problem. To do this, save your leftover vegetable peel in the freezer until you have a lot, then boil the peel for an hour in water and some herbs (depending on the flavour you want). You then strain the liquid and you have your own homemade stock while also reducing your food waste! To store, freeze the stock in an ice cube tray (make sure you wash it thoroughly afterwards though – Jonny was not impressed when I failed to do this and drinks tasted vaguely like stock!) and then store in a freezer safe container. It saves so much time to just grab a stock cube from the freezer when the recipe calls for it!
4. Check the ripeness of avocados without peeling them
This one only saves a bit of time, but does also save wasting precious avocados and avoids the soul crushing moment of realising that the avocado you have been looking forward to is either over or under ripe (I don’t think I have ever sounded like more of a millennial). The key thing is to check under the stem, as that is the closest you can get to seeing inside the avocado without cutting it open. Peel back the small stem at the top of the avocado - if it comes away easily and you find green underneath, it should be ripe and ready to eat. If it is brown then it might be overripe and you will likely find dark spots (or more) within. If the stem doesn’t come off, then it is not yet ripe and you should leave it to ripen before opening it.
5. Make excess sauce and store in the fridge/freezer
When you make sauce or dressings, it can save time to make extra and store it in either the fridge or the freezer depending on when you will next need the sauce. It doesn’t take much (if any) extra time to make more than you need for one meal, so this can be a great way to plan ahead to save time when cooking future meals.
6. Clean as you go
This one is simple but effective! It saves SO MUCH time if you tidy away while you are cooking, and also means that you will have very little to tidy away once you have finished eating. A couple of things that can help with this is to keep a separate bowl for vegetable peel etc so that you can easily dispose of it (we use ours for compost) and to rinse out any tins and packaging straight away and dispose of them (try to recycle where possible). It really helped my attitude towards cooking once I streamlined the tidying process (as that is the worst bit!).
7. Try to enjoy it (and get creative!)
I know, I know - this isn’t really a time saving tip but it really does help! If you can learn to enjoy the process of cooking then it won’t feel like a chore. If you don’t enjoy it, or don’t feel like you are very good at it, then try starting with the basics. Find some simple recipes and practice them to build up your confidence, or start with a version of your favourite meal to incentivise you to perfect it. Once you enjoy the process of cooking, it won’t feel like a drain on your time and energy. Something that many people don’t realise is that cooking can be a creative process! I really enjoy trying to make healthy, vegan versions of some of my favourite foods so why don’t you have a think about what you would like to make and get creative!
Hopefully these tips will help streamline your cooking and help you enjoy the process!