How Cook Smarts Founder, Jess Dang, Saves Time in the Kitchen
As part of our Quick Cooking Series, Cook Smarts Founder and Kitchen Cheerleader, Jess Dang, is sharing the time-saving techniques she actually uses to save time in the kitchen!
If mealtime often feels like a last-ditch effort to get something — anything — on the table, it’s likely you haven’t discovered the personal techniques that set you up for success in the kitchen. We’ve all been there!
To give you an idea of what setting yourself up for success in the kitchen looks like, Jess Dang, Founder of Cook Smarts, is sharing eight of her personal time-saving tips. Use this list as a reference point to help you get the ball rolling in your own life until you discover the personal techniques that help you cook smarter and feel more successful in the kitchen!
8 Tips to Save Time in the Kitchen
1. Get Groceries Delivered
I get my groceries delivered (for the most part). I love Instacart. It’s not perfect but it has saved me so much time over the last few years. Yes, every once in awhile I get a spoiled avocado, but customer service has always been really reliable to make a fix or refund my money. I know people want control over their groceries but I’m willing to give that up for a few extra hours a week.
2. Use Lots of Frozen Vegetables
I use a ton of frozen veggies. I never used to do this. The only frozen items I kept were usually peas and corn. Now, I also keep cauliflower, stir-fry medleys, mushrooms, okra, carrots and peas just about always on hand to throw in a stir-fry, risotto, air-fryer, fried rice, soup, etc.
3. Cook in Big Batches
I make huge batches of everything, especially grains. I’m someone who has no aversion to leftovers and I’m a creature of habit — if I like something, I don’t mind having it over and over again. For example, I’ll make 12 servings of soup, which is enough for two nights of dinners and almost a week of lunches, or I’ll freeze half of it for a busy week.
Some of my favorite scalable meals are this Slow Cooker White Chili and this Beef and Barley Soup (we love the veggie version, which can be made on any budget). They were both featured in our meal plan service recently and were huge hits!
I also like to use big batches in multiple ways. For example, I’ll make a tomato sauce for pizza one night and then use it as a pasta sauce for gnocchi the next night. Or, I’ll bake a lot of chicken breasts to use in salads, grain bowls and wraps throughout the week.
4. Make Dressings and Marinades in Bulk
I make dressings and marinades in bulk. I usually make two pre-mixed jars with all of the ingredients except the oil, which I add in later depending on whether I plan to use the mix as a dressing or marinade. Then, throughout the week, I quickly pour out what I need and whisk in the right amount of oil — less for a marinade, more for a dressing. I’ll use the same two mixes to marinate my proteins and dress my salads all week, which makes things a lot faster.
5. Prep in Advance
Because my time window to cook is small, I have most things prepped and ready to go. Basically, I have two windows for getting ahead on meal prep: the morning before work and the evening after the kids have gone to bed.
Because I’m a bit of a TV addict and definitely a multi-tasking addict, I usually watch Hulu and prep after the kids have gone to bed during my hour of “free time.” I open my Hulu app, pop in my Apple AirPods, organize a prep station with a dish towel, prep bowls and compost bin so it’s easy to clean up afterwards, and watch something while I prep for the next day’s meals.
6. Memorize Pantry Recipes…
I rarely cook from recipes. I find that having to follow a recipe really slows you down because you’re constantly consulting it. Clearly, I didn’t start out this way, but I’ve tried to commit to memory a few pantry recipes that are flexible and quick.
Follow me on Instagram to see more of those types of meals. I don’t give the recipes but they’ll give you good guidelines for these types of meals, which everyone should have in their back pocket.
But if you want to learn for yourself how to skip recipes and cook from your own knowledge, our Nourish online course can help you build a cooking foundation so you feel confident in creating your own dishes. The course is only offered once a year, but you can sign up to receive updates about it here.
7. …But Always Have a Plan
Even though I don’t cook from recipes, this doesn’t mean I don’t plan. I run a meal planning service and totally understand how powerful it is to save you time and make sure you stick to cooking. If you want to incorporate more planning into your meals, join our amazing Facebook Group, supporting thousands of home cooks in their meal planning efforts. Or download our Free Meal Planning Toolkit to get our pantry checklist, printable shopping list and produce shelf life guide.
8. Give Yourself Permission
Give yourself permission to take whatever shortcuts you need to get dinner on the table — in whatever form it takes. If that means ordering takeout or a frozen pizza, that’s totally fine. Your kids won’t grade you on your effort, they’ll just remember the time you spent with them at the dinner table.
How do you save time in daily life? Any kitchen time-saving tips you want to share? Let us know in the comments!
As always, we’re here to help you live your best life in the kitchen and provide delicious memories for you and your family. Join our cooking community by signing up for our newsletter below, and we’ll send you great cooking tips and resources that will help you raise your kitchen IQ and cook with confidence.