Committing to eating healthier, more natural foods usually means committing to preparing a lot of the food yourself. As you add more whole foods into your diet, you’ll find yourself buying more ingredients and less pre-packaged foods. There’s no getting around the fact that preparing foods from ingredients takes more time than opening a box with a frozen entrée and popping it in the oven. But that doesn’t mean that there are no short cuts.

Here are some short cuts that will cut down your prep time and help you get a healthy dinner on the table more quickly.

  1. Jarred chopped or diced garlic. Peeling and mincing those little cloves of garlic isn’t always convenient when you’re in hurry to get dinner on the table. Garlic that has been chopped already and packed in water is a happy medium between fresh garlic and garlic powder. If I’m cooking a special meal, I’ll go with the fresh, but for an every night dish, I used the jarred stuff.
  2. Packaged broths. Sure, I taught you how to make your own turkey stock after Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean that I always make my own stocks and broths. My go-to brand is Pacific Foods. I use the broths to make soups, cook rice for added flavor, and pour over cooked meat that I’m going to freeze (helps it stay moist).
  3. Pre-sliced mushrooms. Unless you’re handpicking each mushroom from a bin, fresh mushrooms usually come in packages. If I don’t need the mushroom to be whole, I always buy the packages of presliced. Even if I need to chop the presliced mushrooms smaller, they have already been cleaned so it saves time.
  4. Slicing and dicing after shopping. Before I grocery shop I try to plan the week’s meals (I’m not always successful at this). If I have planned ahead, when I get home from the store, I can take some time to clean and chop my veggies to use later in the week. I don’t always do this, but sometimes I do, and it makes getting dinner together on a weeknight much easier. Also, I’ll chop up fruits like melons or pull all the grapes off the stems so it’s easy for my boys to grab them to eat. They’ll grab a container of grapes that have already been pulled and washed on their own but they won’t go into the crisper, pull a bunch from the stems, wash them off and eat them.
  5. Bagged salads. Most supermarkets now offer organic greens already bagged. Open the bag, give them a good wash, and throw them in a bowl. Couldn’t be easier. Shredded cabbage in a bag is also a great time saver if you’re making coleslaw or want to add some to a soup to beef up its nutritional value and thicken it a bit.

Eating better doesn’t mean spending an hour preparing your meal. I talk to people all the time who think I must spend half my day in front of my laptop and the other half in my kitchen, but I don’t. I do try to think ahead and I give myself permission to cut corners, especially on weeknight meals.  

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Cooking prep shortcuts for your busy life
You don't need to spend a lot of time preparing for a healthy meal. Shortcuts are allowed.