How to Cook Real Food Fast

Ok, so you’ve committed to changing your lifestyle and diet.  You’re going to start exercising and eating healthily, largely by reducing the amount of meat you consume and adding additional vegetables to your diet.  You’ve found a few vegetarian recipes on this blog or elsewhere that you want to try.

But for many of you, that’s where it will end.

Even though you want to make these recipes, you won’t!  The reason?  You don’t cook.  You eat out a few times a week, your roommate or spouse makes the standard fare once or twice, and for the rest of the week you manage to get by on whatever looks safe for consumption in the fridge.  You know it’s not healthy, so you tell yourself (again) that maybe this weekend you’ll plan some meals and get on top of things.  And of course the same scene plays out week after week, month after month.

[Cooking photo]I know because I’ve been there, and I know that I only started eating right when I started cooking.  I was conscious about my diet long before I learned to cook, but until I started cooking I just didn’t eat many vegetables.  It was so easy to put a piece of chicken on the George Foreman grill, heat up a can of sliced potatoes, and call that a healthy meal.  After all, it didn’t have anything “bad” in it, and it was better than the Ramen noodles that other college kids were eating.

But this isn’t a healthy meal, and making it isn’t cooking.  You’ve got to get fresh vegetables, as much as the producers of the processed, packaged foods that line supermarket shelves would love to convince you otherwise.  And the only way you’ll get them is by making real food.  You think you’ll start adding some broccoli or asparagus to the chicken and canned potatoes, but it won’t last.  I’ve done it.  You get lazy, and vegetables are the first thing to go.

You’ve got to cook.  And it takes some work to get started.  You have to plan the meals in advance (I’ve made this easy for you), go to the grocery store (because you know you won’t find the ingredients in your fridge), and as if that weren’t enough, you have to actually cook the meals.  If you can get your spouse to do it, so much the better, but usually the only way to change someone else is by example.

So that’s my argument for cooking.  And you know what?  There’s a really good chance you’ll start to love it.  I did.  I went well beyond the basics, venturing into making fresh pasta, gnocchi, pizza dough (whole-wheat, of course), pesto, and so many more.  If you can’t tell, I got really into Italian cooking.  And it all started with Italian wine, but that’s another story.  But you don’t have to do any of that fancy stuff.  Just get in the kitchen and start with something easy.  I can guarantee it will take you a while at first, but stick it out for a few meals and see if you don’t start feeling terrific about cooking wholesome, healthy meals every night.

So here are my tips to get you started, geared more towards time-saving that turning out fancy food.  If you saw my onion video, you know I’m no expert.  I hardly ever cook without a recipe, and I used to be known for causing one kitchen disaster with every meal I cooked.  But I’ve learned a ton about how to cook faster and smarter, and now the disasters are few and far between.  And best of all, I don’t feel like cooking takes up my entire night anymore.  If a meal takes me more than half an hour, start to finish, I tend to think it’s best saved for a weekend or special occasion.

Fast Cooking Tips

  1. Use a garbage bowl.  Chop everything before you get started, unless there are long downtimes during the cooking (waiting for pasta to cook, for example), and throw packinging, vegetable peels, and anything else you don’t need into the garbage bowl next to you.  Trips to the trashcan add up.
  2. Stop measuring!  Unless you’re baking, you don’t need to be precise.  You don’t see recipes calling for 1.2 tablespoons do you?  They just round it to a whole or half number, so they’re not exact anyway.  For dry ingredients, learn what a teaspoon or tablespoon looks like in your hand and just go by that.  Liquid is a little harder, but still just estimate it.  My favorite Rachael Ray tip is that a drizzle around the pan equals a tablespoon of oil.
  3. Learn how to chop efficiently.  Most importantly, cut things in half first so that there’s a big flat side on the cutting board.  I’ll post Take Two of how to chop vegetables soon; in the meantime you can find something on YouTube.
  4. Spend a little more for quality ingredients.  This is absolutely essential to making your food taste good, and it feels great to know you’re putting only the highest-quality stuff into your body.
  5. Make twice as much as you need so you’ll have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.  This is such an excellent way to save time, money, and calories that you would have spent eating out the next day.
  6. Reuse pots and cooking utensils by rinsing them quickly while you cook, rather than filling up the sink.  I’m still working on this one.  Alternatively, convince someone else that since you’re cooking, they should do the dishes.

And I’ll leave you with one more reason you should cook– when you make your own food, you know exactly what goes in it!  I can guarantee you won’t find yourself yelling “Honey, where’s the high fructose corn syrup?” next time you’re cooking dinner.



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

The 7 Foods Worth Eating Every Single Day

wooden signpost near a pathOur 7-Day Kickstart Plan is unique in that it focuses on the highest quality whole foods (including the 7 foods worth eating every day), to make sure you get everything you need on a plant-based diet.

The Kickstart Plan includes:
  • A 7-day meal plan, built around the foods worth eating every single day
  • 14 of our favorite recipes that pack in the nutrition, taste great, and are easy to make
  • Focused on simplicity and speed, to minimize stress and time commitment
It's the best way we know of to get started with a whole-food, plant-based diet, for just 7 bucks. Learn more here!


  1. Colleen Baldwin says:

    I have been reading the blog, associated comments and receipes every day. Although I am neither a pescetarian or a vegetarian, I am learning many new things. This latest post is right up my alley because it speaks to something Joel and I have been working on very dilligently…meal planning. We have made a serious effort over the last few months to plan menus, try new recipes every week, and stick to the good old brown bag lunch. My organizational compulsions took over and we even started a binder of our favorite magazine recipes. My favorite part of the process is writing our weekly menu and posting it on the refrigerator. We have found that, by planning ahead and shopping for the week, we go out less often and save money. There is no longer the dreaded, “what do you want to do for dinner tonight?” and the times we go out are more enjoyable…even if it is just to the bar around the corner!

  2. Thanks for reading the blog Colleen. I like the weekly menu on the fridge idea! A chalk board would be even sweeter. We’ve been talking about keeping a binder of recipes for a while, but we never seem to get around to it. But now with the blog, there’s no need! We even have photos and comments from others on the recipes. Anyway glad you are learning a lot and thanks for commenting.

  3. One thing that has also helped me in planning out meals is a little pre-printed shopping list check off – it also keeps me from over-spending at the store. The one I use is made by Real Simple (magazine) and I bought a pad of it at Target when I moved into my house. It also helps that I love to spend time in my house and use all of the new things I bought when I moved in 🙂 But thats beside the point and not at all helpful.

Leave a Comment