How to Cook From Scratch When You Have No Time To Cook

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There’s no doubt cooking real food from scratch is the most healthy option. But what if you’re too busy. Below are some tips for cooking from scratch when you have no time to cook.

cook from scratch no time to cook

Convenience food does one thing really, really well: it saves time. Or more correctly, it allows you to spend your time doing something other than cooking.

But that’s about all most convenience food is good for. Most convenience foods are not very tasty (at least in my opinion), not very nutritious, are more expensive than cooking from scratch and often generate more waste in the form of packaging.

So how do you balance cooking from scratch with saving time in a busy, modern world? After all, most of us work outside the home, are involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities, are raising kids or would just rather not spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen.

How to Cook From Scratch When You Have No Time

Below are four ways that help save time in the kitchen while still reaping all the benefits of cooking whole foods from scratch.

1. Simplify Your Meals

It’s not necessary to cook an elaborate meal every night. 

Simple meals using basic ingredients are quick and easy to make but tick all the right boxes: nutritious, tasty and inexpensive.

Avocado and tomato on wholegrain toast is a quick and simple meal that’s both healthy and tastes good.

Eggs can be fried, boiled, poached or scrambled and served up in minutes in a variety of ways.

Toasted sandwiches with salad and leftovers are quick and filling meals.

Even a quick pan-fried fish with a side of bagged salad or steamed vegetables can be on the table in under 15 minutes without a lot of fuss.

For more simple meal ideas see: 17 Frugal Instant Meals for Nights When You Don’t Want to Cook.

2. Plan Your Meals

Menu planning saves you time, money and mental energy. It ensures you have what you need for each meal on hand, without the need to pop into the shop every day for the night’s meal or to pick up a forgotten ingredient.

Menu planning also helps you to prepare food in advance, saving you time in the evenings when time might be tight.

See also: Homemade Oven-Ready Foods for Busy Nights

3. Prepare Meals in Advance

Preparing in advance may involve chopping a week’s worth of vegetables while you’re cooking the Sunday roast (even easier if you do it with a food processor). Or it might mean cooking enough rice for tonight’s meal and Thursday’s tuna rissoles.

I like to buy meat in bulk and pre-cut and portion it before freezing. This makes stir fry night that much easier as the meat is already sliced. 

For all the details on how to prepare meals in advance quickly and easily check out: Everything You Need to Know for Once a Week Meal Prepping.

4. Become More Efficient in the Kitchen

You’ve probably seen Jamie Oliver whip up a whole meal in under 15 minutes. One of his secrets for creating meals in such short time is to work efficiently – to boil water in the kettle, for instance, or to have the pan hot and ready, or to use time-efficient appliances or to prepare one part of the dish while another is cooking.

Besides the food processor, the other efficient appliance is the slow cooker, rice cooker or Instant Pot.

The slow cooker allows you to come home to a meal that is already cooked. Make a double batch (efficient use of time and energy) and freeze it for an easy reheat meal at another time. Slow cooking meat and portioning it for later can give you dozens of different meal options. 

A rice cooker is a versatile appliance that cooks rice (and other things) perfectly without fuss. 

And an instant pot pressure cooks, which can mean meals that can take ages to cook can be on the table in minutes. It also slow cooks and cooks rice, so it’s several appliances in one. 

Another way to be efficient is to have hot water in the sink to clean as you go or to stack the dishwasher as you go, saving you the big cleaning job at the end of a meal.

Efficiency comes with practice. Meals that you are most familiar with, will be the most efficient.

5. Get Smart with Healthy Convenience Foods

Not all convenience foods are junk food.

Consider pre-washed salad, zucchini noodles, garlic in a jar, beans in a can, frozen stir fry veggies, pre-sliced chicken breast or even a BBQ chook.

All of these options are pretty much ‘from scratch’. They save you time and mental energy and help you get a healthy meal on the table in minutes.

Foods that are pre-prepared for your convenience aren’t as cheap as doing all the work yourself, but they are still cheaper and healthier than takeout!

You don’t need to spend all day in the kitchen to cook healthy, tasty and inexpensive meals from scratch. Just a little planning, preparation and an efficient workflow allow you to have wholesome meals on the table in next to no time.

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  1. Melissa – you are a girl after my own heart!! These are fantastic tips and I follow most of them – not sure how efficient I am!! I am going to share this on my FB page today. :)

  2. A wok is my favourite for 15 Min meals, 10 mins chopping and 5 minutes cooking, with loads of fresh veggies,

  3. I’m a full time worker outside the home and cook all our food from scratch. I have a bunch of fast meals that I use when I’m busy and on the weekend I prepare a couple of slow cook meals ( soups and casseroles ) which we have on Monday and Tuesday with enough for work lunches as well. A well stocked pantry also makes a big differences.

  4. I definitely go for simplicity during the week here – some kind of meat and some stir-fried veggies and I’m good to go. I also use the slow cooker to make a big batch of something on Sundays, which gives me a few lunches during the week :)

    I have an unrelated question for you – where do you buy your chicken from? I remember you said you buy a bulk order of breasts and thighs, and I am thinking of doing the same, and would love to know a cheap and good place to order them from. Thanks :)

    1. I currently buy meat in bulk from a local wholesaler. They are not very close to home but are on the way home from hubby’s work, so he gets the meat about once a month to 6 weeks.

      When I lived in Sydney I had a great supplier of fresh chickens and I could get 3 for $12 (that’s going back a few years though), and I would portion the chooks myself and use the bones for stock. Wish I could find another chook supplier.

  5. My ‘fast food’ dessert is to always have stewed fruit in the fridge or freezer, and crumble topping mixture in the freezer, for a fast and healthy dessert or breakfast. If the oven isn’t on already, I heat up the crumble in the microwave, and then grill it for crunchiness under the griller.