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17 Useful Tips If You (Like Me) Are Cooking Way More Than Usual

Because worrying about what to make for dinner every night is hard enough.

Right now, you're probably cooking a lot more than you usually do.

And if you also have to work or take care of kids (or BOTH), it can quickly become the most stressful part of your day.

There are some ways, though, to make the whole process less exhausting and time-consuming. Here are some tips that have helped me. 🍳

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1. Create an inventory of what you already have.

The WB

It's a little work at first, but it really pays off. Either download a free template or create your own spreadsheet with every ingredient you have β€” plus the expiration date.

It's a great way to A) Narrow down recipe ideas if you have stuff that will go bad soon, and B) Realize you already have all the ingredients for an easy pasta or burrito bowl.

2. Stock up on pantry essentials that'll last awhile.

Beth (Budget Bytes) / Via budgetbytes.com

Lke dry staples (pasta, grains), canned goods (beans, tomatoes), and frozen items (fruits, veggies). Again, a little work and money upfront β€” but future you will definitely thank you for having basics on hand, especially when grocery trips can take longer than usual right now.

Not sure where to start? Budget Bytes has a great beginner's checklist.

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3. Take advantage of sheet pan meals and one-pot meals.

Tasty / Via tasty.co

They usually have the best effort-to-taste ratio. You can pretty much make any type of meal on a sheet pan, and one pan/pot dinners beautifully reduce the stack of dishes you wash at the end.

4. Or make appliances do all the heavy lifting.

damndelicious.net

Toss-and-go slow cooker recipes and Instant Pot recipes are beloved for a reason. What could be more satisfying than dumping everything into one place, waiting a bit, and coming back to a meal already made?

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5. Know which ingredients you can easily swap.

ereplacementparts.com

This gets a little trickier with baking (though still absolutely possible), but when it comes to cooking, you can swap so many ingredients. It makes your life a LOT simpler when you can just use the maple syrup you have instead of running out to get honey.

More: 27 Diagrams That Make Cooking So Much Easier

6. Before you cook anything, fully read through the recipe and have a game plan.

NYT Cooking

It sucks to be almost done with your curry... only to realize the last step is pouring it over rice, which you didn't make yet. That's why it's good to look through and see where you can multitask. Can you cook grains while chopping veggies? Is it easier to whip up the sauce at the end instead of the beginning? It takes a few minutes, but can save you so much time.

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7. And read the recipe reviews!

Five-star reviews can seem encouraging, but they don't tell you much about a recipe (especially if only three people gave it the rating.) Taking a few minutes to comb through the comments can tell you everything from how easy the recipe actually was, to what substitutions other people made, to if the meal was truly as good as it looked.

8. Set aside a couple of hours to batch cook for the week.

Joanne and Adam (Inspired Taste) / Via inspiredtaste.net

Putting together all the layers of a lasagna (chopping the vegetables, cooking the pasta, layering it all together) can take some time, but then you have food for at least a few days. If you can block out a few solid hours to knock something big out, it lets you fully focus on non-cooking things later.

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9. And if you only have time to batch cook one thing, make it a base.

Tasty / Via buzzfeed.com

Making a huge batch of a base β€” such as rice, quinoa, farro, or beans β€” at the beginning of the week can make it easier to whip up quick things to put on top as the week rolls on.

10. Remember that canned or ready-made food can get you halfway to a meal.

BuzzFeed

Things like canned tuna, frozen burger patties, or instant ramen are basically most of the meal. Plus, you can still dress up a tuna salad sandwich or a simple bowl of Top Ramen and feel ~quar fancy~.

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11. And go easy on yourself if you're eating a bit less healthy than usual.

Hulu

Look, sometimes making spaghetti with jarred sauce or eating a pack of Top Ramen is all you have the energy for. It's fine! This pandemic won't last forever, and you can worry about your veggie intake when it's easy to buy a salad for lunch again. For now, let yourself have that PB&J for dinner without judgment.

12. If you're able to, invest in good tools.

BuzzFeed / Via buzzfeed.com

Knives are one of the best starting points. Not only does working with a dull knife take longer, it's also more dangerous because you have to apply extra pressure to actually chop. That's why, if you can swing it, getting a few good-quality tools can go a long way.

For knives, we (pretty exhaustively) tested a ton of them, and the three above β€” all at different price points β€” were our absolute favorites. Read more here. πŸ”ͺ

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13. Focus on freezer-friendly meals.

Tasty / Via tasty.co

If you hate eating the same meal in a row for four days straight, you can always choose freezer-friendly options (like prep-and-go burritos) that you can have weeks later when you're finally in the mood for Mexican food again.

14. Google emergency hacks if you mess something up.

NBC

Nothing feels worse than spending money and time on a recipe, only to realize you majorly over-salted it. Thankfully, there are plenty of hacks and easy fixes available that'll solve just about any mishap. Knowing you can magically fix a liquidy stir fry with a pinch of cornstarch is *chef's kiss*.

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15. Don't feel pressure to make something Instagrammable right now.

Netflix

Your IG feed is probably filled with people flaunting their sourdough loaves and entirely-homemade pizzas. That's great for them, but it can also create pressure to feel productive or like you have to make something you can be proud of too.

The thing is, a lot of the easiest (and best-tasting!) soups and stews out there just aren't that cute β€” and that's ok! The priority is feeding yourself and reducing your stress levels.

16. When you find a recipe you love, remember it.

Nickelodeon

Sometimes the simplest-to-make meals escape our memory. That's why it can be good to keep a running inventory or list of your favorite ones that you can come back to. (It's also annoying to finally find the *perfect* risotto recipe and then spend time trying to remember which one it actually was.) Here are 10 of our recent favorites.

17. If you live with someone, ask for help!

Fox Searchlight Pictures

As someone who prefers to cook on my own due to having a very small kitchen and being a natural control freak, I can quickly pile on work for myself without realizing it. It's easy for me to forget I can just ask my live-in partner to help me chop something or watch a simmering pot while I finish my work. All to say: always ask! Even if you live with a total cooking novice, almost anyone can stir a pan of veggies.

Also, this goes without saying, but if you're cooking for someone else, you should NOT be preparing a meal and doing the dishes (unless they literally do every other household chore). If you're burning down anything in your kitchen, it should be that. πŸ™ƒ

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