How to Cook Faster, Healthier Meals

Cooking a healthful, low-fat meal doesn't take any longer than cooking one that's high in fat, cholesterol and sodium.

The following suggestions will help get you in and out of the kitchen more quickly and with more healthful dishes.

Get organized

  • Store frequently used dishes, pots and pans on cabinet shelves and in drawers you can reach easily. Keep those you use infrequently -- such as a lemon squeezer, holiday cookie cutters and other seasonal items -- on higher shelves or at the back of drawers.

  • Arrange your pantry logically. Keep canned vegetables and fruits in one area, pasta and rice in another and bottled sauces in another.

  • Keep wooden spoons, spatulas and other cooking tools you use every day on the counter top near your stove.

Cook it fast

  • Plan a week's worth of dinner menus at one time, keeping leftovers in mind. For example: Serve baked fish on Monday night, then plan to use the leftover fish in a chowder on Tuesday night.

  • Choose simple recipes. Those with lots of steps and numerous ingredients that must be measured or chopped can be time-consuming. Instead, look for recipes with no more than five steps and not many ingredients.

  • Double the recipes for soups, stews and casseroles; freeze the leftovers for another night's dinner.

  • Opt for fast preparation methods. Broiling, grilling and steaming are faster than baking, stewing and braising.

  • Gather all the necessary ingredients before you start preparing a recipe.

  • Look for ways to cut steps in long recipes. Substituting a jar of low-fat spaghetti sauce for homemade tomato sauce in a lasagna recipe can save an hour or more of preparation time. Using canned beans instead of soaking and cooking beans from scratch when making burritos can save three to four hours. Using a prepared piecrust instead of making one yourself can save 15 to 20 minutes.

  • Learn to use quick-cooking tools, such as a food processor, wok and pressure cooker.

  • Buy some cookbooks that feature meals you can prepare in less than 30 minutes.

Cook healthfully

  • Substitute low-fat ingredients for high-fat ones. Use skim milk instead of whole milk, water-packed tuna instead of oil-packed tuna and plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise.

  • Serve fresh vegetables instead of canned ones.

  • Use nonstick pots and pans; you can use less oil when sauteing.

  • Top pizza with sliced tomatoes and mushrooms instead of sausage and pepperoni.

  • Trim all visible fat from meat and poultry before cooking.

  • Add more vegetables and less meat to stew, soup, sauce and casserole recipes.

  • Use less salt than called for; you can add more herbs and spices to increase flavor.

Clean up quickly

  • Draw water in the sink and soak pots and pans in it after you're through with them, or clean them as you go so you won't have a sink full of dirty dishes after the meal.

  • Clean up spills as you go; the longer you wait to clean them up, the harder the job.