Our time-saving tips and kitchen hacks will help you speed up dinner.

By Ananda Eidelstein and Real Simple Editors
Updated January 23, 2020

Some people love cooking: They love the steps and procedures, the instructions and measurements (or taste-tests). Other people love the food they’re making and would like to fast-forward to the fresh home-cooked meal, thank you. Chefs of either group will likely appreciate a few smart kitchen hacks and kitchen tips, though.

However much you like the process of cooking (and/or the final result), you’d likely be happy to cut down on the time it all takes, especially if you’re cooking for the whole household every night. These smart kitchen hacks from Real Simple food editors do just that: They cut down on the unnecessary steps of food prep, so you can cook faster—and start eating sooner—without missing out on any of the joys of chopping and stirring.

Some of these hacks focus on the process, while others help maximize your food stores and transform leftover bits into tasty soups and stews. Whether you’re just starting to cook regularly or you’re ready to shake your routine up a bit, these kitchen shortcuts have you covered.


Keep your pantry stocked and you can bypass entire aisles at the grocery store. Load up your virtual shopping cart with the items you reach for often—pasta, snack bars, canned tomatoes, beans. Choose a service that offers free or at-rate delivery (think FreshDirect, Brandless, or Amazon Prime) so this time-saver doesn’t become cost prohibitive.


Not all chopped veggies are worth the added expense, but in a pinch, go for vegetable mixes (great for soups!), peeled garlic, and cubed butternut squash.


Find them in the bulk or baking section. When a recipe calls for toasting nuts in the skillet or oven, you can skip that step.


Rather than finely chopping garlic and ginger, slide them along a Microplane. This must-have tool is also essential for quickly zesting citrus or grating Parmesan.


Trips to the trash can waste more time than you think. Put those scraps, peels, and wrappers in a bowl next to the cutting board, then dump them into the garbage or compost all at once.


Stash meal-size portions in freezer bags with a simple marinade (we like grated ginger with some toasted sesame oil and soy sauce). Thaw in the fridge in the a.m. so dinner is ready to cook when you get home. For an easy meal, roast with vegetables on a baking sheet at 400°F.


Place a handful of leafy greens on a large piece of foil. Top with peeled shrimp or fish fillets and lemon slices. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and fold foil to seal. Bake on a baking sheet at 400°F for about 15 minutes.


There’s no need to fire up the oven more than once a week when leftovers from a roasted vegetable side dish can bulk up a salad. To really caramelize the veggies, use two baking sheets and two oven racks. (Crowding them on one pan will simply steam them.)


Add torn kale to a pot of grains and cover to steam, or stir broccoli florets into a pot of pasta in the last few minutes of cooking.


Have masking tape and a marker nearby when storing food. Jot down the name and date of the dish and stick the label to the container. You’ll avoid the “What is this frozen thing?” guessing game later. (You can also transfer leftovers directly to lunch containers.)


This habit makes after-meal cleanup a lot quicker. Wipe down the counter, cutting board, and stove while things cook, and wash tools or load the dishwasher between recipe steps.


This nonstick, heat-resistant, reusable standby puts an end to baked-on bits of brownies or chicken. To save even more time, use precut sheets.


Fill a zippered plastic bag with raw meat, press it flat, and seal. Score the meat into equal sections by pressing a chopstick over the bag, tic-tac-toe–style, then freeze the grid flat. The next time you need ground beef, simply break off enough for your recipe.


Toss Humpty Dumpty, gently, into a bowl of water. If the egg sinks to the bottom and lies on its side, it’s fresh. If it sinks and stands large-end up, get crackin’ in a few days, since it’s on the verge of going bad. If it floats, toss it. (Subsequently notifying all the king’s horses is optional.)


Throw it into a pot of simmering beans or a brothy soup for richness.


Melt in hot olive oil, then sauté with kale or Swiss chard leaves.


This will add depth. You can also puree white miso with herbs and nuts to make a plant-based pesto.