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Finding the time and energy to cook healthy, tasty food in college is a challenge we all face. Recent studies have shown that the amount of time Americans spend on preparing food has declined substantially since the 1960s.

People who spend more than two hours a day on their food preparation, cooking, and cleanup eat an average of six more servings of fruits and vegetables a week than people who spend less than an hour a day. I know what you’re thinking: who has two hours a day to devote just to food?! Most of us don’t have that, but don’t worry, below are a few shortcuts to help you cook faster and still healthy, tasty food:

1. Buy minced garlic and ginger.

Chopping garlic or ginger is a big time sink, and I’ve found that buying a jar or tube of the pre-minced stuff allows me to throw it into whatever I cook. Both are relatively cheap at the grocery store, they last forever, and garlic upgrades the flavors of a meal exponentially.

Upgrade your stir fry or rice with either of these ingredients. 

Time saved: 5-10 minutes a night.

2. Prepare all of your veggies at once. 

Whenever I go grocery shopping, I chop and prepare all of my vegetables before they go in the fridge. This helps me save a ton of space in my fridge that would have been used up by the excess leaves or stalks of many vegetables such as leeks, celery, carrots, and kale.

Having items like cilantro or parsley already stripped and chopped encourages me to add them to more of my dishes. I’m more likely to throw some squash in the oven when it’s already peeled and cubed. Many of us don’t have the money to splurge on the fancy, pre-cut vegetables and fruit, but I can get the same effect simply by chopping and preparing my produce before it goes in my fridge. 

Time saved: 5 minutes every time you want to eat fruits or vegetables.

3. Pre-cook your bases.

If you consistently eat things like quinoa, ground beef, or rice, cook a bunch of it at the beginning of the week.

Unlike all-out meal prepping, where you have complete meals prepared to last you throughout the week, this simple preparation allows you to customize and create different meals using your favorite bases of grains or proteins.

For example, you can use your prepared rice for an Asian dish one night and a Mexican dish later in the week. Having the rice already made shaves a good 40 minutes off of your cooking time.

Time saved: 20-40 minutes a night.

4. Learn mise-en-place. 

This French phrase means “put in place,” and refers to the “religion” of many culinary professionals to assemble all of the items they need to cook an item before they begin. 

“I know people that have it tattooed on them,” says Melissa Gray, a senior at the Culinary Institute of America. “It really is a way of life … it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.”

If you’ve ever marveled at how quickly a dish is done on a cooking show, notice that the chef already has all of the ingredients portioned out before starting (even the spices!). 

Time saved: Whatever the difference is between you and a Top Chef extraordinaire. 

5. Learn how to chop properly.

YouTube is a treasure trove of information and hacks that will teach you to prep your food quicker and safer than ever before.

Watch one video to learn how to quickly chop an onion, de-seed a jalapeno, or dice a pineapple, and you’ll be set for eternity. Add a sharp knife to the mix (which is actually safer than a dull knife, because of the lesser risk of it slipping) and you’re basically Gordon Ramsay. 

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Author Lauren Folk

Lauren is a 3rd year student at Northeastern University who loves dogs, brunch, trashy reality TV and Crossfit (not necessarily in that order). When she's not studying for her Industrial Engineering classes, she can be found wandering around Boston or cooking for her friends. Follow her on Instagram at @lfolk or @thebuffchix!

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