Above: Proper prepping can make much shorter work in the kitchen. (Shutterstock) Right: Pre-mixed and packaged ingredients are one shortcut to reduce

The new decade has brought more than a few unexpected lifestyle changes. (Remember when masks weren’t a thing?) We’ve even changed how we eat.

And since everyone’s cooking to save money or shelter-in-place, so there are tons of new home cooks. But cooking doesn’t have to be tricky.

One of the biggest challenges is all the time meal prep takes. Hot meals can eat up entire afternoons with work. But it turns out there are several ways to speed up the process and keep the table satisfied. The keyword is “efficiency.”

To learn more, we chatted with Jim Sereff, local Greeley business owner and home cooking pro.

Jim and his wife Suzanne own the Warm Hugs Mixes & Gifts Boutique, a specialty store dedicated to low-effort, delicious scratch meals. It’s safe to say they’re experts in kitchen efficiency.

According to Sereff, easy cooking doesn’t start in the kitchen. It doesn’t even start in the grocery store. It starts with a plan.

Plan Aheade
The first thing Sereff suggested was thinking ahead.

“Sit down and plan out your week’s menu,” he advised. “Entrées, sides, dessert—this way, you streamline grocery shopping.” It also prevents standing in the kitchen and panicking. “Just by planning ahead,” Sereff says, “you’ve taken a lot of stress off.”

Once you have a meal plan, get a good grocery list together.

Invest in Kitchen Helpers
Homemade meals can make that grocery list look daunting. Fortunately, items like spice, bread and soup mixes knock out multiple ingredients at once.

Supermarket pre-packaged brands are … well, they’re an option. Sereff doesn’t care for them personally. “The ones you get at the grocery store are made in bulk batches,” he warns, so there’s not much nutritional content.

Warm Hugs, on the other hand, sells hand-measured kitchen helpers like Dilly Onion Bread Mix and an Easy Berry Crumb Bars mix. Sounds delicious! Simple, too.

Warm Hugs clearly has a passion for accessible, at-home scratch cooking. Once you’re ready to get in the kitchen, Sereff’s got another Warm Hugs tip for you.

Practice Mise en Place and Multitask
A French term for “set in place,” mise en place is a culinary adage encouraging preparing ingredients before cooking.

“Having everything laid out makes things smoother and a lot less stressful,” Sereff says knowingly. He walked through making a meal with Warm Hugs’ Creamy White Chicken Chili Mix. With the right prep, it takes 30 minutes to get to the table.

“If you want to eat on Wednesday,” he explains, “prepare your chicken on Tuesday.” Come time to eat, add the cooked chicken to the soup mix according to the directions, and while it’s stewing, fix a salad and French bread. That’s a three-part meal made with minimal fuss.

“You can multitask without dashing all around,” Sereff observes. Think each step through before you begin, and let the hot stove do the work.

Sereff’s final point also focuses on prep—specifically, on making it fun.

Make Cooking a Family Activity
Cooking becomes less stressful when it’s joyful. Sereff is passionate about this point.

“Too many of us get stressed out and uptight,” he shares. “If you just get prepared, pour some wine, put on some music—man, it can make a world of difference.”

He especially recommends getting the family together to plan and make meals. Helping hands make things run smoother, sure. But the real point is to turn cooking into a fun hobby or a stay-at-home date night. That’s how you really spend your time wisely.

A Quick Recap
All these techniques make cooking much less complicated and take the pressure off new chefs.

Plan in advance, so you don’t scramble to throw dinner together.

Invest in kitchen helpers, so shopping lists stay short while time spent cooking stays low.

Practice mise en place and multitask to fully enjoy cooking.

Finally, turn cooking into an enjoyable time where you can relax and have fun.

See how it all comes together? Kind of like the perfect recipe.

Visit the website for more info about Warm Hugs Mixes & Gifts Boutique. The Sereffs also post helpful home cooking videos on their YouTube channel, in a series called “Basics with Jim.”

By Emily Baudot, At Home Northern Colorado