Simple Solutions

Save time and reduce waste with these kitchen tricks

My mother is an active, busy 77-year-old woman who enjoys aerobics, bridge, and caring for her grandkids. She eats a healthy, well-balanced diet, and she was into whole wheat bread and health food long before Whole Foods existed. 

But cooking healthy isn’t as easy as it used to be for her. Arthritis in her thumb has made tasks that were once effortless a sometimes-painful endeavor. 

Instead of turning to prepared foods, she has learned to lean on some kitchen tips and tricks that make cooking easier for older adults, including choosing precut veggies and using her mini food processor to simplify chopping. 

Cooking simplified. Making kitchen tasks easier is the way to go for older adults, say Beth Gordon, RD, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, and Claire Harper, RD, a registered dietitian at Loyola Medicine. Plan your cooking in advance and follow some helpful food prep tips to make navigating your kitchen simpler and safer. 

Map your market. “If you are going to a grocery store, get a map of the store [available at the service counter], and then write your list by section based on the map,” Gordon says. “That makes your shopping trip more efficient rather than running all over the supermarket. It also eases your hip and joint pain, if that’s something that bothers you.” 

Buy prepared produce. Buy chopped onions, grated carrots, and other prepared fresh vegetables to make the cooking process easier. “It’s a little more expensive, but it can help,” Gordon says. “You can buy bags of precut onions, and you can freeze them. Or, if you cook with a lot of onions and garlic, you can chop them in the food processor, then freeze them and use what you need when you need it.” 

Think frozen. Buy frozen vegetables and fruits. “Frozen vegetables can be easily steamed or roasted, and they’re already cut up,” Gordon says. With frozen vegetables, you can defrost only the amount you need, reducing waste.

Try dried. Dried shallots, minced dehydrated onions, and dried mushrooms are great to add to dishes. Rehydrate them with hot water or simply throw them into dishes — no preparation necessary. The Spice House sells these products online and in its Chicago and Evanston stores; some grocery stores stock dried specialty items, too.

Turn to a tube. Most grocery stores sell tubes of fresh herbs and ingredients like basil, cilantro, ginger, and garlic. Instead of chopping, squeeze out the amount you want into your dish. 

Portion your meat. Buy pre-portioned meats and fish, such as single chicken breasts, two hamburger patties, or a small salmon fillet. Or ask the staff at the butcher counter of the grocery store to cut meat or fish into smaller portions. “A lot of grocery stores that have a good meat department will cut things the way you want them cut,” Gordon says. “You can even take a packaged meat to the counter, and they will cut it for you.” Some stores, such as some Mariano’s locations, will grill your fresh meat or seafood purchases for free. 

Make a double batch. “If you make some of your favorite dishes, double or triple the batch, and then freeze portions in individual containers so that you’re doing the work only one time,” Gordon says. “And if you’re using Ziploc bags, get the ones that have the zip seal instead of the regular [press seal] ones — the zipper on the bag is easier to open and close.” 

Freeze and share. Instead of eating leftovers for days, Harper says, freeze and label meals for later. “If you can share your frozen meals with a friend, then that’s always good,” she adds. 

Focus on balanced meals and good nutrition. Sometimes older clients tell Harper that they only eat yogurt or a bag of chips because they don’t feel like cooking. But nutritional balance is important. “I always tell people to have some kind of a protein, a starch, and a vegetable or a fruit at every meal,” Harper says. It can be as simple as eating an omelet for dinner or a sandwich for breakfast, she says.

Sheet Pan Balsamic Salmon and Asparagus

Makes 4 servings
Photo by Kyle Edwards

This recipe requires only one pan, so it’s easier for older adults to make and clean up. This dish features protein and a vegetable; add a slice of bread, and you have a complete meal, says dietitian Claire Harper at Loyola Medicine.


• 4 boneless, skinless salmon filets (3 ounces each) 

• Bunch of asparagus (about 12 to 24 stalks)

• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided

• 1 teaspoon honey

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• ½ teaspoon black pepper, divided

• ¼ teaspoon salt, divided

• Olive oil spray



Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a pan or rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat. 

Place salmon filets on pan. Snap tough ends off the asparagus, and place asparagus next to salmon. 

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon salt. Pour over salmon filets. 

Spritz asparagus spears with olive oil spray. Drizzle asparagus with remaining 1 tablespoon Salmon watercolor drawingbalsamic vinegar and sprinkle with remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper and ⅛ teaspoon salt.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until salmon is opaque and fully cooked.

A serving is 1 salmon filet and 4 to 6 asparagus spears: 131 calories, 4 g fat, 0.7 g sat. fat, 0 g trans fat, 39 mg cholesterol, 
5 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugars, 1 g fiber, and 18 g protein.