Set Up an Easy Prep Area to Take Stress Out of Cooking

Feel frazzled in the kitchen? These food prep-tips will help.

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We’ve all experienced moments in the kitchen when the recipe tells us to add the chopped onion to the pan—but alas, that onion is still unchopped and wrapped in its light brown skin. Moments like this can make cooking stressful; it starts to feel like each step is a race, especially if we can’t use our knife as quickly as the pros do. (And let’s be honest: We can’t.)

One of the best cooking tips is to prep your area before you even begin cooking. Professional chefs call this step mise en place (“meez-ahn-plahs”), which is a French culinary phrase for making sure every ingredient is ready to go. Make sure you’ve corralled every tool that you’ll need during food preparation, such as a knife, cutting board, measuring tools, or special equipment like a mandolin or food processor. Read your recipe all the way through beforehand so you’ll know which tools you’ll need. That way, you won’t waste time scrambling to dig out your blender from the back of the pantry when you get to Step 5!

For your prep area, make sure you have a clean area on the counter with as much space as possible (we know, some kitchens don’t give you much of a choice!). Try placing a slightly damp paper towel underneath your cutting board to keep it from sliding around. Have several small bowls within reach for keeping ingredients that you’ve already prepped, like those chopped onions! Another great food prep idea: Reserve one large bowl just for your “garbage” ingredients. Keeping food scraps in one place will maintain a clean prep area and make it easy to toss or compost them all at once, instead of making multiple trips to the trash can.

Now that you can mise en place like top chefs, following longer recipes should feel like less of a hassle. You may even find time to wash a few dishes while your food cooks, since you’ll no longer be spending that time frantically mincing garlic!