How to Make Mom’s Recipes Quicker and Healthier

Favorite family recipes can be delicious—but also time-intensive and sometimes a bit unhealthy. Here are some ways to make these dishes better for you.

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Grandmother, mother and children cooking in a home kitchen Photo: Kevin Kozicki/Getty Images

Flowers and chocolate come and go, but go-to kitchen items for home cooks can make a lasting impression.

That’s true whether you’re getting mom a countertop appliance that will make cooking easier for her, or even better, one that you can use to do the cooking for her, at the very least on Mother’s Day.

Because family recipes that get handed down generation after generation don’t always come on neat little cards—and some aren’t even written out at all—we won’t linger on lists of ingredients.

Instead, we delve into the process: How family recipes can be made quicker or healthier, and how these methods can be applied to other dishes.

Make Fried Foods and More in an Air Fryer

Using an air fryer is a healthier way to prepare classic Chinese dishes like salt and pepper chicken wings, says Ruiz Asri, editor at Honest Food Talks, a U.K.-based site that publishes recipes and cooking hacks. “There is definitely a charm to preparing classic dishes just how mom used to make them,” Asri says, but this dish requires several cups of oil when prepared the traditional way. “Though I love it, it’s pretty unhealthy as it requires stir-frying the chicken and its ingredients in oil multiple times.”

More for mother's day

Instead of all the frying, Asri air-fries wings with just tablespoons of oil vs. cups of oil, at about 400° F for 30 to 45 minutes. The same method can be used to fry Korean yangnyeom chicken and Japanese katsu chicken, he says. In fact, any kind of fried chicken can be prepared in a similar way.

“I get to reduce my oil consumption, produce less oil waste, and the air fryer is just easier to clean up after,” Asri says. And because air fryers have timers, “I save myself from having to stand in front of the frying skillet throughout the entire cooking process too. No more danger from piping hot oil!”

Air fryers aren’t just for food that has been dredged in flour or cornstarch, or other dishes with the word “fried” in their name. Luz Plasencia, a Consumer Reports video producer, has adapted her mom’s recipe for mangu—a traditional Dominican breakfast of mashed plantains topped with fried salami, cheese, eggs, and pickled red onions—for her air fryer, which lets her cut how much fat she needs to make the dish.

The two air fryers below are top-rated in Consumer Reports’ tests and cost less than $100.

Make Meat and Rice in a Multi-Cooker

Tanya Harris, who runs the recipe site My Forking Life from Charlotte, N.C., has adapted her mom’s recipe for Jamaican oxtail stew using a pressure cooker or multi-cooker to make the process quicker.

It would take 2 to 3 hours to cook the oxtails until tender the conventional way in her mom’s dutchie, a pot similar to a Dutch oven, Harris says. Using a multi-cooker like an Instant Pot on its pressure cooking mode cuts the cooking time by an hour or two.

“Generally, I’ll reach for my pressure cooker for proteins that usually take a while to break down,” Harris says.

You can also have your Instant Pot do double duty as a rice cooker. Perry Santanachote, a CR writer, does that when making a version of the Thai sticky rice she grew up with.

Traditionally, that dish is made in a large bamboo cone steamer basket that’s placed over a pot of boiling water on the stove. Instead, Santanachote wraps her sticky rice in cheesecloth or puts it into a bamboo steamer, then places that inside her Instant Pot. She’ll add water to the bottom of the pot, making sure that it doesn’t reach high enough to actually touch the rice, and give it a 15-minute pressure-cook and a 10-minute quick release.

Below, you’ll find two top-rated multi-cookers from our tests.

@consumerreports It's no secret that moms make the best meals 🥰. CR's Luz Plasencia shows you how an air fryer can be used to make a classic Dominican breakfast. #dominicanfood #mangú #foodtok #momtok #mothersday ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

Spare Your Hands and Save Time With a Food Processor

Another CR writer, Mary Farrell, saves time and energy by using her workhorse food processor to make her Bolognese sauce, a hearty and veggie-packed version of the spaghetti sauce her mom used to make.

To prep veggies, Farrell processes a fresh mirepoix, the mix of onions, carrots, and celery that’s the base of many delicious sauces, soups, and other dishes. Then she processes crimini mushrooms down to pieces about the size of ground meat.

Farrell sautés all those veggies with a mix of ground beef, pork, and veal, but you can just use whatever ground meat or even plant-based meat you like. And after that, she adds some milk, white wine, and a can of diced tomatoes, and lets it simmer. An hour or so later, voilà, a hearty sauce, much faster than if she had diced and chopped the carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes by hand.

The two food processor models below have top scores for chopping and slicing.

Use a Blender for a Smoother Sauce

Using a blender can also be a time and energy saver when preparing sauces, producing a smoother, more emulsified texture, especially when you’re working from scratch. Juan Chavez, a student at the Culinary Lab, a cooking school in Orange County, California, uses a high-performance blender to make his version of the enchilada sauce he grew up with.

That’s because, traditionally, a combination of dried chili peppers would be heated and reconstituted for the sauce, and pieces of pepper skin would remain after cooking that would have to be strained out, he says. It may sound like a simple step, but straining isn’t a quick task when you have a pot’s worth of sauce and lots of small bits that stick to the bottom of a strainer.

When making enchilada sauce, instead of straining out the chili skin bits, Chavez blends them in, and can see through his blender cup when the sauce’s consistency is uniform and the chili pieces are pulverized, after about a minute.

“It saves me time and a little bit of product because I don’t have to strain it,” Chavez says. “It also gives me a more consistent and better quality.”

Below you’ll find a top-rated blender in CR’s tests, followed by a less expensive option that still performs well.


Headshot of CRO Editor Althea Chang-Cook (version 2)

Althea Chang-Cook

As a journalist, I've covered food, health, transportation, technology, personal finance, and more. My work has taken me to specialty food events, medical conferences, CES, and numerous auto shows, ultimately bringing me to Consumer Reports. At CR, I use my experience to shape stories that help consumers make informed decisions and build safer, healthier lives. I live in Brooklyn with my husband, son, and three-legged cat.