The mad rush to make dinner—sandwiched among everything else on our to-do lists—explains how frozen pizza, zapped in the microwave, becomes tonight’s supper. But convenience foods are often high in fat and sodium, and the same is true for restaurant meals.

The only way to have total control over what’s in your food? Cooking it yourself. So we asked the experts at Consumer Reports, registered dietitians, and cookbook authors for advice on cooking fast, healthy meals. How fast? They say you can wrap up a meal in well under an hour.

Keep It Simple

Planning dinners for the week ahead is ideal. But for those of us who find meal planning to be too big of a commitment, start by stocking your pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods. Kristine Kidd, author of the cookbook “Weeknight Fresh+Fast,” recommends the following nutritious time-savers:

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• Canned legumes, polenta, brown rice—especially basmati and jasmine, which cook fast—high-quality olive oil, and spices are essentials in a well-stocked pantry.

• Fresh produce needs little help to taste great, and you can melt spinach or other greens into virtually anything you’re cooking.

• Fish, boneless chicken breasts, and tofu cook quickly, so consider adding these lean proteins to your lineup.

• Don’t forget eggs. “Yes, eggs are for dinner,” Kidd says. “Make a frittata, omelet, or cook lentils and put a poached egg on top.”

• Cook enough for two meals. Roast a chicken, or two (set temp to 425° F and 15 minutes later add potatoes and carrots; add broccoli in the last 10 minutes of cooking). You’ll have a one-pan dinner in about an hour. The next day, make dinner in about 15 minutes by using leftover chicken in tacos, over polenta, or mixed with white beans, cooked vegetables, and herbs.

Enlist Time-Saving Countertop Appliances

Manufacturers are turning out a growing number of countertop appliances designed to cook food faster—or at least free you from spending time over the stove. “I have both an air fryer and an electric pressure cooker,” a reader recently commented on “I rarely turn on the stove. Been cooking for 57 years and have never enjoyed it this much before.”

That reader’s on to something. Sales of multi-cookers, air fryers, pressure cookers, and even toaster ovens are up, in part because of consumers’ desire to eat healthier, according to the market research firm NPD Group. Many of these appliances make quick work of one-pot dinners that include protein, grains, and vegetables—such as stews and chili. And, as a bonus, cleanup’s a snap. 

Multi-cookers can roast chicken, slow-cook stew, and, depending on the model, make rice and even risotto. The stovetop and electric pressure cookers we tested consistently turned out food that was delicious and tender, and proved to be considerably faster than stovetop cooking. We also put the ever-popular Instant Pot, a multi-cooker and electric pressure cooker, through its paces in our labs and found that it works as promised.

Make the Most of Mainstay Appliances

The microwave is a kitchen staple, and you’ll see it in about 90 percent of U.S. households, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Blenders rank high on the must-have list, and some consider a toaster oven or food processor important enough to clear counter space. Here’s how to save time using these standard appliances:

Reheating leftovers isn’t the only thing microwaves can do well. Many we tested are very good at defrosting. Some microwaves have browning and grilling features, but our tests have found that you shouldn’t expect a microwave to do either very well.

You can use your microwave to quickly cook most veggies, especially greens, with delicious results—similar to steamed. This also preserves more nutrients than boiling or stir-frying. Use your microwave to steam fish, too.

“Season vegetables, sprinkle on 1 to 3 tablespoons of water, and cover the dish with a lid or waxed paper,” says Ellen Klosz, a food tester at Consumer Reports. The result? Nicely steamed veggies.

Check your manual for cooking times. The “Joy of Cooking” recommends that as soon as you can smell the vegetables, stop the microwave and taste one, because they might be almost done. The cookbook suggests microwaving about pound of vegetables at a time for even results.

For a delicious side of polenta, add water, olive oil, and seasoning to the polenta and microwave for about 5 minutes. Stir and mix in Parmesan cheese.

Put acorn squash in the microwave for 2 minutes, then let it sit 2 minutes before cutting, Klosz says. This makes it easier to slice or halve for roasting.

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Toaster Ovens
A toaster oven can cook, roast, broil, bake, and reheat foods. Some even defrost foods, and the Breville Smart Oven BOV900BSSUSC has an air-fryer feature, but at $400, it’s the most expensive toaster oven tested. Given a toaster oven’s small capacity, it heats up quickly and is ideal when cooking for just a few people. If countertop space is tight, be sure to note the dimensions in our toaster oven ratings.

• Cook fish in your toaster oven and dinner is fast, and cleanup is even faster. See this recipe for 5-Minute Miso-Glazed Toaster Oven Salmon from Serious Eats. 

• Chop or slice veggies, toss with olive oil and seasoning, and place in a single layer on a light-colored aluminum pan to prevent their natural sugars from burning. (Heat transfer is accelerated in a dark pan, and food can darken faster.)

• Roast veggies quickly at 400° F. “A pan of trimmed asparagus takes about 8 minutes,” says Claudia Gallo, a CR food tester. “Brussels sprouts and root veggies need a bit longer.”

Food Processors
A food processor can purée, chop, slice, and grate. See our food processor ratings for the best of the bunch.

• “Chop, slice, and shred enough veggies for several days, then store them in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate for snacking or adding to recipes,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a CR food tester.  

•  Make simple soups by sautéing a variety of vegetables, such as butternut squash and onions, until tender. Purée in a food processor with low-sodium chicken broth and your favorite fresh or dry herbs until smooth. 

• “Cut cauliflower into florets, then pulse into a couscouslike texture using a food processor,” recommends Megan Scott, co-author of the upcoming 10th edition of “Joy of Cooking.” “Add a vinaigrette and some sliced radishes and you’ll have a great, healthy salad.”

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A blender is usually better at puréeing than a food processor, as you’ll see in our blender ratings. To purée vegetables until smooth, first remove their skins, cut into small pieces, and cook until tender.  

• Fill the blender about halfway (your manual will guide you) when blending hot foods, and open the filler hole to allow steam to escape.

• Add broth and seasoning to the puréed vegetables for tonight’s soup, and boost your calcium intake by adding low-fat milk.

• On the sly, add puréed veggies to spaghetti sauces and casseroles. And while you’re at it, add a handful of kale or other greens to your smoothie.