Improvise. Use whatever you have on hand. If a recipe calls for zucchini and you have broccoli, substitute and see what happens. To liven up a salad, throw in almost any leftover veggies or other tasty treats: kernels from a leftover ear of corn, the remains of last night's fajita fillings, pepper slices or carrots sautéed in a little olive oil, a few shavings of sharp cheese, chopped dried fruit, a handful of toasted nuts.

Can it. A well-stocked pantry is a busy cook's best friend. Have on hand an array of staples—in jars and cans—plus a variety of frozen items to give a boost to fresh ingredients (see "Stock Up").

Use ready-to-eat. Don't be shy about saving time (and sanity) by using prewashed and bagged lettuce or spinach; prewashed and sliced mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, celery sticks, and radishes; precooked and shelled shrimp or crabmeat; and canned tuna or salmon.

Heat it up. Make good use of your broiler and gas grill. These methods impart big flavor and are much faster than roasting or baking. Minimize cleanup by broiling ingredients on a foil-lined baking sheet. And don't forget your microwave: Many types of fish cook beautifully in this useful appliance, and many vegetables, including asparagus, potatoes, corn on the cob (unhusked), and broccoli can be microwaved in a fraction of the time they take to steam or boil.