Time – we all need more of it! One of the biggest road blocks to healthy eating is having enough hours to prepare “better for you” foods. On days when time is a premium, it’s easier to pull into a drive-thru or buy something frozen at the grocery store you can heat up quickly.
The downside of doing this is you’re filling your body with unnecessary additives, preservatives as well as sugar, too much sodium, and unhealthy fats. Plus, you’re depriving your body of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in their natural form. Then there’s the calorie issue. Some fast-food salads have over 1,000 calories. Yikes! Some experts are blaming the easy availability of packaged foods on the rise in obesity.
Cook One Day a Week
How can you make life easier and still get healthy foods on the table? Batch cooking is one alternative. Devote one day a week to prepping and cook. For most people, Saturday or Sunday works best. During these prep sessions, make enough healthy food to serve the rest of the week. Keep it simple by sticking to basic items that are nutrient dense – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. One to two hours in the kitchen one day of the week for food to serve the rest of the week is time well spent.
When batch cooking for the week, start with what you have. Take stock of the healthy items in the fridge and cabinet and build meals around them. If you need inspiration for how to use a food, you have on hand, do a Google search for the item followed by the word “recipes.” Keep it simple – choose recipes that have no more than five ingredients. Then, add the items that you’ll need to your list.
Have a Plan
Look for recipes that use the similar ingredients to save time and shorten your shopping list. For example, find several recipes using quinoa. Then prepare a big batch and use it for more than one recipe. After you’ve planned the week’s meals and have a list, head to the grocery store and buy ONLY the items on the list. Cruising through the grocery store without a list or a plan in mind leads to unhealthy impulse purchases. Go with a list, a plan, and a mission.
If you’re like most people, you don’t get enough vegetables in your diet. Veggie prep – that’s a pain, isn’t it? Batching works here too. Chop vegetables up for the entire week on Sunday or stock the freezer with frozen ones for an emergency quick-fix meal. Frozen veggies are frozen at their peak of freshness and are just as nutritious, if not more so, than fresh produce that sets on the shelf before you buy it. If you prefer fresh vegetables and are really strapped for time, buy pre-cut veggies at the grocery store. Keep in mind, vegetables cut ahead of time are slightly less nutritious since they have more surface area exposed to the air after being cut. This leads to some nutrient loss. Still, it’s better to use pre-cut vegetables than no veggies at all.
Keep a few healthy sauces on hand, such as marinara sauce to add fast flavor and texture to items like vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. This works well when you need a quick meal. Prepare a big pot of stew or soup with lots of veggies. Making a pot of vegetable soup is a sure-fire way to get your 5 servings of veggies a day. Don’t forget to add antioxidant-rich spices, like turmeric, ginger, rosemary, basil, oregano etc. for extra anti-inflammatory punch.
Another option for preparing a quick and healthy meal is the bowl technique -fill a pretty wooden bowl with healthy foods that are easy to prepare. What to put in the bowls? Whole grains, like quinoa or brown rice, two vegetables (can be frozen) and beans or an animal-based protein source, like chicken for a quick and healthy meal. To get even more nutritional mileage out of what you prepare, package up the leftovers into Mason jars for lunch the next day. Mason jars are easy to carry to work and microwave. Get inspiration for your bowls by searching Pinterest boards – a veritable goldmine of recipes of all types. You can prepare the ingredients for your bowls and mason jars on batch cooking day and save them to use all week.
Healthy Food That’s Ready to Eat
Once you’ve prepared your food for the week, stick your stash in the freezer until you’re ready to heat it up. If you’re using it within the next few days, you can even store it in the fridge. You’ll thank yourself when you crawl home tired from work without a clue what to serve for dinner. Just open the refrigerator or freezer and warm up what you’ve already prepared. You can’t beat the convenience of super quick meal prep!
Don’t forget about pre-packaged salad mixes. Many are already prewashed and ready to complement with a source of protein. These days, you can find salad mixes that go beyond boring lettuce. Look for ones with fresh herbs and dark, leafy greens, like spinach, that are ready to eat. Get creative with your salad making by visiting Pinterest boards with a salad theme. Prepare to be inspired!
What about the most important meal of the day – breakfast? Stock the fridge with healthy items, like yogurt that you can enhance by adding frozen berries, nuts, and seeds. Prepare a crockpot of oatmeal overnight in the slow cooker and serve it with yogurt in the morning for a quick breakfast. Sprinkle both with fruit, nuts, and seeds. Boil hard-boiled eggs in bulk for a quick source of protein. In fact, a crockpot can be a godsend when it comes to hands-free meal prep. You can set it and forget it, as long as it has a timer.
Take these tips for quick and healthy meal preparation into consider when planning your what you eat. You don’t have to spend hours preparing a healthy meal. With a little planning, you can have meals even a dietician would approve of on the table in under 30 minutes. You may not have a lot of time but you can certainly maximize the time you have!