Tips to create healthy meals to without spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
I have heard it on social media and from many clients - they are just sick of cooking! They cannot wait until the restaurants reopen so they can take a break from their kitchen duties.
Whaaaat? I actually enjoy cooking and now that so many people have extra time on their hands, I hoped more would learn to love their time in the kitchen. But, I get it; cooking is not for everyone.
Yet I wonder - is it actually cooking these people do not enjoy, or is it the decision of what to eat and the clean up after that they dislike? In any case, I have some quick tips and easy recipes to share that will get you in and out of the kitchen in no time.
Don't think I am going to suggest microwave meals or packaged products that are full of sodium, added fats, fillers and preservatives and lack any true nutritional value. Nope, I believe in filling our bodies with the proper fuel and I know that a healthy diet is essential for a healthy body. And, right now we are all about healthy bodies!
Tip #1 - Create a meal plan.
For some, this is the hardest part. But it is critical.
First, it takes away the decision-making process during the week. Once your plan is established, you won't have to spend time trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Just look at your plan.
Second, having a plan allows you to use items that are already prepared to create a new meal. For instance, if you have burgers one night, you could just cook up some extra meat to use for tacos another night. You won't be using any extra time as you can cook the extra meat while you are making the burgers. Season the taco meat and store it in the refrigerator to heat up on taco night.
Tip #2 - Prep ahead.
I know some people just dread the thought of food prepping, but once you get the hang of it, it is actually quite simple. Admittedly, sometimes I spend 2 hours on a Sunday morning prepping my food for the week, but you don't have to spend that much time. Making a batch of hard boiled eggs and a few containers of overnight oats will set you up for a healthy breakfast every morning. Cooking a bunch of chicken breasts will give you a stash of protein for lunch. Add it to a salad, sandwich or wrap.
I usually precook enough chicken for the week. I put some in the refrigerator to use within the next day or 2 and then slice up and freeze the remainder to use later in the week.
In a short time, with very little work or clean up, you can have your breakfasts prepared and protein for some of your lunches.
Dinner is often the meal most people stress about. The last thing anyone wants to do after a day at work is try to figure out what to make for dinner and then take the time to make it. Planning and prepping simplifies this too.
Changing your idea of what dinner needs to be can help simplify your evening meal. Many of us have the idea that dinner needs to be meat, a side dish and vegetables. Dinner does not have to be complicated! Instead, just think about what nutrients your body needs and go from there. For instance, I don't have time to eat a big salad during my lunch break, so many times I will rely on salad for dinner. I get a variety of veggies and some lean protein to nourish my body.
My dinners are usually based on lean protein and vegetables? But that does not mean I am limited to a salad. An easy stir fry, fritatta or omelette, turkey burger and steamed vegetables or salmon with roasted asparagus and broccoli can be cooked in under 20 minutes.
Tip #3 - base some meals on healthy "convenience" foods.
I toss together a simple salad made entirely of canned foods - I use one can/jar each of roasted red peppers, black olives and artichoke hearts. I chop them up into bite sized pieces and add them to 1 can of rinsed, drained chickpeas. I toss all of this with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some seasonings and I have a pretty substantial salad without a lot of work. This mixture can be eaten on it's own, tossed with greens for added nutrients, stuffed into peppers or tomatoes and heated, topped with chicken or wrapped with a whole grain flat bread.
Packaged coleslaw mix (the veggies, not the sauce) can be used to make a stir fry, veggie fritters or mixed with other vegetables for a healthy wrap. Frozen vegetables (no sauce) are ideal for making soup and can be a great filling for an omelette (frozen chopped broccoli works great!). Canned beans are great to use for tacos and provide substance and protein to soups and salads. Be sure to drain and rinse the beans before use. A simple sandwich spread made with white beans, garlic and olive oil is a tasty base for a veggie sandwich. Load it up with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers or whatever veggies you prefer and enjoy. You won't even miss the meat!
Tip #4 - Rely on sheet pan recipes and power bowls for quick, healthy dinners.
I love making sheet pan meals. What are they? Well, just grab a sheet pan (cookie sheet) and put everything on it, season with your favorite spices and pop the pan in the oven. Depending on the ingredients you use, your meal will be ready in 20-40 minutes. These are quick to put together, require little attention once in the oven (just remember to set a timer) and have little clean up. Some ideas to get you started:
Chicken breasts, green peppers and onions can be sliced, drizzled with olive oil then seasoned and baked for easy chicken fajitas.
Drizzle salmon and asparagus with olive oil then sprinkle generously with lemon pepper seasoning.
Pork tenderloin (seasoned with salt and pepper), diced butternut squash and broccoli tossed with dijon mustard, maple syrup, olive oil and thyme.
Smoked paprika and aleppo pepper gives this pork and butternut squash sheet pan meal a smoky, mild heat that perfectly complements the sweet butternut squash.
Power bowls are quite popular and have become part of the menu at many restaurants -think Chipotle's burrito bowls. Made at home, these bowls can be loaded with whole grains, beans, lean protein and vegetables for a nutrient-packed meal.
Cook a big batch of your favorite grain, such as brown rice or quinoa, on Sunday and you will have the foundation for a variety of bowls. Now top that grain with a variety of veggies, lean protein and dressing of your choice. Some simple variations include:
Santa Fe - Black beans, thawed frozen corn, green onions, chopped tomatoes. Add a few tablespoons of your favorite salsa and dinner is done!
Mediterranean Style - Sliced black olives, chopped roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, cucumbers and feta cheese. Finish with a Greek vinaigrette, tzatziki sauce or stir in some pesto.
Thai - Chopped or shredded carrots, finely chopped broccoli, sliced green onions, radishes and cilantro. Sprinkle with some chopped peanuts, if desired. Use an Asian vinaigrette, sesame vinaigrette or peanut sauce to top.
Any of these can be topped with chicken, salmon or your favorite protein; but are also delicious vegetarian options. Nuts and seeds can be added for some crunch.
Be creative, use what you have and don't worry about a recipe. If you have small portions of left over vegetables, just add them in. Creating a bowl is a great way to clean out the fridge at the end of the week.
We are all dealing with added stress right now. Don't let your meals be part of that stress. Try these simple tips to create healthy meals without spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
Stay healthy and keep it simple!
Thanks for reading!
I pray you and your family are staying healthy and strong during this crisis.
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Be well, stay safe!