I believe that eating whole foods, and cooking meals from scratch, are the best ways to support our health and our environment. It’s important. We only get one body to live in and we only have one planet to live on. The problem? Cooking from scratch is perceived as time-consuming when in reality it can be easy. It’s all about what we decide is important enough to give our valuable time to. A little shift in perspective can help cooking become enjoyable. These tips are simple, and some of them take a little time on the front end, but the final results are so worth it!
1. Use basic or familiar recipes
There are times when it’s really fun to hang out in the kitchen creating a fancy 6 course meal – but not when you get home at 7 pm after a long day. If you stick to simple recipes that are nourishing, filing, delicious, and won’t leave you feeling “less than optimal”. There are a ton of them online and you can choose the number of ingredients you are comfortable with as well as the amount of time you have to spend. You can also clean up a familiar recipe by swapping out unhealthy ingredients for a clean alternative. Ditch the vegetable oil and replace with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Combine your chosen protein (meat, fish, beans, (tofu anyone?)) with a favorite raw, roasted or steamed vegetable. I often choose whatever is on hand that needs to be eaten. Add some flavor with with fresh squeezed citrus , sea salt, or my favorite “SPIKE” brand seasoning. Add a good healthy clean fat, like Extra Virgin Olive oil, coconut oil, or sliced avocado. Vitamins A, D, E, and K need some fat to be absorbed and utilized by the body. Each meal ideally containing a clean protein, some good quality fat, and fiber (veggies). Eating real whole food, just not too much. Pay attention to when you are getting full and stop while you are ahead.
2. Ask family members for help.
Whoever came up with the rule that one person, usually one parent, always gets stuck with the decision as to what to have for dinner AND and the responsibility of getting the meal to the table on time? Probably not someone who has ever been delegated to the task! Ask your kids, partners, spouses, or friends to help you. Play some music, talk about your day, ask each other questions! Group effort will complete the prepping and chopping (and cleaning up) in no time at all. This is a great tip that will also help teach the kiddos valuable cooking skills. Kids tend to eat what they help prepare!
3. Plan a few days of meals in advance and save them.
Healthy eating is easier when you have a plan in place to make it happen – This is hands down one of the best things I learned at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. A meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack is helpful, but if you’re new to meal planning, start off with creating a menu for dinners (or lunches) only. Chart your meals for the week (you can even plan to make extra and have the leftovers for the next day) and include any recipes you’ll need. Sometimes it is helpful to just do a few days at a time vs. a whole week. Cross reference your plan and make a shopping list. You can create a personal and customized shopping list from a word or excel “list” template, or create a handwritten notebook of meal plans.
In a few weeks, you will have a good little tool box full of meal plans and all you’ll need to do is pull one out, pick up the ingredients from your already complete shopping list and start cooking. The more you repeat meal plans in your rotation, the easier it is. This gets pretty quick and easy with practice. Don’t get discouraged the first few tries.
4. Create a prep schedule.
A prep schedule allows you to implement your menu plan efficiently. For each recipe, write down the ingredients, how they need to be prepped (sliced, chopped, diced, soaked, etc.). Next, assign someone in your family to complete that task and decide when they need to do it. Repeat meals, a soup for lunch on Monday can become a side for baked chicken dinner the next night. In my house, I am the Queen of my kitchen and meal planning and prep, but I still enlist some help. Example: Sunday afternoon: Lisa: wash, dice, and store celery, carrots, and onion. Sunday eve: Scott: remove (elk, chicken, or? ) from freezer to thaw, choose between rice or sweet potato.
5. Pick a prep day.
I get it. The whole idea can feel overwhelming and impossible. I promise, with practice, you will be able to do this in about an hour. Time spent prepping will save you several hours over the course of your week. The majority of the work in cooking is cleaning chopping, cleaning again, and not the cooking itself. Save time and effort during the week by doing some of the prep work on the weekend. This way, come Monday, all you’ll need to do is assemble and cook and dinnertime will happen so much easier.
- Chopping produce in sizes according to what’s needed for chosen recipes. Storing them according to how they will be used and in proper quantities throughout the week.
- Washing and cutting the produce right when you get home from the store. This way you only have to clean up once. YEAH!
- Cooking larger batches of rice or other grains, beans and soups to use throughout the week.
- Cutting up veggies for snacks. If a bowl of bite sized fruit and veggies is front and center when you open the fridge, they get eaten!
- Making a few recipes ahead of time to have for dinners during the week. You can also assemble and freeze a few meals, to pull out in a pinch. Just remember to label what they are and date it. Placing it in the freezer according to the date (oldest up front) is also helpful.
Planning meals and menus and working them into a busy family schedule can take a couple of hours until you are used to it. When the whole family gets involved, it can be a fun way to spend a little more quality and healthy time together.