When the going gets busy, often the first thing that gets thrown out the window is healthy eating. The thought of spending time cooking after a long day or spending any time away from the work you need to do can be stressful and seem like too much. Most people reach for a takeout menu or grab whatever they can that's quick and easy, leaving the kitchen quiet and their health and fitness goals on hold. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Turn to Batch Cooking
The way to get out of this cycle and back into the kitchen is through the power of batch cooking. Batch cooking means you'll spend a few hours across a day or two making the meals you need for the week.
That way, during the week, you don't have to to think about what you're eating or cooking and you can can stay on top of your healthy goals without having to cook every night. If cooking 5-7 meals in one day seems crazy, you can make it simpler. Double the amount you're making in order to make food for more than a meal or two.
Make Time and Plan
First, look at your schedule and find a block of 2-3 hours that you can set aside for cooking. For most, it's the weekend or a day or two you have off from work. Figure out what works best for you.
With that time set aside, choose a few dishes you want to cook. The number of dishes you choose depends on the kind of dishes, the amount of meals you're planning for, and also the number of people you're serving.
If you're cooking something like casserole and you're cooking for yourself, that casserole could easily last your 2-4 days, depending on how large it is and how large your portion is. It may take a few weeks of experimenting to get the exact number of dishes you'll need to make per week.
When choosing a recipe, choose ones that are easily to double or make larger quantities like casseroles or slow cooker meals. You can also choose a variety of side dishes that you can pair with each other or a protein of your choice. Side dishes could include salads, grain or bean based salads, sautéd or roasted vegetables, or soups to name a few. If you need help finding recipes, you can can get some ideas here.
Efficiency is Key
To make your meal prep more efficient, prep all of your vegetables and other food that needs cutting all at the same time. Use dinner plates or baking dishes to keep your ingredients for each dish grouped together.
If you need to roast any vegetables, make "bowls" out of aluminum foil to place your foods in and arrange them on a baking sheet together to roast more things at once. If you're roasting large quantities, line the sheet with foil so you can keep the baking sheet clean and easier to reuse if you have more things to roast.
If you need to saute any vegetables, saute all of the vegetables before using the same pan to make the main dishes.
Once you’ve done all of the prep and cooking, portion out your meals into your reusable containers so you can just grab and go when you need them.
Spicing it Up
Some people have no problem eating the same thing day after day. For others, they crave variety. Even though it may seem that you have fewer options, there’s a lot you can do to make these sides, proteins, or dishes into fun meals that will make you excited to eat.
Adding variety also takes a little bit of planning. Think about it while you’re making your overall plan so you’re better prepared when you go shopping and during the week. Depending on the dishes you choose, you could also complete the meal the day/night of your meal.
Pair it with salad greens:
To add more vegetables, pair the food with a small mixed green salad. Pack this salad with seasonal vegetables to add more fiber and flavor to your meal. If you’ve made a side, you can also skip the added seasonal vegetables and just enjoy it on a bed of greens.
Put an egg on it:
For mostly plant-based sides, boost the protein of the meal with a fried or hardboiled egg. The fried egg is a great addition if you’re eating at home. If you’re eating away from home, go with the hardboiled egg. The hardboiled egg is also a better fit for salads with more greens than grains or beans.
Wrap it up:
Use the dish as a filling for a wrap, burrito, or tacos. This works great with most side dishes. If the meal is being eaten immediately, feel free to use a dish that has a little more sauce in it. If you’re packing this in advance, choose a filling with less sauce to keep the wrap from getting soggy. If you have any hummus, bean dips, or salsas in the house, this would be a great way to use them and add more variety to your meal.
Pair with a protein:
If you've made a side dish without a large amount of protein (mostly vegetables), consider a simple pairing with a protein. The protein will give you some added fullness and be helpful especially if you’re active.
Top with avocado:
Half of an avocado with your salad, side dish or vegetable-based meal can add some great flavor as well as healthy fats. If you’re enjoying this meal outside your home, it’s easiest to bring the whole avocado rather than just the half.
Use the half without the pit first, and bring a plastic bag to store the other half. The pit keeps the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown.
Have a side dish party:
If you’ve made multiple side dishes, consider eating those together as a meal. Mixing the sides can bring new flavor pairings. You could also add a side dish serving of soup to your meal as well. These soups could be as simple as a broth or a puree or a vegetable soup with chunks of produce, rice or beans in it.
Add some roasted vegetables:
If you’ve got a protein or entree portion that’s not quite a full meal, add some roasted vegetables to it. This could add your serving of vegetables to the meal or add even more vegetables to your already vegetable packed meal.
Top with a sauce:
Introduce some new flavors with a sauce. Sauces can be simple such as hummus, a dip, a dressing, yogurt with some spices or a pesto. Consider adding a little bit of water to the hummus or dip to give it a thinner, more sauce-like consistency. Store these in their own container when out and about and add to the meal just before eating.
Try maximizing your meals and batch cooking for a few weeks to see how it works for you. You can gradually start with a few dishes and grow up to planning and cooking for as many days as you need. Start with a few options to give your meals some variety to see which ones you like the best. With the right game plan and some great meals, you can stay on track with your health and fitness goals even if other parts of your life are crazy.
Healthy Eating 101 returns with healthier breakfast options to start your day off right.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
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