Preparing your own home cooked meals from scratch using real, whole ingredients is probably the single most health supporting habit you can cultivate.
And then there is reality.
So here are some tips & ideas for your home cooking.
But first, a reminder: The aim is always just to take one step closer to eating healthier. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about improvement and slowing making changes over time. So sometimes having take-away or processed foods happens. My question then would then be, how could you up-level that meal by adding vegetables? Maybe steam some kale to add to your Pad Thai? Or throw some chopped veggies into your canned soup?
Schedule Time for Meal Planning & Grocery Shopping
Planning what you will be making, writing up a shopping list, and shopping once or twice a week can save you loads of time.
We’ve found that during dinner, while we are eating and thinking about food, can be a great time to do some meal planning. For others, it works to schedule time into their week for meal planning – maybe Saturday morning or Tuesday night.
Schedule Time for Meal Preparation
Confession: I’m the worst at this. Because of not planning preparation time, I end up scrambling or having late dinners.
When can you cook? When can you do some prep?
Really, this is one of the keys to healthy meals. Some people love being in the kitchen and have no problem with this. The rest of us need to be more mindful and plan it. Maybe you chop all the vegetables for the week on Sunday, or in the morning before work. Or maybe you plan the more labor intensive meals when you have the time to make them. Maybe you actually put meal preparation on the calendar!
Create a Re-usable Grocery List
You probably buy many of the same items regularly. Could you create a pre-made checklist (on your phone or one that you print out)? Then you can just check or highlight the items needed (but make sure to leave space to add the less common items).
Organizing the items on this list according to your favorite store’s layout (or at least according to departments) means you can move more quickly through the store.
Repeat Meals each Week
Somewhere I read that the average family (or home cook, let’s say) has about 10 regular recipes that get used repeatedly. So this isn’t much of a stretch. Repeating meals on the same day each week (or most weeks or alternating weeks or whatever works for you) will simplify and speed up meal planning. Examples:
- Stir Fry Monday
- Tart on Tuesday (this one we actually did for a while with veggie tart/quiche recipe)
- Hamburger Wednesday
- Taco Thursday (perhaps with left-over hamburger?!)
If this is too same-y for you, what about having 2 or 3 different weekly schedules that you rotate?
Make Multiple Meals at Once
There are many ways to do this. Here are some ideas:
Make Big Batches
As one of my teachers said, “Chop once, eat twice.” I like to chop once, eat 5-8 times! But the point is to avoid one-time meals. Make enough for at least 2 if not more. Plan to freeze to have easy meals when you need them.
I’ve known many people who will make one large batch of something and then eat the same thing for lunch or dinner every day. (Honestly, I’d get bored with that, but it works for some.)
Get Creative with Left-Overs
I don’t understand people who don’t like left-overs. I don’t get it at all.
Left-overs are one of my staple ingredients in cooking. And if I’ve been out to dinner then I have flavors to play with I wouldn’t have probably otherwise prepared. Even small little bits of left-overs can add some complex flavoring to a dish.
Sometimes I’ll put a little of each item on a spoon (before heating/combining) just to make sure I like the flavor combination.
Cook Once, Use in Many Ways
This is very similar to the 2 tips above and really just another way to think about it, maybe with a little more intention. Make up a nice grain (quinoa, rice, barley, etc) and have it as a bedding for fish one day, in a salad the next, and as breakfast another day.
My friend Katy has a ‘bean of the week’ (actually, I don’t think she calls it that, but I do). She cooks up a big pot of beans in the crock pot on Sunday and adds them to various dishes throughout the week.
Prep for Multiple Meals at Once
When you know what you are having for the next few days (or one writer suggested the whole week), you can do the same tasks for all the meals at once. You’ll be in the mode of doing the chopping and preparation so that part will go faster and by doing all similar items at once, you’ll really save on cleaning up time.
Use your Food Processor
I’m actually one that loves to chop so forget to use mine. (It’s weird, I have a hard time getting into the kitchen but then love the chopping part when I do.)
When doing large batches, a food processor will save loads of time (not so much on smaller batches, in my opinion, because of the cleanup involved). Take some time to think about the order of items to minimize any in-between cleaning.
Fall in love with your Crock Pot
Seriously. Throw a bunch of stuff in there earlier in the day and have it ready for you in the evening. Amazing.
Avoid Peeling when Possible
We rarely peel carrots anymore as they now come so clean. We just give them a good scrub. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be prepared with skins on.
Use pre-chopped items when needed
No shame in this game. Although veggies will lose some of their nutrient value after being cut, if it means you eat more veggies than it’s a step in the right direction. Pre-chopped nuts add a quick and easy crunch to many dishes. But this can be a more expensive time-saver.
Vary Grains Depending on Time and Planning
When we’re really short on time, we’ll usually make quinoa or white rice. When I have more time, I cook millet or brown rice. Always make extra. Always. See above.
Pretend you are on TV and Prep All Your Ingredients
This tip will help to avoid mistakes when following recipes and also might take the stress out of the process for those of you who, like me, aren’t the best at following recipes. Then it’s a snap to throw the ingredients together and you’ll have time before eating for clean-up.
Have Cooking Time with Friends
Do you have friends you would like to see more but never have the time? Get together and cook! It can be a fun activity and having 4 hands can help to either produce extra large batches or greater variety.