Though making time for food and preparing meals may sound like a chore, it can be one of the most important keys to the success of your health goals. If cooking at home seems overwhelming now, don’t worry. The more frequently you’re able to use the following tricks, the less overall time meal planning will take down the road. Before you know it, healthy lifestyle choices will become habits.
For everyone racing through life at warp speed, these tips can help you to make the most of your time in the kitchen.
Keep it simple. Instead of following some fad diet with lots of rules, keep your healthy eating routine simple. Eat real food that’s mostly plants with lots of color and variety. Balance every meal with high-quality proteins like lean meat, fish, tofu or beans and complex carbs like brown rice, potatoes, quinoa, and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables to meet your daily fiber needs while keeping calories in check.
Don’t bring junk into the house. If you’re easily swayed to nosh on chips, cookies and ice cream, keep the processed snacks out of the house. This simple trick makes healthy eating easy. Out of sight, out of mind.
Eat more fat. Yes, you read that right. People who snack on healthy fats like a handful of almonds eat fewer calories over the course of the day because they feel more satisfied. So don’t skimp on fat; it keeps you fuller for longer so you will, in turn, eat less. Try these 6 high-fat foods that are good for you.
Make lunch the night before. Stop telling yourself you’ll have time to pack a lunch on your way out the door in the morning. While you’re cleaning up from dinner, put together your lunch for the next day. Whether it be leftovers from dinner or a mason jar salad, planning ahead makes it easy to walk out the door with a healthy lunch.
Use Pinterest with a purpose. Make a board of “Must-Make Meals” filled with weeknight go-tos so that when you’re planning and prepping your meals you know right where to turn (or scroll to). Take it a step further and organize recipes by category like “chicken,” “fish,” “vegetarian,” to get more variety in your diet.
Carry a water bottle. Because hydration is a vital part of being healthy, make it a priority to carry a water bottle around with you and refill it throughout the day. The Institute of Medicine recommends men that drink 120 ounces and women 90 ounces of fluid per day. If you’re active, you will need to replace what you lost through sweat as well. Here are some more great tips to stay hydrated!
Eat on a schedule. A person who eats 2,000 calories throughout the day will often have more energy and tend to lose more weight than the person who eats the same amount of calories all at one meal. By skipping meals or ignoring our hunger cues, we force our bodies to run off of fumes. Listen to your body when it says it’s hungry and you will find that it’s easier to resist the temptation of overeating later at night.
Make breakfast in 90 seconds. Breakfast doesn’t need to be a large production; keep it simple for mornings when you have to be out of the house fast. Homemade breakfast burritos are a fast, simple way to grab a meal in the morning using only a microwave. Place one 6-inch tortilla in a cereal bowl and crack an egg onto the tortilla. Add toppings like green chilies, a sprinkle of cheese, onions and leftover roasted veggies from the night before. Microwave for 90 seconds or until the egg is cooked. Top with salsa and voila: breakfast in 90 seconds.
Catch some ZZZs. Getting enough shut eye at night goes a long way to protecting your body. Because hormones are regulated while you sleep, people who get quality sleep on a daily basis tend to make better food choices and have slimmer waistlines.
Stockpile healthy snacks. Say sayonara to the office candy stash or a drive through when mid-day hunger strikes. Keep healthy snacks on you at all times—pile them in your office drawer, fridge, gym bag and purse. Convenient go-tos include nuts, homemade trail mix, fruit and nut bars, apples, bananas, clementines, single-serve nut butters, dried edamame and air-popped popcorn. If you have refrigeration, stock up on Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and hard-boiled eggs for protein-packed snacks.
Choose whole grains. Make a simple swap in your eating routine by choosing 100% whole grains instead of highly processed white or enriched grains. Whole grains, like steel cut oats, brown rice, barley and 100% whole grain bread or pasta, provide greater nutrition from energy rich B-vitamins to filling fiber. Bonus: Whole grains have a lower glycemic index and glycemic load, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar as much as simple carbs.
Create a shopping list. Plan your meals and build a list. When you shop from a list, unnecessary temptations don’t land in your grocery cart; your bill (and you) will be more fit as a result.
Grocery shop once per week. When you’re busy, popping into the grocery store on a daily basis is a waste of your precious time. Instead, organize your schedule and plan to go grocery shopping at the beginning of the week to be more efficient.
Go for frozen foods. Frozen produce can be a healthy alternative to fresh foods, and they will last longer too. Fruits and veggies are picked at their peak of ripeness and flash frozen to retain the most nutritional value. Some good staples are corn, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, edamame and spinach. Don’t forget about protein too—frozen proteins like shrimp, salmon, tilapia and even chicken can make weeknights easier. Tip: Stay away from frozen foods that are packed in sauces and syrups.
Opt for pre-chopped veggies. Trouble cutting up butternut squash? Have a crying fest when you chop an onion? Buy pre-cut veggies so all you need to do is cook and eat. Stock up on diced onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, broccoli and cauliflower florets, diced butternut squash and baby carrots to make your life easier.
Shop the salad bar. If you have trouble eating all of your veggies before they go bad, or only need a quarter cup of onion for a recipe, try an alternative approach. You can buy just the right amount for you and pay by the ounce by stocking up on veggies from your grocers’ salad bar. This will save you prep time too. Try adding common salad bar items to meals like omelets, stir-fry or homemade pizza.
Shop at the farmer’s market. It’s nearly effortless to fill up on fresh local produce and eggs when you gather your food at the farmer’s market. Though farmer’s markets have a reputation for being pricey, seasonal produce is often competitively priced with what you’ll find at the grocery store. As long as you can bypass the kettle corn, you’re golden.
Prep for meals in advance. Being proactive about meal planning can save a lot of time and stress in the long run. While the upfront work may sound scary, you’ll be thankful when you find yourself running late and only have a few minutes to eat. Pick a day or a night to prepare several meals that you can simply warm up throughout the week. Or take the time to separate your snacks into portion-controlled bags that you can grab on your way out the door. Raw vegetables are always a simple, nutrient-dense option. If you’re new to meal planning, check out our great beginner’s guide, which is full of tips and tricks to get started.
Fall back on family favorites. Instead of wracking your brain and reinventing the wheel each week, have a list of (healthy) recipes that you know your family will enjoy. This makes meal planning easier and saves you time in the long run. Working with recipes that you know by heart makes cooking less of a hassle.
Plan for leftovers. If you are preparing a large meal, double the batch. Prepare one to serve and the other to put in the freezer or fridge. This way you have double the food but half the mess! You can also prepare extra chicken or steak to cut up and add to a salad to make for a filling lunch the next day.
Prep a big soup. Soups are a simple way to eat more produce and fiber-rich beans. Opt for homemade, broth-based soups instead of creamy ones. Make a big batch and freeze some of it for another week. Pour single servings into to-go containers to make it easy to grab and go for work lunches. Sip on soup for lunch to fill your body up with good stuff.
Blend your veggies. Add a smoothie or fresh juice to get a few servings of fruits and veggies in your diet. Smoothies make a great breakfast or snack. Make them yourself so that you’re in control of the ingredients. If you’re making it a meal or want a snack that lasts,blend fruits and veg with proteins like Greek yogurt, kefir or milk and healthy fats like cashews, nut butters, avocado or coconut oil.
Make mason jar salads. Not only do these look awesome, but they also make salads fun and functional. No more oddly shaped to-go containers that don’t fit right in a lunch box and never seem to get dry in the top rack of the dishwasher. Prep a salad in a mason jar by filling the bottom of the jar with a simple, vinegar-based dressing, toppings like chickpeas or grilled chicken, chopped veggies, feta cheese, apples, nuts and seeds and lots of greens at the top. Seal tightly with a lid. When you are ready to eat, just shake the jar and dump into a bowl. Once you start using the mason jar, you’ll be taking salads to work on the daily.
Batch roast your veggies. Before your week begins, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and roast off your favorite veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, butternut squash, kale and sweet potatoes. This small step will help ensure healthy eating during the week. Toss roasted veg on a salad, in an omelet or breakfast scramble, serve on the side of grilled chicken or in a wrap. To roast vegetables, preheat oven to 425 degrees, line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, arrange veg on baking sheet not to overcrowd the pan, mist veg with olive or coconut oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 25-45 minutes, depending on toughness of the veggies, until vegetables begin to turn brown and crisp.
Stock your pantry. Pantry staples make it easy to whip up a dinner in no time flat. Convenient pantry items include low-sodium canned beans, canned tuna, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce, nut butter, mixed nuts, unsweetened dried fruit, and whole grains like oats, brown rice and whole-grain pasta.
With your mile-long to-do list, how do you make healthy eating easier?