Last week, I offered some money saving tips on eating more healthfully. For many individuals and families in this modern world, having an affordable haul of whole-food groceries in the fridge is just half the equation. Finding the time to assemble the fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs and meat into palatable combinations in a reasonable amount of time is no small task.
One of the reasons our collective health in such a dire position is due to outsourcing.* We, as a culture, have determined that our time is at a premium (which is it!), and have prioritized work and other activities over meal preparation. We’ve outsourced that task to industrial food product manufacturers (think Kraft and General Mills) and chain restaurants offering a convenient drive-thru lane. We might have a bit more time, but our health suffers for it. Fortunately, there are ways to take back your health without sacrificing all of your precious time.
I love to cook. I could easily spend two hours preparing dinner each night, and sometimes do, but sometimes I simply can’t! One of my favorite methods to cut down time in the kitchen during the week is to make a planned and intentional meal prep effort on the weekend. This entails selecting specific meals that can be prepared ahead of time on Sunday that require only reheating when mealtime comes on the weekdays.
Here are some ideas for make-ahead meals and snacks:
Baked egg and veggie quiche or muffins
Chia seed breakfast puddings
A dozen hard-boiled eggs
Chopped carrots, peppers, celery, or jicama for snacks
Extra large chopped veggie salad with leafy greens
One or two whole roasted chickens or braised beef or pork roast
Large pot of quinoa or rice and/or several baked potatoes or yams
Two baking sheets of veggies roasted with seasoning and coconut or avocado oil
Pot of soup, stew, or chili
Large batch of meatballs
Casseroles! Search online for recipes that maximize the use of whole fresh foods, and minimize canned creams, processed flours, or added sugars.
My slow cooker is an indispensable tool in my kitchen. In fact, I have two of them! I have a smaller, three quart crock, and the other is a giant seven quart size. I really prefer having “dumb” slow cookers (settings for Low, High, Warm…and that’s it!), because I find the the “smart” ones a bit too restrictive, as well as unreliable. My go-to meal when I know a busy day is in the queue is to toss a beef or pork roast directly from the freezer into the crock, top it with preservative-free seasoning salt (I love Alaska Seasoning Company’s Gold Rush Blend Seasoning Salt), and then set on low for the day. When it’s time to gather everyone at the table in the evening, there’s freshly cooked, tender and flavorful beef ready to be served with some reheated roasted veggies and a green salad.
One option that I haven’t experimented with, but think could be a game-changer, is the freezer meal idea. This involves chopping meats and veggies and whipping up a sauce or seasoning blend, and stuffing it all into a gallon size Ziplock. This is stored in the freezer, and then dumped into the slow cooker on one of those busy days. At dinner time, there is a full one-pot meal ready to eat!
If All Else Fails…
Sometimes, evening plans change and get unexpectedly full, or crock pot meals fail (mushy chicken, anyone?). In these cases, it’s important to have a last resort that doesn’t involve a drive-thru window or pizza delivery! My favorites include either picking up a rotisserie chicken (the Chugiak 3 Bears is always in stock) or making eggs, nature’s true convenience food.
I’ll be the first to admit that serving wholesome meals from home takes more time than grabbing some take-out, but that shouldn’t serve as a reason to avoid it. I’ll also be the loudest to insist that meal planning and cooking is time well spent!
*For more on the concept of outsourcing daily tasks, check out the excellent book “Movement Matters” by Katy Bowman.