After a long, hard day at work, many people don’t feel like throwing a meal together. Although most of us want to remain in good health, it can sometimes be even more time-consuming to cook a meal using only whole food ingredients. Here is a guide full of tips and tricks to save you time with food preparation and cooking so you can spend more time on the important things in life and still ensure your meals are healthy and delicious.
The first step in creating healthy, flavorful meals for you or your family is the preparation. Finding ingredients and planning meals can be difficult and time consuming, especially if you are new to cooking. Also, meals can sometimes be quick to cook but require a lot of prep time, doing things like peeling, cutting and thawing. To help you simplify your life, I have prepared a list of ways to cut down on prep time.
Whole food shopping simplified
Instead of scanning the back of every box and can in the store, you can enjoy organic, whole food meals by thinking out of the box. The following tip will not only save you time, but can potentially save you a lot of money. It’s simple: Avoid the middle section of supermarkets. Shop along the outer rim of the store. There you will find fresh produce, meats, dairy, eggs and juice.
Although it is always better to ensure the freshest produce by shopping locally, if you are pressed for time, it is handy to have a tactic to use at your favorite one-stop shop. When you do shop in the inner isles, have an action plan and stay focused. Have tunnel vision, only looking to buy the items you have on your list. Whole foods that can be found in the inner isles include staples like grains, rice, beans, nuts, seeds, tea, coffee, water, dried fruit, frozen fruits and frozen vegetables. You can even find organic beans, fruits and vegetables in cans at some supermarkets.
By approaching the task of grocery shopping with a well-defined action plan and not veering off into temptation foods, you will get out of the store a lot sooner and avoid unnecessary purchases. Although buying in bulk can expand your shopping day and your grocery bill, you will save money and time overall. For extremely perishable items, freeze the excess so they don’t go bad.
Chopping board time hacks
Learning new ways to chop things can be fun, but chopping whole foods in bulk can be time consuming and very tedious. To dice in bulk more quickly, gather your food and cut them in columns and then in rows. Run your blade over the whole batch in quick chopping motions afterward to get even smaller chunks.
Crush nuts or crackers more easily by placing them in a resealable kitchen bag and hitting them with a meat tenderizer or the handle of a kitchen knife. Although it’s more fun that way, a more practical way to break down food in bulk is with a food processor. Instead of shredding cheese, carrots, zucchini, onions or cabbage with a hand-held shredder, you can also shred using the shredding blade on a food processor.
To cut onions quickly and reduce the risk of crying, cut the onion vertically into columns, leaving a little room uncut at the top. Then cut horizontally and cut off the top to get perfectly chunky onion bites. This also works with tomatoes.
If you want mango chunks, cut the mango in half, then cut the flesh into a grid pattern. Scoop it out with a spoon or pop the skin backwards to further expose the chunks so you can more easily eat it directly from the skin. This also works with avocados.
Nobody likes getting peels broken off before you are done peeling, or getting the smell stuck under your fingernails. Thankfully, there are also hacks to peel your produce without the fuss.
For boiled eggs, add some baking soda to the boiling water before adding your eggs. After they have boiled, crack a piece off each end of the egg and blow to remove the egg from its shell in one second. For garlic, put the bulb in a glass jar. Seal it and shake vigorously to release the peel from the cloves. Roast sweet potatoes or beets with their skins so you can more easily remove them afterward. No more stained hands or potato peeling!
Bulk storage and thawing
The best way to ensure that you have instant meals for the week is to make your own tv dinners by cooking in batches. You can store these meals in resealable freezer bags or storage containers. Although you can store the meals in one large container, it will take longer to thaw if you do. Also, allowing your bulk meal to thaw and refreeze over and over again can increase the risk of it going bad sooner.
If you freeze individual meals, you can more easily thaw one overnight or during the day while you are at work, so it will be ready to warm once you are home.
Fast cooking methods
Sometimes, you don’t have time to store food or cook in bulk. Instead, you need food fast so you can get on with your life. For these moments, here are some options to help you stay on track.
Panfrying: Unlike deep-frying, you can toss vegetables and meats in a small amount of olive oil, coconut oil, a sauce, or balsamic vinegar and panfry them. You can also panfry your ingredients dry in a non-toxic, nonstick pan, or with a small amount of water added at a time to ensure they don’t stick. Panfrying is also known as sautéing. You can further decrease the amount of time sautéing takes by applying a fitted lid to the pan.
Grilling: If you want the same convenience as panfrying, try grilling. You may have some additional cleanup, but for a quick meal, grilling is healthy and very fast.
Roasting: Roasting is high-temperature baking in an oven. Instead of baking your food, cut down the time by simply raising the temperature. You can roast vegetables to eat with some rice for a light lunch, or roast a whole meal with beef, potatoes and vegetables all in one container! You can roast a whole chicken or turkey with all the fixings!
Like grilling, roasting brings out a lot of flavor in foods, but without the messy, time-consuming cleanup or charcoal. If you don’t have time to wait for a whole chicken or turkey to roast, you can roast chickpeas for a pop-able snack, veggies and potatoes, or smaller cuts of meat, such as chicken wings. Once you pop your food in the oven to roast, you don’t have to do anything except wait. On high heat, there is a risk of overcooking your food, so if you have time, lower the heat. If you’re in a hurry, just check it often.
High-pressure cooking: Pressure cookers are handy for people who want to cook meals in half the time. A pressure cooker is convenient for cooking rice, but can also be used to cook whole meals in one container. Beans are traditionally time consuming to cook, but you can cut that time in half with a pressure cooker. Because the cooking time is very different from traditional cooking methods, look online for how long you should cook the ingredients in your pressure cooker.
Once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature to you, thus reducing your prep time even more. Once the pressure cooker starts going, you can do other things and come back to it, or just relax until it’s done. Just be aware that it won’t take long, so don’t stay too far from the kitchen.
Boiling: Boiling vegetables, rice and eggs takes an absolute total of twenty minutes. You can cut down on the time it takes to boil rice by adding more water and leaving it to boil, instead of letting it simmer. Eggs take roughly twelve minutes to cook.
To save time on all of the above, you can cook these items in bulk and store them in the fridge to use throughout the week. Although the boiling process can remove nutrients, you can use some of the water to make a broth or sauce to retain some of those lost nutrients. You can also use the veggies with their liquid for soups or stews.
Cooking in bulk
As mentioned above, cooking in bulk is a great way to save time throughout the week. You can use either slow or quick cooking methods and just store the excess for the rest of the week.
One of the easiest ways to prepare meals in bulk for the week is to cook everything in one pot. This is best for stews, soups and casseroles. You can cook the food over the stove in a large pot, or use a pressure cooker if you are in a hurry. If you want food to be done and ready to eat when you return home from a long day at work, you can use a slow cooker, which will make the meat and veggies extra tender and juicy.
You can also bake or roast side dishes to mix and match throughout the week, or cook it all together in the oven. With just one food item — let’s use potatoes for this example — you can make potato chips, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, potato casseroles, french fries, potato wedges and potato pancakes. You can even use your oven to bake leafy greens and thinly sliced vegetables to make a variety of healthy chips. If you don’t like to cook foods at high temperatures, you can dehydrate chips or vegetables in your oven at low temperatures and store them at room temperature in bulk.
Frying in bulk
If you want a whole food option to fried foods, you can bake them instead, or just sauté them instead of deep frying. Frying and sautéing are not only quick fixes for eating on the go, but you can store stir fries and lightly fried meals for the week ahead to mix with veggies and grains that you’ve already cooked and stored. If you see that your food can’t be eaten within a week, then freeze it so it doesn’t turn bad.
Sometimes you don’t feel like cooking at all, or just don’t have the time for it. Especially when it’s hot outside, you may not want a warm meal. For these days, you can be prepared with some pre-made options that you can just grab and go.
Sprouted foods are a no-hassle way to provide nutrition without the need to cook. You can sprout greens, grains, rice and beans for salads or together as a meal with sauce or seasonings. Unlike cooking, you only need a few seconds each day to sprout. How easy is that? All you have to do is rinse the seeds, store them in a jar topped with mesh. Each day you just dump the water, rinse the seeds, and replace the water with fresh water until they have sprouted. The amount of time it takes for seeds to sprout varies, but in general it will take a few days. Once your seeds have sprouted, you can store them and incorporate them in your meals throughout the week or month.
Salads are normally considered boring, but if you change up the dressing and toppings, it can be a fiesta for your mouth! One of the most interesting things I have learned to do with salads is how to store them properly so I can eat them on-the-go. In a Mason jar, stack your salad with the dressing on the bottom, followed by juicy toppings — like onions, garlic, tomatoes or cucumbers — and then add the meat and leafy greens.
This will ensure that the salad doesn’t wilt before you are able to eat it. Just stir it up and you have yourself a fast meal. Salads can also be stored with the toppings and lettuce pre-chopped, and stored separately to mix and match as you choose. Just grab a handful of what you like, layer it, and you’re ready to roll.
Smoothies are another no-fuss treat. Recently people have been concerned over the sugar in smoothies. If you don’t add any sugar and just use fruits and vegetables, the fiber will counteract the insulin spike. Smoothies are a great way to have a light meal that is refreshing and nutritious.
Green smoothies are especially delicious. If you do have insulin problems, just add some healthy fats and proteins from nuts, nut butters, seeds or avocados to help your body process the simple sugars. Smoothies take just seconds if you have a high-speed blender. Even with a standard blender, you can prepare a creamy smoothie much quicker than even a salad.
Unlike smoothies, the pulp and fiber are removed from juices. If you have insulin problems, take your blood sample before and after drinking a juice to know how your body reacts to it. Otherwise, juices are a great way to give your body the simple sugars and vitamins it needs for a quick energy boost. You can make your own juice or buy it in stores. Just watch out for additives and added sugar from store-bought juices. Unlike smoothies, you can carry juices more conveniently because they can’t melt.
Freezer and fridge meals
The freezer and refrigerator can be used for more than just storing food. You can actually prepare food by leaving it in there overnight or during the day. This is especially handy in hotter climates or during the hot summer months. You can soak nuts overnight and blend them with seasoning in the morning for a creamy dipping sauce for vegetables. You can also use those soaked nuts with some soaked dates to form a pie crust or raw energy balls that you can just pop into your mouth.
If you use dates and nuts for a pie crust, process coconut milk with fruits and use that as the pie filling. Just pour it on top and let the whole thing set overnight in the fridge or for about an hour or two in the freezer. You can also use the fridge to make overnight cold oatmeal. Add your oats, a healthy milk of your choosing, natural sweetener, fruit, nuts, seeds, and cinnamon or mint to a Mason jar. Stir and allow it to set in the fridge. Ta-da, breakfast is served as soon as you wake up! These are great options if you are often late for work.
Meals on the go
Although smoothies and frozen pies are good options to save time in the morning, it is difficult to carry them with you to work to enjoy later in the day. Here are some options if you have a short lunch break, to enjoy during road trips, or if you need to eat on your way to or from work.
Wraps are relatively safe to eat on the road because you only need one hand to hold it. Instead of using refined, white flour tortillas or pitas, you can use non-GMO corn tortillas, whole grain wraps, or dried seed wraps. As with salads, you can prepare the ingredients ahead of time and store them separately so you can mix and match throughout the week.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are by far the easiest and quickest things to carry and eat anywhere you go. You can prepare dips ahead of time or eat them as is. For fruits you can use natural, hormone-free yogurt, honey, date paste, nut butters or sweet and spicy sauce for a unique kick.
For vegetables you can use hummus, tahini, natural tuna or crab dips, nut butters or salad dressings. Dippable foods are always fun, but if you are eating on the road it may not be practical. You can lightly roast your vegetables for flavor with the crunch.
Liquid foods are easy to digest. Smoothies you can consume without the risk of melting are the kind that aren’t made from frozen ice or frozen fruit. A creamy smoothie can include fresh fruits and vegetables and can be consumed at any time of the day.
You can also take your juices with you on the road. If you drink protein shakes, you can add natural protein powders to milk, fruit and nuts, or nut butters on the road too. If you don’t care what people think, and feel your stomach needs a break from solid foods, you can buy organic baby food — which is just pureed fruits and veggies — so you don’t have to prepare anything.
Like dippable fruits and vegetables, cooked finger foods are also lots of fun. You can make french fries, potato chips, fruit or veggie chips, dehydrated veggies, natural jerky or fruit leather to eat at any time. Over the weekend or during your time off, you can bake some chicken fingers, quinoa muffins, or whole grain pizza bites to dip in sauce later in the week.
Meals in a jar
Meals in a jar, like the overnight oatmeal and salads mentioned above, are very convenient to carry with you. You can also add a bunch of fresh fruit with water to a mason jar and enjoy a two-in-one meal and instant hydration. You can add sauces to the bottom of your Mason jar and add sticks of your favorite fresh foods and finger foods to carry your snack with its dip in one container. You can also add a natural trail mix, granola or cereal to the jar and add milk or nut milk to it when you’re ready to enjoy it.
These are just some of many options available to help you eat more healthily and not spend a whole lot of time worrying about your meals. I showed you how to cut your prep time, cooking time, overall weekly or monthly cooking time and how to make snacks and meals that take hardly any time to prepare or are great on the go.
Eating healthily doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I know it can be hard at first to transition when you’ve been eating fast food for years. I know it was for me. But with time, healthy eating habits will become your second nature and you will even prefer healthier alternatives to your past favorites. I wish you all the best. If you have any tips that will help those who want to live and eat more healthily, please leave a comment below.
—The Alternative Daily