One of my goals for the month of March (National Nutrition Month) is to help you practice cooking at home 3-4 days per week. And if you are someone who eats their meals mostly out, trust me, I know this can be daunting for you. Yes, grabbing a salad or burger from a restaurant is easier. I’m not here to argue that with you. Often, we don’t eat right not because we don’t know what to eat, but because we are tired, hungry and the fridge is empty. Okay, yes some days your Sweetgreen salad is healthier than what you would prepare at home. But most days, especially when dinner is a bag of pita chips, pizza, take-out or cereal, lack of home cooking can do more damage than good. In a study by Arpita Tiwari, Anju Aggarwal, Wesley Tang and Adam Drewnowski, researchers found that cooking at home was associated with overall higher diet quality. (See here) Frequent eating out lead to higher expenditures ($$$!) and lower dietary quality within a random stratified sample of 473 adults.
So, how do we help you cook more? I’m going to give you three different ideas to try.
- Batch Cooking
- Meal Prep
- Easy Meals
Number 1: Batch Cooking
Daunting appears to be the theme of this post. Batch cooking? What is that!? Daunting. BUT. It’s actually simple. Batch cooking is cooking extra meals, whenever you cook a meal. So, if you are cooking chicken for dinner, make extra so you can utilize leftovers for other nights…told you this was simple. So on Sunday, when you are thinking about what to make for dinner…. Oh it’s chicken, broccoli and baked sweet potatoes you say? How to convert a meal into batch cooking: buy double the chicken, double the broccoli, double the potatoes. Cook it all, pack 1/2 into Tupperware, and voila! You have 1-2 days of dinner cooked for the week.
Some of my favorite items to “batch cook”: chicken, fish, roasted vegetables, whole baked sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, soups, stews, tuna/egg salad, cold salads (quinoa or farro), etc. Why? Because these types of items, can be used so many different ways. Extra baked sweet potato in the fridge? Warm it up, topped with yogurt, peanut butter and 1 banana. Warm it up, and serve it with roasted asparagus and leftover chicken. Leftover tuna salad? Put it on a salad, on a sandwich or eat it with whole wheat crackers. The more versatile the food, the easier it is to reuse!
Number 2: Meal Prep
I’ve always used the term meal prep, in a different way than everyone else. Meal prep in my eyes is the cutting, chopping, sometimes some baking, but mainly the “preparation” work you put in to make a meal. In my eyes, doing the bulk of the “prep” on a day early in the week, can help to make your dinners/meals throughout the week easier, not easy. Batch cooking = easy. Your meal is ready for you. Prep cuts back on the time. Get it?
Some of my favorite items to “meal prep”: chopping up your vegetables for the week (cucumbers, carrots, radish, potatoes, mushrooms), marinating chicken, preparing sandwiches, wraps, salads, cutting up fruit, pre-portioning snack bags, washing/chopping greens, hard boiling eggs, frozen smoothie bags, spiralizing vegetables for “zoodles”, etc.
Limits the dirty work during the week, and motivates you to cook… because the food is ready FOR you.
Number 3: Easy Meals
Easy meals, are, well you guessed it, foods that you can EASILY put together to form a balanced meal. These meals are low on ingredients, effort and time spent in the kitchen. A balanced meal does not need to be created from some elaborate recipe. And from my perspective, elaborate meals, generally sound delicious to make, but often they lead to increased stress and increased likelihood to grab a pizza for the family instead on the way home.
Some of my go-to easy meals and techniques for coming up with them are:
- Think about “creating your plate”: 1 protein, 1 starch, 1 vegetable when trying to come up with a meal
- Anything with eggs (breakfast for dinner, egg in a nest, veggies scrambled with 2 pieces of whole wheat toast, open-face egg sandwich with a side salad, you get it)
- Stir fry made with any protein in the house, brown rice and veggies (add soy sauce, ginger, teriyaki or any Asian marinade)
- Salad (veggies, protein + toast on the side, throw in quinoa/brown rice/pasta)
- Burger night (frozen chicken/turkey burgers, whole wheat buns or bread, cheese, sweet potato/white potato fries + side salads)
- Soup! (heat up low sodium canned or pre-prepared homemade, pair with 1-2 slices whole wheat toast)
- Taco night (whole wheat tortillas/wraps, veggies on hand, cheese + protein)
- Sandwich night
- Loaded baked potatoes (stuff with beans/chicken/tofu, corn, red pepper, spinach, cheese, salsa, guacamole, etc)
- Pasta night (create your plate with less pasta, throw in broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, etc. protein, marinara + cheese)
So, after dumping all of these ideas on you, my last and final hurdle is to help you put them into action. Start slow, focusing on 1-2 nights per week, then grow from there once successful. Change is never easy, but using your health as a motivator can help you put your best fork forward!