When it comes to eating healthy meals, preparation is crucial. In fact, a journal article published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine posits that preparing meals at home is associated with healthier dietary habits (1).
Luckily, preparing meals at home ahead of time makes healthier choices more convenient (2). Instead of diving into the fast food joint for a calorie bomb, you will have a home cooked meal that you can heat up faster than you can walk across the blocks. A home cooked meals leaves you with additional time to squeeze into your daily workout routine, and you will save money while still at it.
Plus, if you are frustrated by cooking, there are a lot of sneaky tricks that you can use to make preparing delicious meals at home a clinch. From methods of cooking up meals in bulk to quick breakfast ideas, we have expert tips that will set you up for a healthier and fuss-free week. Whip out your Tupperware and let’s get started.
1. Prepare Base Ingredients Once per Week
Preparing base ingredients in bulk is one of the simple, yet often ignored way to free up the time you spend in the kitchen. Cook the foods you use often (such as pasta, beans, beef, rice, or chicken, in bulk), divide them into portion suitable for single meals, and freeze for later use.
Quick Hint: If you pre-cook pasta, remember to drizzle a little vegetable oil to keep it from sticking on defrosting.
2. Stock Chopped Veggies
Chopping veggies beforehand and freezing them saves a lot of time. This trick is particularly important if you are often running out of time in the morning, you have lots of task to do, or you are usually too tired to prepare meals at night after a super busy day at work. Chopped veggies such as spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, onion, carrots, fenugreek, and cauliflower can be stored in the fridge for up to 7 days without going stale. Just chop and seal them properly in Tupperware containers or plastic bags. You will save several hours per month.
3. Consolidate and Make Just 1 Trip to the Fridge
You might not have thought about it, but too many trips to the fridge are serious time wasters. Set out all the ingredients you will need before starting to cook and fetch them on a single trip. Also, once you are done, return them in one trip.
4. Buy Pre-cooked Meats
- You can often buy roasted turkey or roast beef (both classified as lean meat) from your grocery deli. Another tip, ask for extra thick slices that you can dice and use in recipes.
- Skinless chicken breasts, half turkey breast, and whole chicken are available in nearly any supermarket. Remove the skin and shred or cut the meat as per your recipe.
- Several food companies are now selling seasoned chicken strips. Look at the lunch meat section of the grocery store.
- Buy cooked shrimp from the frozen fish or the fish counter.
5. Prepare a Main Dish Salad
A main dish salad is the perfect meal during the hot summer; it’s light, cool, and quick to prepare. Salad greens are the base ingredient which makes preparing the dish easy. Just pour spinach leaves or salad green into a bowl, add other ingredients and toss. Some of the best add-ins include crumbled blue cheese, cherry tomatoes, walnuts, dried cranberries, baby carrots, grilled chicken and so on.
6. Substitute Meat with Vegetables
Cooking meat takes a lot of time. If you want a quick meal, skip the meat and go for vegetable sources of protein. Some good options include cheese burritos, beans, egg-bases entrees such as omelets, and roasted vegetable or vegetarian sandwiches with cheese toppings.
7. Transfer Cooked Food into Storage Containers
Instead of living your dishes to sit in the pans in which they were prepared, remove the portion you will require for the meal and transfer the rest into storage containers. Wash the pan immediately to avoid the hard work that’s required to wash the surface of cookware once food has dried and stuck on their surface. If you are really running out of time, soak them in water for faster clean-up later on.
8. Clean the Cookware as you Go
Rather than leaving pans and pots to pile up, fire up and clean them as you wait for your recipe to finish cooking.
9. Invest in a Food Chopper
There are numerous, food choppers in the market that will quickly allow you to chop ingredients within a fraction of the time it would take to chop them by hand. Just like is the case with all dishes, remember to clean your chopper immediately after so that you won’t have to deal with residues that have dried and stuck on the surface.
10. Buy Non-Stick Spray
Spray it on cooking surface for a super easy clean-up. If you’re cooking casserole type dishes such as lasagna that require to be wrapped in aluminum foil, coat it with non-stick spray. Once you remove the dish from your oven, the aluminum foil will easily remove without cutting off the top layer of your meal with it.
11. Prepare One-Pot Meals
From chili to soup, to casseroles, to stir-fry, there are plenty of yummy, one-pot meal that you can prepare. One-pot meals are real time savers because they leave one with less dishes to clean and are normally simple to cook, freeing up some time that you can use to set the table, tidy the kitchen, and/or simply relax.
To cook a super fast, one-pot meal, empty a bag of frozen veggies into the bottom of a colander. Then, prepare an equal amount of colander. Add sufficient amount of pasta and empty it over the vegetable when done. The veggies will be thawed and lightly cooked by the time the pasta is completely drained. Finally, add your favorite sauce for a delicious, healthy, and quick meal.
12. Buy Frozen Veggies.
Frozen vegetables often come pre-cut and are cheaper compared to fresh vegetables, making them a good way to save time and money. What’s more, because they are mostly frozen when in season, they retain most of their goodness.
13. Crank up a Delicious Microwave Meal in Minutes
Three of the fastest microwave meals are:
- Prepare a burrito by filling a whole-grain tortilla with add-ins of your preference, wrap it up into a burrito shape, and heat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
- Prepare a quick dish by layering black beans, multigrain tortilla chips, chopped green onions, reduced fat cheese, and roasted or grilled chicken breast on the microwave. Cook on the HIGH for 1-2 minutes. It’s the ultimate mealtime nachos.
- Baked potato bars are easy to assemble. Just pick a fork and pierce each potato several times, and put them in the microwave on HIGH till cooked throughout. In the meanwhile, get the toppings ready (fat-free choose or sour cream, green onions or chopped chives, or turkey bacon bits. Also, canned chili goes well with baked potatoes.
14. Use Low-Fuss Beans and Veggies
The following veggies and bean require minimal preparation, making them easy to use in recipes:
- Asparagus spears.
- Baby carrots.
- Washed spinach leaves.
- Sweet potatoes and potatoes, just pierce them several times and put them in the microwave.
- Grape tomatoes and cherry.
- Bags of cauliflower florets and precut broccoli
- Canned beans; simply rinse and add to recipes.
- Canned tomatoes (you may want to go for the seasoned brands).
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes (just pierce each a couple of times and microwave)
15. Serve a Quick Fruit Salad
With the following fruits in your home, whipping up a fruit salad is as simple as rinsing and tossing.
- Grapes (both green and red).
- Bags of apple slices.
- Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
- Bananas (pull away part of the peels and cut into slices in the peels).
16. Bottled Dressings, Marinades and Bottled Sauces Saves Time:
The following are among the most convenient ingredients available:
- Teriyaki sauce
- Bottled pizza and marinara sauce
- Bottled light salad dressings (to prepare pasta salads, green salads, or for use as a marinade).
- Fajita sauce
- Pesto sauce
- Asian dipping and cooking sauces (sweet, hoisin, and sour sauce).
Most of the tips I have outlined in this article are simple to implement and most are common sense. However, it still requires some effort to adjust dietary habits that one has adopted over the years.
Select the tips that you feel will help you save time given your circumstances, write them on a paper and post them on the fridge. A reminder to pick all the ingredients in 1 trip, to clean as you go, and to book cook base ingredients in bulk is all you need to save 20 or more minutes each night.
Well, 20 minutes a day might not sound like a big deal, but you can sit back and enjoy several relaxed sips of ripe wine while listening to your favorite tunes.