When I first changed my eating style four years ago, I was overwhelmed. Eating a diet of organic whole foods with lean protein and minimal processed items is challenging. It requires a lot more cooking than I was used to. I felt like I was in an endless cycle of food planning, food preparation and clean up. It was well worth it though. Along the journey, I lost 50 pounds and a long list of health issues. I knew I needed to figure out an easier way to prepare my food. Here are some of my strategies that help me stay on track and cook healthy food, quickly and easily.
1) Plan, Prepare and Freeze – In my opinion, having an eating plan makes it much easier to stay on track. Every Friday night I spend some time thinking about my menu for the upcoming week. If I know it going to be an especially busy week, I focus on the following:
Make Soups and Stews– Large pots of soup or stew make for easy, quick meals all week long. I even freeze small portions for lunch. I pack as many vegetables as I can in my soups, stews and chili making them thick and hearty. I even hide chopped spinach and one of my favorite nutrient dense seasonings, granulated kelp. You can buy this in the Asian section of Whole Foods Market.
Prepare and freeze – I prepare dishes such as lasagna, marinara sauce (can be frozen in small portions for a quick personal size pizza or to throw on pasta), meatballs, homemade chicken tenders for my son, pancakes, waffles, biscuits or bread (sliced with wax paper between the slices), and slices of store bought baguette (which can then be toasted and topped with something for a quick snack or a cocktail party appetizer).
Buy prepared vegetables – I like to minimize processed foods and love to shop the farmer’s market so I always thought of packaged raw veggies as a “no no,” but a nutrition coach once advised me that it’s better to buy and use prepared raw veggies to help decrease stress than to fall off track because you’re busy. So, I give myself permission to use packaged raw vegetables to help the process along when I’m feeling the time squeeze. Here are some of my favorites:
Chopped onions – I buy these either from Trader Joe’s or you can buy a frozen bag from Sprout’s Farmers Market. These are huge time saver especially with all the soups I make.
Various cleaned, cut and bagged vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, chopped kale, butternut squash, sweet potato fries, stir fry veggies, etc. Trader Joe’s has a great selection.
Vacuum packed ready to eat lentils and beets from Trader Joe’s.
Frozen Brown Rice from either Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market.
Frozen organic chicken breasts and fish fillets (the non-breaded or seasoned type) from Costco. These are very handy to have around for quick meal preparation.
2) Revive the Slow Cooker – I think there has been a deviation away from the slower cooker in recent years but it’s a great way to prepare food. I just bought a new slow cooker cookbook and am excited about the prospect of walking away from the kitchen and then coming back to a ready to eat meal.
3) Stock the car – I keep a small plastic bin in the car with individual packs of nuts or seeds, travel size packs of hummus (that don’t have to be refrigerated) and food bars such as KIND brand. This way I have easy options on hand in case we’re hungry on the road. There are some restaurants we can eat at such as Chipotle but for the most part, we try to stay “FFF” (Fast Food Free). I also sometimes buy the small packs of carrots or apple slices if I know we will be running around quite a bit in a week. You can easily grab one of these when you’re leaving the house. Trader Joe’s and Safeway have organic sliced apple packs. I try to eat organic as much as possible.
4) Use your blender – Smoothies are one of my favorites. You can make so many different varieties and you can hide supplements, protein powder and vegetables in them. You can buy an insulated travel cup to keep them cool while running around town. This is a common breakfast or snack option at our house.
Developing coping strategies over the years has helped me stick to my diet plan and keep the weight off. Our health and wellbeing is well worth the effort!