One of the biggest frustrations I hear from clients regarding changing their eating habits to a healthier diet rich in real foods is the time and energy spent in the kitchen.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that it won’t take more effort than just opening a jar of sauce and tossing it into some pasta and meat. It does take more work, but it doesn’t need to be as hard and complicated as most of us make it.
Just like we need to simplify so many other aspects of our life to bring us a more peaceful and intentional lifestyle or home, we need to do that with our meal prep as well. If you have little kids, you may feel like you live in the kitchen. It seems as if the second you feed them their snack, they are begging for lunch and it never seems to end as long as they are awake.
I wanted to share a few tips that can help you simplify your meal prep routines and save you precious time and mental energy:
Create a Weekly Meal Routine
We live in a world full of choices from the clothes we put on to the food that we eat. Our options seem limitless. This variety and abundance can cause decision fatigue that not only wears out our minds, but drains us physically as well. Capsule wardrobes are all the rage right now just to combat this very problem. Its not just minimalists who are ditching their full closets in favour of a handful of options that reduce the amount of decision making we have to do in a day.
This same principle can be applied to our meal prep routine. I’m not simply talking about sitting down once a week to plan out the meals for the week so you don’t have to think about what to cook each individual day. If you want some tips on meal planning, check out my post here. That is only a start, but you still have to spend that time once a week planning and trying to figure out what to cook can be stressful and draining.
Once you are in habit of meal planning once a week, try to create certain days where you always eat the same type of things. This type of routine will simplify the decision and give back precious space in your mind for dealing with other more pressing issues.
Part of my weekly routine is that I always roast 2 whole chickens on top of chopped root vegetables the day after I go grocery shopping. Those chickens are then used for the base of my dinners and lunches for the rest of the week. With that cooked chicken I have a handful of meals that I make with it. This can be done with any large piece of meat– beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, etc. Not only will this save you time and mind space, but these types of cuts often save you money as well.
While I don’t make the exact same thing every day of every week (because that would get boring) I do rotate through very similar types of dishes.
Another option for a meal planning routine is to give themes to different days of the weeks to make it easier to pick meals like Taco Tuesdays, Fish Fridays, Meatless Mondays, Salad Saturdays, etc. Find something simple that you and your family love and keep it in rotation regularly.
Embrace Leftovers and Batch Cooking
If you follow me on Instagram, you will see how often leftovers feature in my feed. If you don’t already use leftovers on a regular basis, this is definitely the best place to start. If you implement nothing else but this tip from this list, you will save yourself so much hassle by learning how to use leftovers.
You may be thinking that you never have leftovers and that no matter how much you make there is never anything leftover after dinner. If you have that problem, make double what would be a reasonable amount for your family to eat. Then before you even serve dinner, put half of it in the fridge or freezer out of sight. So if you are making lasagne, make 2 smaller trays instead of 1 big tray. Cook double the amount of meat than you would need and keep half of it to the side.
If you take all of it out to the table or leave it on the stove, people will go back for seconds and thirds that they may not really need. Make them fill up on the vegetable sides instead, then you are killing 2 birds with one stone. They are eating more vegetables (which are very nutrient dense and not to mention cheaper) and you are having to cook one less meal.
Batch cooking and then freezing is similar to leftovers, but might work better if you have a spouse who refuses to eat leftovers. Personally, I’d just have them to make their own if they don’t want leftovers, but that may not work for everyone. For those of you in this situation, batch cooking is great because you put it away for another week. The stigma of leftovers is gone. It is also great if you get sick of having the same meal again later on in the week.
All you do is make double (or triple if you’re really up for it) of something and then you freeze half (or two thirds) of it. This option doesn’t work with all types of meals, but I’ve included a list of meal items that freeze well:
- Quinoa/Rice cooked in Bone Broth
- Slow Cooked Meats (Pork, Roast, Lamb, etc)
- Sauce Based Meals (Bolognase, Marinara, Alfredo, Pesto, Sloppy Joes, Stroganoff, Lasagne, etc)
Become a Creature of Habit
“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
Find a handful of simple recipes that you like with a short list of ingredients that can be prepared quickly (don’t worry about cooking time because you can often just walk away) and make them all the time. Having to follow a recipe is stressful and time consuming, the more you make a dish the less you need the recipe. Soon enough you will become so familiar with the recipe that you can make it in your sleep.
In the beginning, it will take time. But as Julia Child says you learn by doing. Put in the work to create a habit and eventually the habit will take over and you won’t have to put any mental effort into anymore. Then a screaming toddler clinging to your ankles won’t distract you or make you ruin the meal. You will be in autopilot.
Pick one recipe to begin with and get really comfortable with that one and gradually integrate more and more until you have about 15 recipes that you can cook on autopilot. At first, your family may grumble a bit about eating the same dish every week, but in time it won’t be that way because you will have laid down the foundation for a variety of healthy meals.
Use Frozen Vegetables
Frozen vegetables often get overlooked because people assume they aren’t as healthy as fresh vegetables. But they are often flash frozen straight from being picked, which means that they retain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts that have spent weeks being transported losing some of their nutrients each day. When choosing frozen vegetables, just check the back to make sure the ingredients are just the vegetables and nothing else is added.
I like to keep frozen green beans, mushrooms, beets, spinach, kale, peas and cauliflower in my freezer at all time. They are so quick to just toss into a pan and sauce with some healthy fat (coconut oil, tallow, butter, or olive oil) because often they are already washed and chopped. You save a bunch of prep time using these when you can. These are also great to toss into soups or sauces to add easy nutrients.
Become a Pro at Cooking With Less Mess
The most simple cooking requires minimal amounts of clean up. Nothing is more frustrating than spending an hour in the kitchen cooking dinner only to be left with an hour of cleanup afterwards. Here are some tips to help you keep a cleaner kitchen while you cook:
- Getting into the routine of bulk cooking your meat (as I mentioned above) means that you only have to clean up after the meat one time for the whole week. I find that generally cooking meat requires the most time consuming clean up.
- Cook more one pan or one pot recipes like soups, casseroles, skillet, stir frys, etc.
- Use one cutting board and one knife for the whole meal. Its quicker to clean a dirty knife and cutting as you go than to wait until the end to clean up several dirty ones. I also cut my veg starting with the less messy and end with the meat (if I need to cut any) that way I generally only have to clean the knife and cutting board once or maybe twice.
- Always have an empty dishwasher before you start cooking so you can just add things to it as you go. I get in the routine of filling it and starting it at night and unloading it first thing in the morning with my kids (as they get older, they will be in charge of doing this themselves).
- Clean as you go. This is probably one of the biggest time savers of all and means all you have to do after dinner is clean a few serving dishes and utensils.
- Don’t bother with all of that fancy kitchen equipment, its really not worth the time it takes to clean up after it. I get by with one high powered small Bullet blender, good knives, cast iron skillet, some pots and pans, one handheld spiralizer, and a few other utensils and dishes. Simplifying your kitchen equipment will bring lots of peace to your cooking routine.
By implementing these practices, you can simplify your own meal prep, spend less time and energy in the kitchen and still feed your family nutrient dense meals.
If you are really interested in reading a bit more on this subject, I wrote another post at the beginning of my pregnancy about feeding your family real food while dealing with extreme fatigue. Here I am now in my third trimester and I’m thinking about simplifying my meal prep routines all over again.
I hope some of these tips work for you in your kitchens and make your life just a bit more simple and less stressful.
What are some of your favourite ways
to simplify your meal prep?
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