It’s no secret that my posting frequency has gone WAYYY down since school started in September. Time to record my inner nutrition rants isn’t the only thing that’s been compromised – time to cook healthy meals has also been scarce around these parts. Luckily I’m a professional, so I’ve been able to make it work. I’m here today to share my strategies for maintaining adequate nutrition during periods of insanity (“periods” = the next 3ish years while I simultaneously work, run, school, and refuse to give up my social life).
When it comes to saving time, the secret is in the planning: know what you need, get it all, and cook it all in a way that minimizes the amount of cooking that you need to do and maximizes health and satiety. Nothing is worse than a hungry person that is too busy to feed him/herself appropriately. Just ask my boyfriend. The following tips are how I stayed fed and sane during the month of October:
Plan your grocery trips
Good news: Christmas comes every single week! When the mailman delivers the weekly grocery circulars, my day immediately goes from wherever it was to a 10. Making lists is both a personal favorite hobby and an essential component of planning healthy meals – lucky me! Plus, circulars take out all the hard decisions about what to purchase, because you just get what’s on sale – it’s AMAZING. Pick 2-3 proteins along with a few different fruits and vegetables that are on sale and you’ve got the basis for a week of meals. Here’s a step-by-step process:
- Pick 2-3 proteins that are on sale. These will become your entree items.
- Determine what you’ll be cooking with those proteins (ex: chicken thighs on sale? Maple mustard chicken thighs. Chuck roast on sale? Beef stew time.)
- Based on your chosen meals, pick out some vegetables to go with them. For certain meals it really won’t matter, but other entrees go really well with particular vegetables.
- Pick out a few different fruits that are on sale for breakfasts and snacks. There is almost always one kind of apple that is on sale and a seasonal option that costs way less than it does at other times of the year. We are getting into citrus season!
- Add to the list any little things you might need for these recipes.
- Run through your current household inventory for things that are eaten/used regularly like bread, milk, yogurt, eggs, oats, coffee and coffee filters, baby carrots, bananas, onions, garlic, or whatever else it is that gets consumed with gusto by your family. If you need something, add it to the list.
After you go to the store, you should be all set to make 2-3 different meals. Be sure to purchase enough to have leftovers for the other days and/or lunch. This will reduce time required to run to the store for last minute items, and cooking once to eat for a couple meals eliminates both cooking and cleaning time. It’s *magic*!
Make your groceries work for you, not against you
If you know you’re going to be particularly busy, it’s best to choose recipes with ingredients that will stick around for a long time or that can be frozen. For example:
- Spring mix sure makes a tasty salad but romaine and hardy greens like kale last a lot longer in the refrigerator before becoming slimy.
- In the same vein, certain fruits and vegetables keep for a lot longer than others. Be smart about your purchases, and don’t buy bell peppers if they might not get cooked for a week. It’s just a bad idea!
- We all know about my obsession with chicken sausage, which doesn’t need to be consumed quickly after purchase like raw meats do, and which can be frozen.
- Frozen vegetables are overlooked all the time in favor of fresh, but they are nutritionally equivalent. Keeping frozen stir fry mix on hand is the absolute best because it’s always ready to go (and it’s already cut – win-win!).
- Frozen meats are also great. No worries about using them up within a certain time period, and chicken can actually go straight from freezer to oven without thawing. Less thought required = better.
- Versatility is excellent. Plain Greek yogurt can be used in sweet and savory applications but pineapple flavor cannot.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious one weekend, make meals and freeze. In October, I did this with chicken cacciatore and red beans and rice, but anything stew-y or soup-y works really well. Take liberties with the recipes that you find and add extra vegetables if necessary.
Here in Houston, there are a number of businesses that make healthy, portion-controlled meals that are ready to grab and go. Snap Kitchen, Eatfitters, Fuel Kitchen, and My Fit Foods all offer meals that make it easy and convenient to eat healthfully while everything else is insane.
I got the opportunity to try a full days’ worth of Eatfitters meals in October, and it was a true lifesaver. I didn’t eat all the meals on the same day, but rather had a lunch here, a dinner there, and used their snacks to reduce lunch prep time. Even though I got the small portions, the meals are very heavy on protein (40g of protein in one salmon entree – almost all the protein I need in one day) and therefore kept me full to the brim for hours. All meals were calorie controlled, and it made my Tuesday (work then class, leave home at 7:20AM get home at 8:30PM) nice and easy with no hanger problems. I also liked that their sodium content is low, because a lot of packaged meals can be suuuper high in sodium and you couldn’t tell from the flavor!
Low maintenance cooking
Certain cooking methods are far more labor intensive than others.
- Roasting a chicken requires ~15 minutes of active working time (rinse off bird, season bird, maybe rough chop some veg, stick it in the oven) and frees up a lot of other time to do homework, housework, yardwork, workouts, etc.
- One-pot meals keep cleanup to a minimum. Stir fries are amazing, but a short google search will present you with more one-pot meals than you can shake a stick at. In fact, here are some to get started with.
- It’s Crock Pot season!! You literally do not even have to be in the house to cook a delicious meal.
Everything becomes a taco
When you’re trying to save time, you’ll be eating a lot of leftovers. Here’s a little trick that I’ve learned in my 11 months (what…..) in Texas – everything can be turned into a taco. Leftover fish? Taco it. Leftover pork? Taco it. Leftover lentils? Taco it. Keep things interesting and embrace the taco.