One of the biggest challenges I face with clients is talking them into the fact that preparing and eating real food doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen doing prep work and cooking. It takes just as much time waiting in line at a fast food joint as it does to throw something healthful together if you’re pressed for time, provided you have the right staples on hand for time crunch situations. There are many solutions for the “I got home late and don’t have time to cook” scenario. (or just plain “I don’t feel like cooking.”) Here are some easy meals and prep tips for you!
Steps for Easy Meal Prep
First and foremost, make time to plan for your week’s meals. I tell clients: just as you would sit down on a Sunday evening and plan out what you need to do for the work week, do the same for your meals. Nourishing yourself is important! Don’t let it be an afterthought.
Make yourself a meal plan–what will you cook and when? Then make a grocery list and hit the store. My usual routine includes making something a little more involved on a Sunday, when I can dedicate a couple hours to cooking and prep. I’ll roast a chicken with root vegetables and make a batch of kale, for example. The leftovers can easily be adapted into chicken salad (just dice, mix with mustard and chopped celery; top with paprika; enjoy over greens or in butter lettuce leaves) or shredded over greens. That should take you til Wednesday or so, then you can make something a little quicker to take you through til the weekend. I’ll often do a crock pot meal at this point during the week since the prep work is so quick and the meat always turns out so well.
The crock pot is your friend here. You do have to plan a bit ahead — but if you have staples on hand, you can put something together in the morning and set it before work. You can even add frozen meat to the crock pot. Seriously, it takes minutes to chuck a hunk of meat in the crock pot in the morning (or overnight), and 7-8 hours later you have deliciously braised meat. Here is a short tutorial my business partner and I put together to show you just how easy it is:
You could use any type of meat here: chicken or turkey legs work really well, a pork shoulder, or a beef roast. You can add root veggies about halfway through if you’re home to supervise; otherwise, just whip up or roast a batch of veggies when you get home from work. Click here for a great recipe. Scroll down for the herb roasted root veggie sticks.
We all get caught in a pinch from time to time. It happens. If you keep a few staples on hand when you don’t feel like cooking, you will always have something to throw together and you won’t need to rely on take out or be tempted with junk food.
Here are the staples you should have on hand
Almond butter, Tahini
Root veggies – they keep well. Think carrots, beets, potatoes (NOT Idaho), turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, etc
Eggs (and make hardboiled eggs to have on hand, too)
Virgin unrefined coconut oil
Extra virgin olive oil
Veggie & chicken broth
Chicken breast and/or thighs (frozen, not skinless)
Frozen ground beef or buffalo
Organic frozen berries for smoothies
Chia seeds for fiber in smoothies
Canned beans–Eden foods properly soaks and prepares their beans
Quick meal ideas
- Canned salmon flaked over mixed greens with diced avocado. Top with 15 second dressing. Click here for recipe.
- Lettuce wraps: Canned sardines with avocado and raw kraut chopped and eaten in lettuce leaves
- Defrost ground beef. Sautee together with garlic and onion and spices. Serve in butter lettuce leaves. Takes 10 minutes
- Hard boiled egg diced with canned salmon, cannellini beans over mixed greens
- Sliced chicken sausage over raw kraut with sliced avocado (5 minutes)
Crock pot meals. Here is the basic formula:
- 1-3 organic turkey thighs, or 2 lbs chicken legs bone-in, or 3-4 lb beef roast, or 3-4 lb lamb leg or shoulder, or 2-3 lb pork butt or shoulder
- 1 large yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2-4 carrots and/or other root veggies (beets, turnips, parsnips, yams, potatoes–work best when added halfway through, but ok to add in the beginning)
- spices for whatever flavor profile you want to create (e.g. Italian spices, cumin, curry, garlic powder)
- 1-2 cups chicken, beef, or veggie broth, or red wine
Peel onion and scrub other root veggies. Cut everything into large chunks. For optimal results, season and sear hunk of meat on all sides in cast iron skillet, but this isn’t 100% necessary if you’re pressed for time. Coat bottom of crock pot with olive oil. Arrange onion on bottom of crock pot. Place meat on top, skin/fat side up. Arrange other root veggies on top. Cover with spices. Pour in broth, about 1-2 cups. Sprinkle a little sea salt and pepper over everything. Set crock pot on low for 6-8 hours or high 3-4. Serve with green salad or kale/chard.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.
Hi Mary, excellent post! My favorite point is the one you make about waiting in line in restaurants taking as much time as cooking something quickly. Once the habit of regularly using menu plans is established, apart from the health benefits, time is actually saved, together with money too.
Of course, for those who really find no time doing the menu planning, the grocery list, and figuring out the nutritional info, there’s always the Framaza.com website that does it for them 🙂