By Heidi Baldwin, MS, Holistic Health Coach
Home-cooked meals are great for both your wallet and your health, but the convenience of take-out is hard to resist, especially when you’re low on time. However, restaurant food is often highly processed, low in quality (restaurants typically buy food as cheaply as possible). It is also generally high in calories, not to mention the cost of eating out quickly adds up. Cooking your own meals doesn’t have to be complicated, even with a busy schedule. Here are some tips to help you eat home-cooked meals more often!
When you cook, double the serving size so that you have enough for leftovers. If you don’t want to eat the same thing twice a week, portion your leftovers in containers and freeze them for those days when you don’t feel like cooking.
Batch cook the staple foods. You don’t need to cook leftovers of your entire meal, but cooking those staple ingredients will help make different meals throughout the week. Roast a whole chicken, cook a large batch of rice or quinoa, or bake some potatoes. Think of which foods you can add to any meal to make it more complete. Cook multiple portions of those foods so that they can last you all week. Keep the seasoning generic so that you can pair these foods with various side dishes and aren’t limited to one cuisine. There are a lot of different things you can do with quinoa!
Plan your meals for the entire week. This will save you time AND money! When dinnertime comes around, and you have no idea what to cook, there is nothing more inviting than simply ordering take-out. This is not a great habit to fall into! Pick a day, ideally before you do your weekly grocery shopping, and plan what you’ll be eating for each day that week. This planning is especially helpful when you go grocery shopping because you can take the ingredient list with you, and make sure that you buy everything you need.
Find what recipes you enjoy, and write them down. You don’t need to compromise on taste when it comes to home-cooked meals. If you aren’t confident with your cooking skills, start with easy recipes, and learn the basic techniques such as pan-sautéing, or roasting in the oven. Often the simplest meals are also the tastiest; there is no need to over-complicate things.
Keep your pantry stocked with non-perishable items that you can easily add to any meal for extra protein, carbohydrates, or fats. Stock up on canned beans and legumes, grains such as rice and quinoa, canned tuna, and even pickled or canned veggies (glass jars are always the better option if they’re available – often you can find veggies in glass jars at a local Mennonite store, or pickled veggies at your local farmer’s market). You can always throw in some canned chickpeas and grains to your salad to make it a quick and complete meal.
Take shortcuts when you need to. It’s nice to make a home-cooked meal from scratch, but we don’t always have the time or energy to do this. Although pre-washed and cut veggies are more expensive at the grocery store, sometimes it’s worth it for the time it saves you. It’s still a lot better than ordering take-out! If you have older kids/teens at home, enlist them in helping to cut up veggies to help with meal prep so you can just start cooking it when you get home from work. This helps you with meal prep, AND helps your kids start to learn much needed life skills!
Invest in a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Slow cookers are the most hands-off cooking tools— you can toss everything into the pot and leave it to cook all day without supervision. A pressure-cooker significantly cuts down cooking time, so even if you forgot all about dinner or don’t have much time, you can still eat something healthy and delicious. You can throw in veggies, lean meats, chickpeas, and rice and make a complete meal in no time (and with minimal effort). Another popular option seems to be the Ninja Foodi, which I am not too familiar with, but I have heard great reviews from folks!
If this seems overwhelming, start small. If you are someone who eats MOST of your meals out, or at home in the form of take out, dedicate a certain number of days of the week to cooking at home, or restrict your take-out nights to just one or two nights a week until you can get into a groove with your meal prep. If you need some helpful suggestions, reach out to me, or sign up for my next seasonal detox where you will get dozens of recipes that you can easily rotate through a month’s worth of food prep!