We are all busy people, and when we want to priritise having good quality, nutritious food to eat every day, it's sometimes a chore to find that time every day, but there are strategies that can help. I find the key is dedicating a small amount of time once or twice a week to planning and prep. Meals for a busy week don't have to be time consuming and fancy to be tasty and satisfying, and at the same time keep you healthy and fueled. Most of my meals are a simple assembly of real ingredients that I make sure I have in the kitchen. Sure, sometimes I spend time on a 'recipe', or we eat out, but for the most part our meals are super simple and relatively quick to prepare.
Here are a few tips to make a start on increasing the ease of good food choices, and decreasing the time you need to spend cooking each day.
- Roast a whole chicken! Buy an organic whole bird, pasture raised if you can, locally raised if you are lucky enough to have that option. It's easy and far tastier than a plain chicken breast, and often works out cheaper than always buying those stand alone chicken breasts as well. The skin and dark meat of a chicken has so much good in it, plus a whole bird roasted at the weekend can supply meat for many meals. Most chickens will only take 1-1.5hours to roast and you seriously just throw it in the oven (maybe after sprinkling some salt on it), set a timer and get on with doing something else while it's cooking. Remove the meat from the bird, use it for salads, a quick stir fry with some veggies, or soups.
- Don't throw away the carcass from your whole chicken! Make chicken stock/broth from it. The bones and other non-edible parts of the bird are full of minerals and other great nutrients like amino acids that appear in the broth when the bones are simmered for a while. You can drink the broth straight, make soup, use for stews/curries, and my latest favourite is to use it to cook rice or other grains, or steam veggies using it - it's so much tastier than plain old water!
- Roast vegetables: chop a range of veg into similar sized pieces - I'll stick brocolli, cauliflower, bell peppers, egg-plant (aubergine) in the same pan with some salt and coconut oil or butter. Potatoes (white and sweet), carrots, celeriac (celery root), parsnips and other root veg can go together in another pan, again with salt and some kind of fat (I use butter, bacon fat or coconut oil mostly). These veg will keep all week - I add to salads , eggs, or some kind of protein for any meal of the day.
- Bake whole potatoes, white, or sweet of any variety - they pair with many options for any meal of the day
- Canned fish: I always have a supply of a variety of canned fish for fast protein options. Most often I will pair with salad at lunch.
- Roast nuts - cashews are my favourite right now but anything goes. Roasted nuts work great in salads, as standalone snacks, or with leafy greens, green beans etc.
- Easy salad greens - buy them pre cut/prepared/washed for quick greens to add to eggs, or the base of a hearty salad: I tend to buy a mixed bag of spinach/arugula/kale or similar.
- Cook up a big pot of a whole grain or two - I use chicken broth that I've made to cook up rice, quinoa, farro etc. This can act as a quick side or salad bulk.
- You can steam brocolli, caulifower etc. ahead of time so it's already cooked and fast to add to a stir fry or to do a quick roast on in the oven, or add to a salad cold.
- I like having grated beets or carrots on hand to make salads more exciting - a food processor makes fast work of this
- A food processor also makes fast work of chopping veg - I seem to use onions for everything I cook so when I remember I will chop a few onions at once in the food processor and keep in the fridge ready to go
- Ground meat (beef, pork, turkey etc.) is an easy thing to create many fast dishes from. We make some kind of hash frequently - pre-cooking a couple of pounds of ground meat early in the week makes fast work of forming a hash with some pre-chopped and/or cooked veggies. For breakfast throw a fried egg on top.
- Hard boil eggs! Boil a bunch at once - they keep really well an work as snacks or addition to veggies or salad for any meal of the day. They also travel well.
- Slow cooking - especially in winter this is a great tool to learn how to use. Once you have a few ideas, you can prep meals fast and on a busy day come home to dinner already made. There are loads of resources out there for slow cooker (and/or pressure cooker meals) but I will write about my own ideas soon also.
- Whenever you make something like a stew, soup, curry, bolognese etc. make more than you need and freeze portions for fast meals on busy days.
Finding an hour to do some of this early in the week will save you lots of time later and once you get in the habit you will find other time-saving and convenience tricks that work for you to be able to still eat well when time is short rather than searching for that take-out menu.