Getting meals on the table day-in and day-out isn't easy. We are busy. We are tired. We are overwhelmed by the thought of cooking every night. What I so often see in my new clients and in those who find cooking a burden is the treatment of food as second fiddle to all the priorities of their life. It's one of those obligatory things they slap together, mostly at the last minute and only because they have to. Sound familiar? But what are the true costs of this strategy?
Top of my list . . . It's really expensive to eat out or buy prepared foods every day. $15 lunches eaten out 5-days a week equates to $3900 spent each year.
Scarfing down food on the run or eating close to bedtime is stressful on your digestion, which can slow you down in more ways than one.
Relying on prepared/processed foods or take-out can contribute to health complications like weight gain, blood sugar issues / diabetes, hormonal imbalances, and, more likely than not, the sluggishness you feel waking up every morning.
Cooking for yourself gives you control over what you are eating, saves a ton of money, and makes you feel better almost immediately. Changing your habits around cooking is easier than you think, and the solution is held in two sweet little words: "Meal Planning." I know. It's like a 1950s home economics class. Get over it! By thinking ahead, shifting a few priorities, and setting aside a few hours, you can change your dietary game for good.
Here are my top 5 strategies for conquering meal planning . . .
Own 2-3 great one-pot meals that you love. The key to a great, nutritionally balanced one-pot meal is getting the macronutrients – proteins, fats and carbohydrates - balanced. The recipe should have a source of protein (legumes or meat), a carb in the form of a vegetable or whole grain, and a fat. Some good examples include:
Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup
Quinoa Pilaf with Chick Peas
Chicken and Kale Stew
Shrimp, Shitake & Napa Cabbage Stirfry
Leftovers are golden. When cooking from scratch each night isn't practical and eating out each night isn't on the table, leftovers are a lifesaver. But let's stop with the stigma many of you have. Leftovers can be classified as food that you have prepped as components of meals (a pot of rice, roasted chicken, baked sweet potato, steamed greens, etc.) or they can be one of your fave one-pots. Get used to this routine: when you cook never cook for one serving/one meal. A good rule of thumb is to cook a minimum two servings per person.
Designate a shopping day and a time slot. In other words, make the time to go to the grocery store OR make a grocery order from Fresh Direct, Instacart, Amazon, or your local delivery service just as you would schedule your gym time, massage, yoga class, or doctor appointments. For example, this could mean that Sunday mornings are your time to shop. Making shopping a priority ensures food is in the house, which is one step closer to making good food choices.
Set aside time to cook. This goes without saying, but you'll need to set aside the time to actually get cooking done. Don't be too advantageous. Start out slow - pick one or two recipes and get those in your fridge or even packed as servings for the week. I actually do this a lot after dinner when the baby is asleep, I’m not starving, and I can knock out things quickly. You'll feel the difference in your wallet and your energy immediately!
When short on time, get the prep out of the way. Let's say you've gone shopping or your order has been delivered, but you don't have a recipe or the time to fully prepare a whole meal. When early meal prep steps are done, your time in the kitchen is shorter. Here are a few ideas:
Take 30 minutes to wash, trim and chop up any hearty greens like kale or collards. They can be stored in a gallon ziplock ready to be used in small portions.
Wash and dry lettuce (Water is their death!) and store in an airtight container.
Chop up a few onions - they will keep for a week.
Slice a few apples, quarter an orange / grapefruit or bag-up individual portions of grapes for easy on-the-go snacks.
Make your own trail mix / mixed nuts for the office. Variety will keep you intrigued and help to prevent the candy bar grab.
Marinate some chicken, pork, flank steak or tofu so you can cook it as soon as you get in the door.
If eating out every meal is your M.O., then a huge change could just be eating breakfast at home or making your own salads for work. For others of you, just getting food in the house and some prep done will be huge. If you’re in this camp, choose easy foods to consume with minimal prep (i.e. hummus and veggies, cheese and apple, salads, canned tuna, a roasted chicken from the store, etc.) so you don't waste what you purchased when you can't cook.
It begins with baby steps. Trust me. I'm not making these recommendations without having the experience of working full time and juggling a busy life. Realism is important here. You can do this!!
Nancy Campbell combines her training in nutrition and integrative health, a Masters of Urban Planning and over a decade of professional culinary experience in her integrative nutrition practice. As a culinary nutritionist, she supports her clients to redefine how they eat and their relationship to food. She also guides them to build culinary skills, and fine-tune their pantries so they can feel amazing in their skin AND in the kitchen.
Nancy received her Masters of Science of Nutrition and Integrated Health at the Maryland University of Integrative Health and her Masters of City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute. She joined Brooklyn Acupuncture Project as the resident Culinary Nutritionist in 2016. You can read more about her work as a practitioner on our Nutritional Counseling page.