Busy parents often ask me how they can find the time to prepare healthy meals at home for themselves and their families. I will be honest – with a full time job and preschool-aged twins, it’s not always an easy thing to do, and we definitely rely on convenience foods every now and again. Nevertheless, we make it work, and I’m here to share a few tips about how you can too!
- Make a plan for the week. This is key! Once a week, usually on a Sunday, I put aside some time to plan out our meals, find the recipes that I need, and to prepare a few things. Without a plan for the week ahead, I find myself driving home from work, wondering if I need to stop at the grocery store or if I can magically throw something together that just so happens to be healthy or taste good when I get home. When I’ve got a plan, though, I am confident that I have the ingredients I need and look forward to dinner with the family. I know that you probably don’t want to spend your weekend in the kitchen, but hear me out – a couple of hours of planning and food prep all in one go will let you make some of your weeknight meals in less than 10 minutes. To me, that’s time well spent!
- Chop whatever you can! You can chop up celery, carrots, bell peppers, and cucumber slices at the beginning of the week, and store them in Ziploc bags. That way, they’re sitting in the fridge ready to be thrown into your lunch bag with a small container of hummus, or whatever it is you want to eat them with. If you’re concerned about them losing freshness, you can keep them crisp by storing them in a container of water. Onions, peppers, kale, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower all last for a good few days in the fridge – even when chopped in advance. If you don’t love the idea of standing with a knife in one hand and cutting board under the other to get all of your meals ready for the week, pull out your food processor and let it do the work. Some veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower, can just be thrown into your processor in batches.
I’m currently on an omelet kick – I can have them for any meal of the day. Also, my omelets typically contain LOTS of veggies! One way that I speed things up is by prepping a container of “omelet mix” – that’s bell peppers, mushrooms, diced zucchini, tomatoes, chopped spinach, kale, parsley, and dried Italian seasoning, all in one super-convenient container. Whenever I feel like an omelet, I scoop some out and cut my previous cooking time in half!
- Cook some key meal components ahead of time. You can roast a large pan of vegetables (lightly toss any of your favourite chopped veggies in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and bake them at around 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes) for use as a side dish for any dinner, or to add to a salad lunch or pasta. You can throw a couple pieces of the protein of your choice (like salmon, tofu, eggs, shrimp, chicken, or beef) on the bbq or in the oven for a weeknight dinner or lunch option ek. You can also cook a big batch of your favourite grain. Quinoa, brown rice, barley, or couscous makes great additions to salads or perfect sides for stir-fry.
- Prep and portion out meals and snacks. You can assemble bigger batches of things like soups and stews on Sunday, then portion them out into portable containers and store them in your fridge or freezer. Then all you need to do is grab one when you’re on your way to work and you’re all set for lunch. Do you like snacking on yogurt, or some nuts and dried fruit? You can also portion your favourite snacks out into baggies or tupperware and it will save you time (and money) during the busy week ahead.
- Prepare and freeze your herbs. Did you know that you can make a big batch of pesto during a Sunday cooking session, and then freeze individual portions in ice cube trays? You can also chop and freeze just about any herb in the same way. Then, when you’re getting dinner ready during the week you can just pop a cube out and toss it into your pasta sauce or soup. You can even whisk a defrosted cube with olive oil and vinegar to make a fast, fresh salad dressing. Pesto cubes can be frozen for about 6 months while still keeping their flavor!
- Make your clean-up process easy. Line baking dishes or baking sheets with foil or parchment to keep them as clean as possible, and wash your pots and pans as you go. Don’t forget to put things back in the cupboards and wipe down counter tops. This will make for less mess for you to clean up during the week.
The options are endless when in comes to prepping food ahead of time, and there really is no right or wrong way to do it. Basically, it comes down to doing what works for you! I know that your weekend time is precious, and that it’s not easy to make meals from scratch – but I hope that these strategies and tips will encourage you to prepare a bit in advance so that your evenings can become healthier and less stressful!
Barb practices a holistic approach to health and wellness, which means that she looks at how all of the areas of her client’s lives – activity level, eating habits, stress, relationships, and work – are interconnected. She then helps them work towards the results they desire, such as such as achieving an optimal weight, reducing cravings, incorporating more healthy foods into family meals, and minimizing fatigue, in realistic and enjoyable steps! Barb doesn’t believe in magic pills or fad diets, and has seen firsthand how dramatic results can be achieved through simple nutritional and lifestyle improvements!