We’ve all been there. You get home after a LONG day at the office and the last thing you want to do or think about is cooking dinner. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to stop and grab take-out on your way home? Or make one of those highly processed meals from a box in your pantry or freezer (which you still have because you haven’t gotten rid of them since you started eating healthier)? You need some healthy cooking shortcuts that are quick and easy.
I know this struggle all too well. I used to face this dilemma constantly when I worked in a corporate office. Heck I even still do from time to time now that I’m working from home. Sometimes I’ll log off the computer pretty late and don’t feel like cooking a gourmet meal (who am I kidding, I almost NEVER feel like cooking a gourmet meal!).
When I was first diagnosed with multiple food sensitivities, I was a little overwhelmed at the prospect of cooking all my meals from scratch going forward, so I came up with several healthy cooking shortcuts that saved me lots of prep and cooking time. These tips are great for those busy nights, or nights when you simply don’t feel like cooking.
1. Grab a rotisserie chicken from your grocery store deli.
When I’m in a pinch for something for my main course, a rotisserie chicken bails me out every time. It’s super easy to reheat, then you can throw some veggies or a salad together for a complete meal. I buy one almost every week, and if I don’t end up preparing it throughout the week, I’ll chop it up and make chicken salad out of it, or freeze it for later.
2. Buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables.
Yes, they are a bit more expensive than buying whole fruits and vegetables and chopping them yourself. But for those times when you don’t feel like slicing and dicing, this is a fantastic option and a huge time (and sanity) saver.
3. Buy frozen or canned vegetables.
I know what you’re thinking… a health coach is recommending to eat canned vegetables?! What is wrong with her? Now hear me out. I’m NOT saying to make this a regular habit. Every once in awhile is OK, and besides that, last I checked, canned vegetables are much healthier than McDonald’s french fries any day of the week. 🙂
4. Dump a bunch of food in your crock-pot or Instant Pot.
I do this a couple times a week or more. My crock-pot used to be my favorite appliance, until I was introduced to the Instant Pot pressure cooker (here’s my favorite one; I love it so much that I have two of them!). It’s so easy to throw all your ingredients in the pot and turn it on. I recommend using a crock-pot if you plan to throw the food in there in the morning before leaving for work. Otherwise I like to use my Instant Pot in the evening as it cooks very fast, and clean up is a breeze! Plus, if you bought pre-chopped veggies, it truly is dump and go.
5. Used dried herbs and spices in place of fresh.
When you don’t feel like mincing garlic, or chopping fresh basil or cilantro, it’s perfectly acceptable to use the dried equivalent. As a general rule of thumb, you would replace 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs with 1 teaspoon of dried. Also the cooking method varies slightly — you’ll want to add dried herbs as you’re cooking to draw out the flavors, whereas fresh herbs are best added at the end. I’ve even replaced chopped onions with dried minced onion or onion powder when I’m too lazy to chop an onion and don’t notice much, if any, of a flavor difference.
6. Pre-prep your meals for the week ahead of time.
Meal prep or prepping ahead are all the rage right now. Basically you prep all your meals and cook once for the upcoming week. Or you prep and put them in your freezer, then simply thaw and cook. This requires planning ahead and some work, but you’re doing all the prepping at the same time so you’re saving a little time by streamlining. And you can cut your prep time significantly if you use those pre-chopped veggies.
7. Buy meals already fully prepped.
For me, prepping food is the worst part of cooking (aside from clean up!). If all the ingredients are already gathered and pre-chopped and measured, then I don’t mind cooking at all. There are many services that will do this for you. If you’re local to the Iowa City, Iowa area, you can order Chef To-Go Meals and pick them up. Otherwise you can use online services such as Blue Apron or Green Chef and have them delivered. This is your most expensive option, and you have to plan for it up front, but it’s still cheaper (and much healthier) than going out to a restaurant.
There you have it! Seven healthy cooking shortcuts to save you time in the kitchen when you’re too stressed or tired to cook. Have you tried any of these? What else would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!