Do you ever struggle with that transition from work to making dinner? You’re running behind, you’re mentally exhausted and now you also have to figure out what to make for dinner! Right now, as more businesses are opening up and we start to go back to work, school and other activities, schedules are getting busier and there’s less time for cooking. We know healthy cooking is critical to healthy eating but how do we avoid getting overwhelmed by the stress?

In order to consistently make healthy meals (and enjoy the process!) cooking needs to be a simple, streamlined process requiring minimal mental and physical energy. Any friction in the process adds to extra stress and less likelihood of a nutritious meal.

Today, I’ll share three ways to save time and energy when cooking healthy meals.

First I’ll summarize Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, as these videos are all about making healthy cooking easier to do.

Part 1: Optimized Meal Planning with Vegetables

  • Prep (wash, trim and cut) veggies only once for multiple meals
  • Mix and match from the different containers of veggies for variety of nutrients, colours, and flavours to suit you mood
  • Use visual cues around the kitchen: we’re more likely to eat the food that’s most visible to us. Ie. Keep fresh herbs, vegetables and fruit on the counter or eye-level in the fridge; Keep snacks or processed foods in less visible areas.

Part 2: Optimized Meal Planning with Proteins and Starches

  • Make the healthy option the obvious option: Use visual cues for meats, fish and starches that you want to eat also. Ie. If we’re trying to eat more fish, keep it in the most accessible part of your freezer
  • Make future actions easier to do by freezing foods strategically
  • Make the process of cooking fun, satisfying and creative Share photos of meals, use try new seasoning, recipes, buy equipment that can make things more efficient and pleasant

Watch Part 1 and Part 2 videos for all the specific tips and tricks.

Three ways to make weekday cooking less stressful

  1. Make fresh sauces for a convenient boost of flavour and nutrition that you can enjoy all week
    1. There are a lot of options like salad dressing, pesto and salsa
    2. A “green sauce” like chimichurri sauce, is one of my favourite ways to add large amounts of fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro to my weekday meals; it goes with so many dishes ie. topping on meats/fish, potatoes, beans or stews/soups; or can be used as a marinade for meats and fish. Look out for recipes on our website!
  2. Determine 3-5 possible weekday meals to reference later
    1. While looking at the ingredients in your fridge and pantry, for example as you’re putting away groceries, come up with a few meal ideas that you can make with the ingredients you have and write them in a list so you can refer to it later
    2. When you’re mentally transitioning from work to mealtime, choose one of the meals on the list. This simplifies that first difficult question “What should I make for dinner?” and gets us started on the right foot.
    3. Modifications: you may assign meals to each day of the week or decide on a meal the night before so you can prep (ie. thaw frozen foods in the fridge overnight, soak beans overnight) and save even more time
  3. Prep kitchen staples: Are there certain fresh ingredients you tend to use regularly in your cooking? Are there ingredients you want to use (but don’t because it’s inconvenient)? If so, how can you prep them ahead of time to save you time and energy during the week?
    1. Some examples:
      1. Trim and peel onions and garlic and keep in an airtight container in the fridge
      2. Peel, slice and freeze ginger
      3. Freeze lemon juice in ice cube trays, 1 or 2 Tbsp, once frozen they can be popped out and kept in a freezer bag/container until needed
      4. Steam, cut and freeze sweet potatoes
      5. See videos Optimized Meal Planning Part 1 and 2 for more ideas

How to get started? Set aside 1 hour on the weekend to prepare for the week. When you’re relaxed and not rushed, this can be a pleasant activity: listen to a podcast or music, or work with family. This is a great time to teach kids about cooking also. Try one or two of the tips each weekend and see what works for you. During a busy week, I’m so grateful for any meal preparation I did on the weekend, even if it seemed small. Remember that healthy cooking and healthy eating is about practice, not perfection.

Meal planning not only helps reduce stress during the week, it also helps us choose healthier foods and allows fun and creativity back into cooking!

Dr. Carin