As we’ve gotten comfortable with the conveniences of modern life, we tend to spend less and less time on our meals, both in their consumption and preparation. There are many benefits to modern food science and our newfound abilities to derive nutrition where we couldn’t before. Like with any new technology, there are good and bad ways to use it. A great example is companies that pre-package measured ingredients and provide you simple-to-follow cooking instructions. It’s convenient, healthy, and can bring a family together in ways frozen dinners cannot.
Placing more intention on your meal preparation actually tends to trend with the healthiness of a household.1 It makes sense, too. Chopping vegetables at home instead of buying something premade delivers an ingredient closer to the source. When produce is pre-chopped many weeks in advance, it exposes the interior of the fruit or vegetable to the air and it tends to oxidize and lose nutrient value. That’s not to say frozen produce can’t have a place in your kitchen, rather if most of the ‘processing” is done at the house instead of at a factory, there’s a much better chance that what your family is eating is as close to the source as possible.
While you have this excess time on your hands, why not pull out all those bits of excess Tupperware and put them to good use?
Here are a few easy ways you can practice meal prepping to save you time and eat with more intention through your week.
Cook for +1
Whether you’re cooking for a family or just yourself, the additional time it takes to make larger portions is marginal if you’ve already got all of your cookware out. If you’re already in a groove chopping veggies, thawing meat, or preheating the oven for a casserole, why not take advantage of that time? What would it look like to cook just four nights a week, instead of seven? By cutting down on your setup time by taking advantage of the food phase of dinner or lunch making, you could potentially reduce the total amount of time spent in the kitchen while still honoring the food-making process.
Instead of cleaning out the pan right away, could you use the drippings from what was in there to saute some vegetables you could put away for later?
While your dinner is in the oven, maybe you could use your cutting board that’s already out to slice some root vegetables and pop them in to roast while you enjoy dinner.
Could you make stock one night that could be applied to meat balls on Tuesday and soup on Wednesday?
Adapt Old Recipes with Products that are on Sale
When you shop, shop the sales first and make recipes with it later. If you find yourself with a large slab of meat or a bumper stock of vegetables, pick a recipe you’re familiar with and just make a double portion and stash the rest away in the fridge. A few ideas for highly adaptable recipes are:
Stir-fries. With a backbone of gently sauteed vegetables, small pieces of meat or tofu, rice or riced cauliflower, you can do a ton of stuff with stir-fries.
Stew. One of the most forgiving slow cooker recipes. Stew is a great mix ‘n match dish that can accommodate a wide array of seasonal, good priced produce.
Noodle dishes. In the Philippines, they have a noodle dish called pancit that is highly adaptable to whatever produce you have on hand. So long as you have a basic pantry with healthy cooking oils, some rice noodles, a few select spices, and a bit of soy sauce (or liquid salt of choice), you can craft a huge number of dishes using one backbone.
Find a New Staple
As much as we love a good taco Tuesday, maybe it’s time to add a staple recipe or two to your repertoire. If Mexican food is your jam, why not swap out tacos for pozole this week? Maybe you’re in a regular pattern of mac & cheese, burgers, and pizza. One night this week, why not swap that out for a meal of kielbasa sausage with roasted new potatoes and blanched green beans? It’s not too far off from your usual fare, doesn’t require a significant amount of extra time to prepare, and can add to a better overall nutritional foundation than the same old standbys. It’s entirely possible that by eating the exact same staples over time can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. (Just look at the rates of anemia in the modern world).
Emphasize Human-Friendly Fat
One of the biggest factors in our out of control rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes is following a high insulin producing diet. High or low carb isn’t necessarily the answer. Hormonal balance tells a much clearer story. The foods in our diet that tend to produce out of control insulin levels are modern grains and added sugars. Many of the food trends that seek to bring our hormones back in balance have been criticized for being too expensive, with an emphasis on organic produce and pasture-raised meats. The truth of the matter is that, calorie for calorie, they’re far less expensive than fast food (to say nothing of the potential savings on future insulin shots!).
Consider the following comparison: A large fry, the best value size of course, at McDonalds costs $1.89. This will buy you about 0.33 pounds worth of fried potato spears, or 510 calories worth of energy. That equates to a cost of $5.73/pound, or about $0.03 per 10 calories. At Trader Joe’s, you can buy a pound of 100% grass-fed beef for $5.99, which contains 960 calories. That comes out to $0.01 per 10 calories.
By emphasizing the fats in your meals, you can: help your body reduce its dependence on refined carbohydrates, decrease overall insulin stimulation, help your body process fat-soluble vitamins, and potentially ramp up the flavor in some of your meals. Just don’t increase your fat intake at the same time you increase carb consumption. The idea is to displace nutrient void carbs (cheap pastas, breads, crackers, etc.) with nutrient dense options that often come in the form of higher fat foods. There’s nothing unhealthy at all about eating a significant amount of the fats that humans have been consuming for thousands of years; it’s when cheap saturated fats from industrial seed oils are combined with processed carbs and sugars where you run into issues.
Increase your fat intake by:
Making homemade dressings that are olive oil based and don’t worry about limiting how much you use. If the ingredients are free of industrial seed oils, there’s no problem with emphasizing dressing.
Use avocado oil-based mayonnaise or make your own using pasture-raised eggs.
Replace that slice of toast with an extra egg in your omelette, and don’t leave out the yolk!
Swap out one packaged snack per day with pre-cut slices of your produce of choice and a tablespoon of almond butter.
When greasing your pan for your next saute session, one or two extra glugs of oil could be a great option.
Replace those croutons with roasted hazelnuts or pecans.
Use zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash instead of pastas made from refined grains. You can have your “pasta” and eat that tasty sauce, too!
Toast is often simply the vehicle for whatever we smear on time. Come up with creative ways to replace that nutrient void slice of bread with something else. Instead of eggs on toast, why not avocado slices or salsa on eggs? Instead of jam on toast, why not a berry-based smoothie with whole milk or coconut milk as a base?
Buy ground beef with a higher fat percentage. This is only a good idea if the label says “100% grass fed.” Otherwise, grain-fed cattle have far more toxic substances in their systems that accumulate in the fat stores.
Time Spent on Home Food Preparation and Indicators of Healthy Eating, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379714004000
Marcus Farris is the Veteran Wellness Coordinator at Mission 22. He’s a Certified Health Coach and Level 1 Crossfit Trainer.