Tools to help you make the most of your valuable time and make nutritious meals for your family!
Do you ever just sit there amidst all of your free time and think, gosh I have so many hours with nothing to do? Me either.
Often times I find myself too busy to cook a meal for myself or to cook for two, let alone thinking about tomorrow or the day after. I ultimately end up ordering take out and feeling slightly disappointed in myself for turning to the convenience of fast-food or take-away.
I know that I'm not alone in the struggle of managing full-time work, family and home. According to the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines, more Americans now eat their meals prepared outside of the home either at a restaurant, some form of take-away, or store prepared meals re-heated at home.
There seems to be a never-ending struggle to balance our times, however I find that I am most successful in my eating and my sense of balance when I employ the following 5 tools.
1. Meal Plan.
I know, blah blah blah. Between the kids' soccer games and dance rehearsals and the juggling of parental schedules with work, meal planning may seem like a tough task master or one that takes up a lot of time.
I too used to make a huge deal of meal planning by digging out recipe books, combining the ingredients into one master list, planning out the specifics and then shopping for hours on end only to come home exhausted and finding myself ordering pizza that night for dinner.
I believe in the KISS principle when it comes to busy situations—Keep It Stupid Simple. I mean no fancy recipes, no fancy ingredients. We're talking about tried and true stupidly simple meals that are both nourishing and easy to make in mass quantity: tacos, lasagna or spaghetti, chicken with rice and veggies, pork chops, etc.
2. Cook Once, Eat Multiple Times.
Tagging on to the meal planning tool is the concept of re-using key ingredients multiple times during the week. Chicken, for instance, can be used in a soup, as a main protein in a standalone meal, or as the filling for tacos. You can use ground beef for a pasta dish, and then again in your taco dish.
I find that if I have these types of meals in rotation I will buy a family size of the protein and then prepare it all together, such as browning my beef or ground turkey and then putting it aside in a container in the fridge to take out and add to the recipes as I need it.
The same goes for veggies. I use a lot of onions in my cooking so I tend to chop them up and sauté them all at once, again keeping them in container in the fridge for use as I need them.
Get creative with your leftovers! On one day you have hamburgers, you can use the leftover patties for a ground beef filling in your spaghetti sauce later in the week.
Another great tip is that if you're making something such as lasagna or another type of casserole that is easily frozen then make 2 at a time, one to eat now and one to freeze and reheat another night. Knowing that you have a stash of meals ready to go in the freezer can be a lifesaver when things get unexpectedly hectic.
I even make a week's worth of breakfast smoothies on Sunday and then freeze them in individual ball jars to be taken out the night before to thaw in the refrigerator. You can put all smoothie ingredients in baggies, kept in the freezer then you just dump into the blender in the morning and there you have it—a nice cold refreshing and nutritious meal on the go!
3. Utilize Your Freezer.
Speaking of freezing additional portions of meals for use in future weeks, do not shy away from frozen fruits and veggies. Frozen fruits and veggies are not only as nutritious as fresh, in many cases they are even more so due to being flash frozen so close to being harvested.
This is a great way to stock up on nutritious vegetables to have on hand, as well as due to being kept in the freezer they are much less likely to go bad as long as you do not forget that they are in there.
I actually like to buy my kale and spinach frozen so then I can whip them into smoothies, add them to soups or casseroles, or even make a nice spinach artichoke dip out of them. Frozen fruit is a great addition to smoothies and can be thawed to be used in sauces and for desserts.
Now you can even buy diced onions, mirepoix, and multi colored peppers frozen so that you always have some recipe starter ready to go when needed. Adding frozen veggies to dishes such as taco meat, spaghetti sauces, etc., is also a great way to up the nutritional value without adding more time.
4. Use That Crock Pot Or Slow Cooker
I call mine my "wife" because it has dinner ready for me when I get home from work. You can prepare the ingredients for amazing and nutritious crock pot meals (think soups, stews, roasts, etc.) the night beforehand and keep the crock in the fridge until ready to heat up.
In the morning, remove the crock and place into the heating unit turning on low setting to slow cook while you are away. This technique also works for preparing nice warm breakfast oatmeal and porridge dishes. Simply put the ingredients in the crock pot and cook on low while you sleep.
I find that I can cook a nice soup or make a meat such as chicken breast, pork roast or beef roast that I can eat as one meal and shred leftovers for quick tacos or to top salads for another meal.
5. Do The Best You Can.
By this I mean to forgive yourself and just let it go. So things got carried away and pizza got ordered. The key to long term success is to forgive yourself and to realize that there is no such thing as perfection.
We can only do so much and a little effort really does go a long way. Start by making small changes, possibly incorporating one tool at a time at first. Slowly as you're able, start to incorporate more tools until you find what works for you.
Just like each person's dietary preferences are individual, so are the way you manage the kitchen and balance your time. Changes take some time with some trials and errors.
I hope that you find these 5 tools just as useful as I do. If you would like some additional support, please feel free to reach out to me at via email, message here at YourTango.com, or on my website at Shine Total Health and we can work on helping you out with making your kitchen work for you and your family.