Of the many resolutions we can make this year to improve our health, spending more time in the kitchen is one of my top recommendations. As numerous studies have shown, increased home cooking correlates directly with healthier dietary patterns. Thanks to the food industry’s sugary, salt-laden, factory-farmed foods, home-cooked meals are almost always healthier than prepared and restaurant meals.
With our busy lives, reducing take-out and prepared meals can be daunting. Start by taking a few minutes to think about how you can carve out a bit of extra time daily or weekly to pack a healthy lunch or make a homemade dinner. Free yourself from gourmet expectations or restaurant-style presentation and instead focus on quality ingredients and enjoying your time in the kitchen. Without completely changing your lifestyle, you can gradually shift your eating habits by adding one or two additional home-cooked meals each week, starting with whichever meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) seems easiest or most interesting to prepare yourself.
A meal plan “formula” is an easy way to get started. Make a list of 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3 dinners (and 3 snack options) which you already make for yourself or can learn to make. Many of us are happy to rely on a few tried-and-true favorites for breakfast or lunch but want more diversity at dinner. Others may be satisfied with a simple, repetitive meal in the evening but enjoy a restaurant lunch with colleagues or friends. To get you started, I have outlined a simple meal plan formula with recipes and suggestions to start your year off right.
As a pre-digested and nutrient-rich meal, breakfast smoothies take only seconds to prepare. Use your favorite protein powder and blend with a handful of frozen fruit, coconut oil or MCT oil, non-dairy milk and add-ins such as chia seeds, almond butter or avocado. If smoothies aren’t your thing, try making a batch of chia seed pudding, which can be portioned out in small containers for a grab-and-go breakfast. Eggs of course, make a great breakfast — remember to eat the whole egg and layer with leftover cooked veggies or slices of avocado and/or top with a spoon of sauerkraut for a dose of probiotics.
Hearty salads packed with proteins such as chicken, salmon, tuna, steak, hard-boiled eggs, feta or goat cheese are satisfying and energizing as a midday meal. Start with pre-washed greens to reduce prep time and find salad-making inspiration online until you find your own favorite formulas. Pantry staples such as eggs and canned seafood can be turned into a meal quickly to eat at home or to take to work with you. Try one of these three lunch recipes which can easily be prepared in 5 - 10 minutes.
Expectations often run high for taste and satisfaction after a long day at work, and yet we are often tired and uninspired in the evening hours. Have a light snack — an apple, a handful of nuts, a smoothie — before you leave work so that you are not famished and tempted to dial Domino’s as soon as you arrive home. Set yourself up for success by planning and shopping for a few weeknight meals in advance. If possible, try to get home a little earlier on the nights that you’re cooking at home and/or prep ingredients for the evening meal before you leave for work in the morning. Services such as Blue Apron or Plated offer home delivery of meal boxes including all the ingredients you need to prepare their recipes, which may be a helpful transition step for those unaccustomed to shopping for and cooking meals at home. Try a slow-cooker: many have found that slow cookers are the secret weapon for busy weeknights. Prep veggies and sear meat the night before and then put all ingredients in the slow cooker to braise while you’re at work. There are endless resources online to find tasty, slow-cooker recipes, including one from Delish and a compilation from Greatist. Keep it simple — don’t expect your meals to match Julia Child’s just yet. When you work with quality ingredients such as a filet of Alaskan wild salmon, pastured chicken breast or a grass-fed steak, it is hard to go wrong. Add a bit of grass-fed butter and sea salt on top of steamed vegetable or sauté a vegetable with olive oil and garlic and you’re done. Bon Appetit!