If you find yourself relying on restaurant takeout or processed convenience foods more than you like, we feel you. Making time to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals can seem like a chore, especially if it’s not yet part of your daily or weekly routine, but it’s really a key component of achieving good nutrition and long-term success. Here are 10 easy, healthy cooking hacks to make your time in the kitchen just a little bit easier:
1. Make breakfast in 90 seconds. Breakfast doesn’t need to be a large production; keep it simple for mornings when you have to be out of the house fast. Homemade breakfast burritos are a fast, simple way to grab a meal in the morning using only a microwave. Place one 6-inch tortilla in a cereal bowl and crack an egg onto the tortilla. Add toppings like green chilies, a sprinkle of cheese, onions and leftover roasted veggies from the night before. Microwave for 90 seconds or until the egg is cooked. Top with salsa and voilà: breakfast in 90 seconds.
2. Have 3–5 healthy, go-to dinner recipes. If the thought of full-on meal planning is a bit too much to bite off, start by collecting a few simple, healthy dinner recipes. These are dinners that can be made with less than 10 ingredients in under 30 minutes. Make them and memorize them if they’re worthy. Working with recipes that you know by heart makes cooking way less of a hassle.
3. Take it one dish at a time. Learning how to cook takes a bit of practice, so start simple and take it slow. Begin by selecting one new recipe, preferably one that’s done in 30 minutes or less. If you like it enough, perfect it next time by adjusting the seasoning to your taste buds. Do this a few times a month, and before you know it you’ll have a rotation of familiar favorites to choose from. You can even add your top recipes to the MyFitnessPal food database for quick and easy logging!
4. Plan for leftovers. If you are preparing a large meal, double the batch. Prepare 1 to serve and the other to put in the freezer or fridge. This way, you have double the food but half the mess! You can also prepare extra chicken or steak to cut up and add to a salad to make for a filling lunch the next day.
5. Learn some simple ingredient substitutions. Oftentimes, adapting a decadent dish into something a little more nutritious can be as simple as swapping out 1 or 2 ingredients. For example, dollop some 2% Greek yogurt on top of your spuds in place of sour cream for a protein-packed potato. I’ve found Pinterest to be a great resource for healthy ingredient-substitution ideas.
6. Prep a big soup. Soups are a simple way to eat more produce and fiber-rich beans. Opt for homemade, broth-based soups instead of creamy ones. Make a big batch, and freeze some of it for another week. Pour single servings into to-go containers to make it easy to grab and go for work lunches. Sip on soup for lunch to fill your body up with good stuff.
7. Blend your veggies. Add a smoothie or fresh juice to get a few servings of fruits and veggies in your diet. Smoothies make a great breakfast or snack. Make them yourself so that you’re in control of the ingredients. If you’re making it a meal or want a snack that lasts, blend fruits and veg with proteins like Greek yogurt, kefir or milk and healthy fats like cashews, nut butters, avocado or coconut oil.
8. Make mason jar salads. Not only do these look awesome, but they also make salads fun and functional. No more oddly shaped plastic containers that don’t fit right in a lunch box and never seem to get dry in the top rack of the dishwasher. To learn the best way to assemble, check out 5 Easy Steps to Making Mason Jar Salads. Once you start, you’ll be taking salads to work on the regular.
9. Batch-roast your veggies. Before your week begins, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and roast off your favorite veggies, like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, butternut squash, kale and sweet potatoes. This small step will help ensure healthy eating during the week. Toss roasted veg on a salad, in an omelet or a breakfast scramble, or serve on the side of grilled chicken or in a wrap. To roast vegetables, preheat oven to 425°, line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, arrange veg on sheet (not overcrowding the pan), and mist veg with olive or coconut oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 25–45 minutes, depending on toughness of the veggies, until they begin to turn brown and crisp.
10. Stock your pantry. Healthy pantry staples make it easy to whip up a homemade dinner in no time flat. Convenient, budget-friendly pantry items include low-sodium canned beans, canned tuna, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce, nut butters, mixed nuts, unsweetened dried fruits, and whole grains like oats, brown rice and whole-grain pasta. Having a stash of these staples will save time and money and allow you to pull together flavorful dishes when you have food in the fridge that needs to be eaten up.