Plan ahead to get everyone fed.
If you find cooking to be time-consuming and messy, you may be one of the many people who stray away from the clatter of greasy pots and pans. This leads us to the inevitable, take-out or drive-through, which is a major disadvantage for the long-term health of your family. Cooking from home guarantees control over what is going in the food and can also be a fun activity that brings the family together. Start by getting organized at the beginning of the week by dedicating just a couple hours.
Without preparation, you may find yourself cooking on the spot, which can take up to three hours per day. This includes deciding what to eat, buying ingredients, as well as cooking and packing everyone’s breakfasts, lunches and dinners. With the time you’ll save, you could be playing with your kids, exercising or taking a walk to decompress. Tackling the big question of what to eat in advance will ease your decision fatigue during the weekdays as well. Get started on a free weekend and save time and energy during the weekdays by getting the tiring tasks of cleaning and cooking out of the way.
Why Plan Ahead?
- Stay consistent with your health goals by designating a few hours in the beginning of the week to get organized. This will keep any other priorities from getting in your way during the hustle of your daily routine.
- Save time from on-the-spot meal planning during the week. For those who have a specific health goal, planning 80% of the meals for the week ahead of time is ideal to avoid temptations.
- Take the mental burden of what to eat off your mind. Once you get home, you’ll already have a plan, the ingredients chopped, and half the recipe already cooked.
- Diversify your go-to meals by learning new recipes and providing your family with a variety of nutrients for healthy, growing children.
The first step in simplifying on-the-spot meal preparation is dedicating a couple hours of your Saturday. During this time block that you have set aside, you can choose what to cook, go shopping and get the big chores out of the way. Now, you will be able to heat up delicious food in the upcoming week or have a grab and go breakfast ready for everyone, no excuse to skip!
If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of planning what you are going to make for the entire week, you are not alone. As a Registered Dietitian, one way I help clients is by setting goals and creating roadmaps during each coaching session, including a plan for weekly recipes. The best place to start is by asking yourself: “Which meals are the most challenging for me to fit into my day?” Most people find that cooking dinner after a long day is difficult to achieve. They may be flipping through a cookbook on a Tuesday night with only limited ingredients in the refrigerator. Cookbooks are great inspiration for making new recipes but last minute meals are likely to spark frustration and hunger, which eventually overpower the initial urge to cook something healthy. Planning just a few days in advance will increase your chances of success and curb your irritation.
The best day to devote time in your kitchen for the week ahead is during a lengthened block of hours. If you have the weekends off, this could be on a Saturday morning before taking the kids to soccer practice. First, choose a couple of new dinner recipes. It’s best to choose recipes with ingredients that you can prepare in a variety of ways over several days. One example is a big pot of curried shrimp. You could have it over rice for dinner one night and the next day stuff it in tacos with some lettuce and cilantro for lunch. If a large batch is cooked, put some in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer to enjoy a few weeks later.
After deciding on a couple recipes, the next step is to buy the ingredients and start chopping. Mastering multitasking will come with practice. Start with the oven. Begin an egg muffin recipe by boiling a pot of quinoa that can be used as a side as well. In the meantime, start chopping the onions for the shrimp. Once the quinoa is finished, mix together the ingredients for the egg muffins and pop them in for thirty minutes. While they bake, combine all the ingredients for the curried shrimp in a pot and bring to a simmer. While this cooks down, have a pot of rice boiling on the other burner. In the meantime, start rolling up the turkey meatballs and keep an eye on them while they sauté. By the time everything is cooked and cooling, you’ll be pleased to see that it took almost an hour to prepare breakfast for everyone for a whole week, as well as a couple dinners, lunches and even sides.
The only decisions left to make during the weekdays will be what vegetables to have on the side. Will it be zucchini noodles in pesto with turkey meatballs? Roasted broccoli, rice and curried shrimp? This is now a little less overwhelming and a lot more fun.
Tallene Hacatoryan MS, RD, CLT is a Registered Dietitian and Certified LEAP Therapist in Newport Beach, California, providing nutrition counseling and food sensitivity testing for weight management, diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases including PCOS, Celiac, lupus, and Crohn’s.