Contributor: Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDCES, BC-ADM
In partnership with
If you’ve been preparing more meals at home over the last few months due to COVID-19 and to minimize your exposure, chances are you may be playing the healthy meal idea boredom blues. From a nutrition and health vantage point, the good news is that eating more meals at home is known to be a tried and true tactic to healthier eating – regardless of the pandemic. Everyone who deals with diabetes knows that restaurant menus can be a challenge to navigate. That’s in part because restaurant foods can be higher in fat and sodium and light on fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, and whole grains. And last but not least, restaurant meals assessing the grams of carbohydrate head-scratchers. But on the converse, there’s those downsides of home meal preparation – the endless cycle of planning, shopping, cooking, and, oh yes, the cleanup. If you are exhausted by this cycle during this seemingly endless COVID pandemic and are slowing giving in to dialing your nearby restaurants for food delivery, resist! Here are a host of ideas to get meals on the table a tad quicker and easier, along with a side of ideas for ways to assemble quick yet healthy meals.
Ideas for Quicker Meal Prep:
- Carve out time to plan out meals for the week or so: One of your goals during the pandemic is likely to make fewer trips to the supermarket. With that goal in mind, it’s now more important to plan out your meals in advance for the number of days that work for you and those you live with.
- Stock up and maintain your stock of meal preparation essentials: Many quick-to-fix recipes and simple meal ideas call for a litany of similar items, such as broth, onions, celery, carrots, various nuts, mustards, kinds of vinegar, oils, rice, canned or dried legumes (beans), frozen shrimp and chicken, cans of tuna and salmon; dried herbs like oregano, parsley and basil; and spices like cinnamon, cumin, allspice, curry. Make and keep a list (aka inventory) of your meal preparation essentials.
- Take stock of your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before you shop: Check your supply of meal preparation essentials before you head to the market, so you know just what you need to restock. When you use up one of these items, put it on your marketing list to maintain your inventory.
- Assemble your (and your family’s) cadre of 5 to 10 quick-to-fix everyone enjoys go-to meals: Always maintain your stock of meal preparation essentials for at least 3 to 5 of these family favorites. (Make sure to rotate them to avoid boredom!) These meals should possess these features:
- Contain no more than 5 to 8 ingredients
- Include ingredients that you generally keep on hand (those meal preparation essentials)
- Is quick-to-fix and requires a minimum of steps, kitchen equipment, and time.
- Can create a leftover meal (or two) to stash in the freezer
- Follows healthy eating guidelines (whatever those may be for you and your family)
Ideas for Quick and Healthy Meals and Meal Assembly:
- Cook once, eat twice (or more): Who doesn’t appreciate having a few meals at the ready in the freezer to defrost? As long as you’re spending time to shop for and cook a meal, make plenty. (That’s my philosophy!) Think soups, casseroles, pasta sauce, meatloaf, and many other dishes that freeze well. Also, make extra servings of items like dried peas and beans, brown rice, and fresh vegetables. Stash extra servings in single servings (or amounts you’ll need) in the freezer.
- Prepare salad “accessories” once or twice a week to easily eat more salads: Preparing salads can seem onerous. Here’s my secret solution. Once or twice a week, I chop carrots, red or white cabbage, celery, red onions, cucumber, peppers, and mushrooms and put them into a plastic container. (Yes, they stay fresh about five days.) Then, when I make salads (nearly every weekday for lunch), I simply take out the greens and my salad accessories, along with a few other toppings. Making salads has becomes quick and easy.
- Saute a bunch of onions, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes to use in various healthy meals: If you’ve got a bunch of these vegetables sautéed, prepping one of several quick-to-fix meals is much easier. Use them to top pizza or stuff fajitas, quesadillas, or omelets. (Related tip: keep a frozen pizza crust or ready to cook pizza and tortillas in stock.)
- Take advantage of prewashed, precut, ready-to-eat (or assembled) foods and ingredients in the supermarket: The produce area in your supermarket likely offers various prewashed, ready-to-serve greens, take-right-out-of-the bag and eat baby carrots, celery sticks, cut fruit, and more. And just about every market sells rotisserie chickens, frozen entrees, and side dishes, including frozen vegetables. Use these items, albeit a bit pricier than the non-prepared items, to save you time. While often more expensive, these items can save time and, for some of us, time is money.
- Buy and use kitchen equipment that saves time: Several pieces of kitchen equipment can help speed food preparation, including a slow cooker, instant pot, immersion blender, and pressure cooker. Before making a big purchase, think hard about how you’ll use the new addition to your kitchen and where you’ll store it.
- Source endless supplies of healthy meal ideas: Thanks to the internet and a big interest in home cooking (recently inspired by the pandemic), free access to recipes for quick and healthy meals is bottomless. When boredom with your current repertoire sets in, source new recipes to add to your collection so you won’t sign the meal boredom blues.
Hope Warshaw, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist with nearly 40 years of expertise in diabetes care and management. She owns a consultancy in Asheville, NC, Hope Warshaw Associates, LLC. She has written and spoken about the topic of healthy restaurant eating for more than 25 years and gets plenty of practice. She’s the author of several books published by the American Diabetes Association including Eat Out, Eat Well: A Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant. Hope has been a tireless and passionate volunteer and leader in several professional organizations, including AADE, ADA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She served as president of ADCES in 2016. She is an advocate for the value of peer support and peer support communities such as DiabetesSisters and is thrilled to see these communities flourish.