We are all pressed for time. Whether you are a busy college student, a frazzled mother, or full-time employee, it may seem impossible to create balanced, healthy meals for yourself, your roommates, or your family every weeknight. However, with a few tricks and some time spent planning ahead, it is possible to have a wholesome meal at least three times a week!
The 5 Pillars of Quick and Healthy Meals
1) Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead!
– Decide what meals you want to prepare that week and make a list of what you will need from the store (this prevents multiple trips throughout the week).
– Plan for one big shopping trip for the weekend, and then another about halfway through the week (say, Wednesday) to restock on produce.
2) Chop Away!
– For meals that require fresh fruits and veggies, do the chopping ahead of time and store chopped onions, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli etc. in the refrigerator.
– Precook grains ahead of time: cook pasta, rice, barley, and other grains a few days before your meal. Reheat with a tablespoon or so of water in the microwave.
3) Measure it Out!
– Portion out ground meat and sauces in 1-2 cup portions right after grocery shopping so you do not have to thaw out more than you need.
– Freeze chopped onion, chopped peppers, etc. in separate ziplock containers.
4) Pre-heat, Pre-line, Pre-cook
– Heat sweet/white potatoes in microwave 5 min on high to soften before roasting to cut cooking time 20 min, wrap in plastic wrap before cooking.
– Use slow cookers liners and aluminum foil over baking sheets and pans to accelerate clean up time.
– Buy whole chickens when they are on sale: cook in a large pot of boiling water for about 30-40 minutes, or until the meat turns white. Shred the meat a fork (or your hands if its cool), discard the bones and skin, and freeze in 1-2 cup portions for quick quesadillas, chilies, salads, and more! (check out this link for a how-to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaHihR9M1e0)
Bonus: add freshly grated pepper, a few cloves of garlic, a roughly chopped onion, and some roughly chopped carrot to the pot. Reserve the water, cool completely in the refrigerator, and skim the fat from the top. Voila! Freshly made chicken broth that you can freeze for later use in soups and other dishes
Note: make sure when you make broth that you include the bones and the skins in the cooking process, that’s where all the flavor comes from!
5) Make the Freezer Your New BFF
– You can freeze almost anything, including veggie broth, lemon/lime juice, wine, egg whites, grated fresh ginger (1 Tbsp portions topped with water), minced garlic (1 Tbsp portions topped with water), homemade pasta sauce, green onions, tomato paste, premade casseroles, and chipotle chilies in adobo sauce.
– Freeze extra tomato paste and lemon juice in 1 tablespoon portions in ice cube trays for a few hours, pop them out, and store in ziplock freezer bags for later use.
– When freezing, be sure to use freezer ziplock bags or airtight freezer containers and press as much air out as possible.
– Most foods will last up to 6 months, but are at best quality before 3 months
– Keep a piece of notebook paper or a white board next to your freezer with a list of what you have and dates of when the foods where frozen to keep track of what you have
Now that you have your veggies pre-chopped, your meat proportioned or precooked, your potatoes pre-heated, and your freezer stocked, you can prepare most healthy meals in 30 minutes or less!