You had to stay late the office. It’s happened AGAIN. Now, dinner is looming ahead – with no one but you to make it. You can still have a tasty and healthy dinner, even if you’re running late or in a rush. Instead of takeout again, eat something good and good for you!
Making meals at home is healthier for the waistline (not to mention easier on the wallet). But cooking at home can be a chore if you’re not prepared. It’s also tempting to reach for high-calorie processed foods, or fill up on unhealthy snacks.
How do you take the pressure off and make it easier on yourself? Here are some tips:
Note: If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)!
1) For easier prep, make ahead!
Set aside time on a free day to do some of your food prepping all at the same time. If you’re using chopped up veggies in more than one dinner this week, do all the cutting once and store those you need for later. This will cut your prep time considerably, as dealing with produce can be time-consuming. If you’re making a pasta dish, you can cook your pasta ahead and store in a Ziploc bag or container to heat and use whenever you need it.
2) Prep and freeze!
On nights you have extra time, make double batches of your recipes and freeze one. You can pop out the frozen meal when needed, cutting minutes of precious time on food preparation. Cook once, eat twice.
Make sure to choose meals that freeze well. Some items do better than others. Chicken pot pie or stuffed peppers are two examples of meals that freeze well.
When freezing your dishes, consider portioning them out using freezer boxes or smaller bags so you can reheat one serving at a time. Foods tend to stick together after freezing, which makes dividing up your portions difficult. If you can just grab a bag or box and reheat it, you’ll save time and effort.
3) Keep it simple!
Not every dinner has to be a gourmet feast! Try to find recipes with five ingredients or less. Pair a protein with a bed of lettuce or steamed or raw veggies. Or mix up some pasta with broccoli and your favorite protein. Fewer ingredients means less prep time (and less mess to clean up).
4) Fast-cooking proteins are your friend!
The faster your food cooks, the faster you can eat! Shrimp and fish cook faster than beef or chicken, for example. Try using a protein that cooks quickly when you’re pressed for time. Thin cuts of meat cook quicker when you’re in a time crunch.
5) Use a “garbage” bowl!
Ever watched Rachel Ray? She uses what she calls a garbage bowl to collect scraps and trash while prepping meals. When she’s done preparing it all goes into the trash together. This saves you trips to the trash can, which can shave off a few extra minutes of cooking time.
6) Make it family time!
Cooking can be a fun family activity! If you give everyone a job, it will reduce the prep (and clean up) time considerably. Not only does it make preparation faster, but it also fosters cooperation and a sense of responsibility – and you get to spend some extra time together. Make sure to give children kid-friendly tasks like measuring ingredients that don’t require sharp knives or tools.
7) Try steaming!
A microwave steaming bag can help cut cook time for potatoes and other vegetables. Stem first if you’re using those in a recipe like a soup or stew. Many ingredients like eggs and potatoes taste great cooked in a microwave as well, so get creative!
8) Try breakfast for dinner!
Egg dishes like omelets are fast and easy to cook. You can also throw in leftover veggies, meat or cheese to accomplish two tasks at once—you get dinner AND avoid wasting leftover food. You can also try making double your recipe and putting one in the fridge for a time-saving breakfast that’s ready to heat and eat! These protein-packed breakfast meals can make a great, fast dinner for a change of pace.
9) Use convenience foods strategically!
Pre-prepared dishes aren’t always the healthiest options, but there are many healthy dishes that are easy to cook by design. For example, you can buy instant rice that cooks in just a few minutes in a microwave-ready pouch. Leverage this type of item to cut prep time when needed. Be strategic with your choices, as it’s generally healthier (and cheaper) to make dishes from scratch.
10) Have a weekly sandwich night!
Lay out bread, meat, toppings, and condiments and let everyone make their own sandwiches. Serve with assorted chips and fruit. It’s fast and easy, and cleanup is a cinch.
Looking for recipes? Here are some ideas for meals with just a few ingredients that are fast and easy to make in this piece from The Greatist: 52 Healthy Meals in 12 Minutes or Less
Incorporate even a few of these tips, and your wallet—and your waistline—will thank you. Build on the health gains and weight loss from walking with healthier eating. Happy dining!
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.