Preparing more meals at home is a great idea for individuals and families looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Numerous studies have found that people who eat fewer restaurant meals weigh less and have a better-quality diet, and new research presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting suggests that eating more homemade meals may also protect against type 2 diabetes.
Making the decision to cook more may be a major change to your routine, which means it’s one of those commitments that can be easy to keep for a few weeks but difficult to instill as a permanent habit. Here are some strategies that can help reduce the reliance on restaurants and fast food without completely upending your daily schedule.
- Write Out a Meal Plan
Before you head to the grocery store, plan out a week’s worth of dinner meals. You’ll likely stray from your schedule a bit, and may even end up ordering pizza one night instead of making turkey meatloaf from scratch, but if you’ve already laid out a weekly menu and shopped for ingredients, you’re much more likely to follow through.
- Befriend Your Freezer
Follow the “cook it once and eat it twice” philosophy, because stockpiling meals in your freezer will save you from ordering takeout when you’re crunched for time. Yes, it takes more time to chop extra vegetables when doubling a recipe, but the total prep time usually doesn’t increase by much because the cook time is about the same (and you only have to wash the dishes once). Plus, you can prepare freezer-friendly dishes on the weekends or whenever you have the most time, so you don’t have to feel rushed and stressed while cooking. You can even invite friends or family over, put on some good music, and make a day of padding everyone’s freezer with a supply of healthy suppers. It’s a great feeling after a long day to dump a container of frozen gumbo into a saucepan, walk away, and 30 minutes later have a made-from-scratch dinner that’s nutritious and filling. Soups, stews, chilis, turkey meatballs, pulled chicken taco filling, and spinach lasagna all freeze and reheat well.
- Follow a Method, Not a Recipe
Once you’ve mastered the basic technique for versatile dishes like stir-fries and pasta with vegetables, you can create endless variations using the ingredients you have on hand without having to reference a recipe. For instance, toss whole-grain pasta or another favorite grain with feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and artichokes for a Greek-inspired dish; sundried tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella for an Italian version; butternut squash and ricotta for a fall take; or bell peppers, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes for a summertime interpretation. Likewise, you can use different mix-ins to concoct new versions of the standard turkey burger, or diversify a basic frittata by varying the vegetables, cheeses, and seasonings you add to the eggs.
- Stick with Simple Sides
If you’re spending a lot of time preparing a delicious entrée, do yourself a favor and keep the accompaniments as straightforward as possible. Easy options include baked sweet or white potatoes, brown rice or other whole grains prepped in a rice cooker, sautéed baby spinach, a simple salad of bagged lettuce with sliced carrots or cucumber, and of course frozen vegetables such as broccoli and green beans. If you have a few more minutes to spare, you can roast just about any vegetable by cutting it into bite-size pieces, tossing with olive oil, and baking at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the veggies are soft and browned at the edges.
- Fire Up Your Slow Cooker
You can now find recipes for crock pot meals all over the web. Spend a few minutes prepping and measuring ingredients in the morning (or the night before) and you’ll be greeted with enticing aromas and a hot, ready-to-serve entrée the minute you walk in the door. Build up a collection of six to eight recipes that you enjoy and make one day of the week “slow cooker day” to give yourself a scheduled dinnertime reprieve.
- Get Inspiration from Blogs and Magazines
Having a large, well-organized recipe collection to pull from makes planning weekly menus less of a chore, and as you make favorite dishes repeatedly, you’ll become more efficient at preparing them. For a steady stream of ideas, try perusing healthy cooking magazines such as Cooking Light and Eating Well. Food blogs are another terrific resource, since many home-cooks-turned-authors prioritize convenience when developing dishes.
Sakimura, Johannah (2015, November 10) 6 Ways to Make Healthy, Home-Cooked Meals a Reality Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/johannah-sakimura-nutrition-sleuth/ways-to-make-healthy-home-cooked-meals-reality/