The Healthiest Meals are Home Cooked: Who has Time?

Web steak salad

Grilled steak and peach salad

It’s 6:00 pm, you are just walking in the door. The kids are hungry and you have no idea what to make for dinner so you call in a take out order or grab your keys and head out to the nearest restaurant. Sound like a familiar scene? We are all trying to eat healthy, but there always seems to be so many obstacles. Short on time, short on ideas and short on money. Planning, cooking and serving healthy meals can add a whole other level of stress to the day.

In general, the healthiest meals are those that we make at home. Preparing healthy meals doesn’t have to be difficult, stressful, time consuming or expensive. It just takes some planning and commitment. Healthy eating is different for everyone, but for most of us increasing the amount of whole, real foods we eat and decreasing the amount of processed food every day is a step in the right direction.

I try to prepare meals at home as much as possible. That way I make the decisions about what and how much we are eating, what is in the house for snacks and lunches and when we do go out, it is a real treat. I try to sit down at the beginning of the week and plan our meals for the week ahead. I have found that if I don’t do this, our meals become less healthy, less enjoyable and more expensive as the week goes on. I spend about 20 minutes every weekend picking recipes and then do a big grocery shopping. I always leave a little room for a change in plan.

Planning helps me prepare for obstacles and difficult weeks. If I know that Wednesday is going to be a crazy busy day and I won’t have time to cook, I make something on Tuesday that will help prepare dinner for Wednesday as well. For example, on Tuesday night I might prepare whole roast chicken and on Wednesday night warm up the leftovers in some salsa, chop up an avocado, heat some tortillas and serve really quick tacos. I might pull something out of the freezer or make a crockpot meal so that when I walk in the door, all I have to do is grab the plates.

This leads to my second strategy, which is to cook with more than one meal in mind. When I make salad, I often pull some aside before adding dressing and then top with leftover salmon or chicken for lunch the next day. When I make spinach or kale for dinner, I make enough to add to an omelet for breakfast. Extra rice and quinoa both freeze well and make delicious, fast hot cereal for breakfast when heated in almond milk and topped with fruit and nuts. If I am making pasta sauce, chili, soup or a stew, I make enough to have for lunch the next day and for another meal that I can store in the freezer.

If you don’t do it already, try taking a few minutes to plan your week’s meals on the weekend. Planning ahead has made a big difference in the quality of meals for our family and on my stress levels.