There are two questions I get all the time:
“What ethnicity are you?”
“What is that you’re eating?”
My answer to the first is usually, “Let’s see if you can guess.”
(They can’t. Literally, no one has ever guessed correctly in three tries.)
The answer is half Scandinavian/Irish (thanks, Dad!) and half Chamorro/Micronesian (thanks, Mum!).
My answer to the first depends – obviously – on what I’m eating. But the reason I get this question so much is in part due to the fact that I pack my own food all the time. This is largely to save money, partly for convenience, and partly so I can eat healthier.
So when people ask me what I’m eating, usually they also mention how good it looks/smells/etc…and then when I tell them what it is, they comment on “how healthy” it sounds. And they’re right. I can cook some damn good food. This is not bragging, this is just a fact – I like to eat food that tastes good, and since I cook 95% of my own food, I figured out pretty quick how to make my food taste damn good and be good for me.
The thing is, though, I don’t like to spend a lot of time on cooking. If I spend 30 minutes cooking dinner, that feels like a long time to me. So I’ve found a lot of tricks that help me save time and money in the kitchen without sacrificing health or flavor.
I’m actually working on a full guide to cooking quick, easy, and delicious meals, but today – spoiler alert! – I’m sharing some of my best tips with you right here, as well as a few meal ideas that can come in clutch during busy weeks.
Pro Tips for Quick, Healthy Cooking
You will use it. See below.
Never, ever, ever just cook one meal at a time.
If you are cooking dinner, double it. It won’t take any longer to cook, but you’ll have double the amount of meals made. This goes for prepping meals ahead of time – if you’re putting away leftovers and have the equivalent of 3 meals of food, don’t put it all in one big tupperware! Divide it up into single-meal sized storage containers, and suddenly you just packed lunch for half the week without doing any extra work.
Again, collect tupperware.
Never forget that empty (and cleaned!) food containers can be “tupperware” too. My collection of repurposed pasta sauce jars and yogurt containers would be embarrassing if it weren’t so damn helpful.
Outsource prep work when you can.
Buying things that are pre-washed and pre-cut, or even pre-cooked, can save you so much time, which is important because “I don’t have time to cook healthy food” is one of the biggest reasons people give for not being able to achieve their fitness goals. I’m frugal as hell – see above re: collecting pasta sauce jars as ghetto tupperware – but I have learned that there are some instances where saving my time is worth more than saving a few extra bucks. For example, grabbing a container of pre-cut sweet potatoes from Costco definitely costs more than buying a bag of whole sweet potatoes, but it saves you the 30+ minutes it would take to peel/chop that whole bag. For me, often it’s not only the time savings that makes the higher price worth it, but convenience Let’s be honest – we’re all human, and sometimes the idea of having to spend 30 minutes doing tedious prep work to make healthy food is enough to make us say, “Screw it, I’ll have cheerios for dinner.” (And I say this as someone who loves cooking – I can only imagine how overwhelming or frustrating it might feel for someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking!) Be honest with yourself about how much time and convenience play into if/how you prepare meals, and then lean into the curve by buying foods that work with your time/ability to cook.
Figure out your staples.
By staples, I mean the meals you like to eat regularly and can cook relatively well (i.e. don’t have to be watching a video tutorial the whole time to keep from burning water.). For example, during this monthlong vegan experiment I’m doing, my meals have included a lot of grain-based breakfasts, beans and rice, and Asian-type dishes. Staples have been overnight oatmeal (check out my Instagram post on how I make it!), frozen waffles with veggie burgers, homemade chipotle bowls (no meat, lots of beans, and for once – guac isn’t extra), one-pot pasta dishes, and stir fry with tofu and rice. I know that this month, I will be cooking lots of those, and I know exactly what goes in each dish and how long it takes to cook. Having staple meals makes it easier to plan your grocery list, and it’s super helpful to know what I can cook fast (with basic ingredients I normally keep stocked) on nights if I haven’t planned well and come home starving and have about 20 minutes before I start gnawing my own shoulder for sustenance.
Although I’m currently in the middle of a month-long vegan experiment (sign up for the free newsletter if you want the updates and before/after pics when I complete my month of veganism!), these recipes are all centered around an omnivorous diet. If you follow a specific diet, you can tailor it to meet your dietary needs. (You’re a big kid – you have your imagination, you have the internet, and you can always reach out to me on Instagram or facebook if you need help tweaking a recipe!)
Whatever your food preferences and cooking abilities, these should serve as some ideas to help you figure out a plan to spend less time slaving away in the kitchen and more time shoveling delicious food in your face!
Quick Healthy Meal Ideas
- Overnight oatmeal
- Frozen whole grain waffles with some kind of breakfast patty (real meat or vegan)
- Bagel breakfast sandwich – bagel, a schmear, breakfast patty, tomato/avocado/what’ll do ya. (This ain’t a science, folks, just throw some things on a toasted bagel and go to town.)
- Smoothie – You know the drill: Fruit and things go in the blender, you add some milk (not water – we’re not animals), you hit blend. (Add protein powder or at least Greek yogurt for protein.)
- Leftovers – This is your best option and I will defend that idea to the death.
- Sandwich – You know what this is, I’m not explaining further.
- Wraps – get a big tortilla, slap on some hummus or tzatziki or your favorite spread, add some leafy green things and some slices of deli meat/chicken salad/etc., and whatever other fun things you like (mustard, microgreens, ya dig), then wrap the whole shebang up like a burrito and put it in your face.
- The “oh shit I forgot to pack a lunch” bowl – Basic formula here is frozen veg + protein source + starch source + guac/hummus/ideally both. You now know the secrets of the universe – you’re welcome. (My go-to is lots of frozen green beans (cook ‘em in the microwave – I get the “steam in bag” kind) + beans + protein of choice, all tossed with hummus and spicy guac as a kind of “dressing.” Add black olives if you’ve got ‘em. It looks weird as hell but I promise you it’s delicious.)
- Burrito bowls – rice, beans, fajita vegetables (frozen peppers cooked with taco seasoning are perfect and easy), shredded/diced meat, etc. Guac is required, not optional.
- Stir fry – frozen stir fry vegetables and chicken/tofu/whatever you like, all cooked in teriyaki or stir fry sauce out of a bottle (add cooked rice noodles at the end or serve rice on the side)
- Quesadillas with chicken (or beans, or both) inside, and your favorite crudités and hummus on the side. It’s like the grown up, slightly more exotic version of the sad cheese sandwiches you for lunch in 3rd grade.
- What I call “the Thanksgiving bowl” – roasted sweet potatoes, ground turkey (cooked, obviously, preferably with some herbs), and dried cranberries all mixed together. Cornbread and a side salad optional but highly recommended.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of easy meals or strategies for more efficient cooking/food prep. But since so many of yall had been asking me about this, I figured this should get you off to a good start while I’m putting together more comprehensive resources.
I hope this is helpful! Please reach out if there are other things you’d like to know or ways I can help you!