If you’re headed into the New Year with a plan to live healthier, start by cooking more meals at home. Home cooked meals are more nutrient dense and have fewer calories. I think that’s obvious, but a study from Johns Hopkins University published in 2015 backs it up. The study showed that home cooks consume fewer calories and less sugar. Interestingly, people who usually cook at home also tend to consume fewer calories when they do eat out.
But I get it – feeding your family home cooked meals is no easy task. Even harder when you have a J-O-B. Here’s how I do it.
Make a Plan
Every weekend, I think through our meal plan for the week. I plan ahead for the days when I work late or our daughter has an after school activity. Planning ahead saves time (and bad food) in the long run. I’ve shared some of my weekly meal plans on my Instagram and Facebook accounts. Look for the hashtag #drmarenweeklymealplan.
When I put a meal plan together I follow this formula: 1/2 vegetable + 1/4 plant based carbohydrate + 1/4 protein. I start with vegetables and let that inspire the rest of the meal. In other words, plants are the star of the show. These days, that’s made easier with my weekly CSA box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. I also find inspiration by thumbing through a favorite cookbook each week, looking for new ideas.
My CSA loot!
Keep It Simple
During the week, I keep things simple. I might use my wok to quickly prepare a vegetable that pairs with an easy recipe like whole roasted chicken with onions and potatoes. Every once in a while, I whip out the slow cooker (try this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Chili). Good, clean food doesn’t have to be complicated.
Cook in Big Batches
I make big batches at least once a week. I double or triple the recipe anytime I make soups, sauces or curries (like my giant batch of Bolognese, or my favorite Red Curry Carrot Soup). We eat leftovers often and pack up smaller portions for lunch.
Big batches of soup freeze well in mason jars as long as they aren’t overfilled
Utilize the Freezer
When I cook those big batches, I freeze any extras (stored in glass, not plastic). I’m also lucky to have a little help with freezer meals in the Austin area. The Studio Kitchen sells prepared gluten-free paleo meals. While it’s not homemade, it comes pretty close. As long as I have a plan, I can have something defrosting while I’m at work.
My favorite app to keep track of the groceries I need is called Grocery IQ. You can keep track of everything on your list, organized by department (i.e. produce, meat counter, deli etc) and check it all off as you shop.
No Time to Shop?
One of my go-to resources for healthy staples is Thrive Market. Thrive makes it easy to shop by dietary values like organic, Paleo, and gluten-free. Pantry items are discounted up to 50%, and it’s easy to order online or using their mobile app. Everything gets delivered right to your door and orders over $49 always ship free. Click here to get an extra 25% off and free shipping on your first order.
Another helpful tool is delivery or pick up from Instacart. They’ll shop for what you specify at the store(s) of your choice (Whole Foods and Costco!), and deliver groceries to your home or work. You can also pick your order up at select locations. Building a cart is easy, and you can even search specifically for gluten-free and organic items. It’s likely less expensive than you think, and will save you a few hours at the grocery store so you can use that time for meal preparation.
Cook Your Way to Better Health
Cooking healthy food at home is a real possibility. Even if you have a job. With some preparation and planning, it is possible! If you’re still not up to the task, start small. Even 2-3 home cooked meals a week is better than none (this study says so, too!).
Despite a busy lifestyle, I manage to cook most of my family’s meals at home, and I hope to inspire you to do the same. As Hippocrates wisely said, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”