How to Cook Your Way to Better Health (Even if You’re Busy!)

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, cooking at home was also associated with lower calorie intake when eating 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.

Get inspired.

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. Some of my favorite cookbooks are here.

My CSA loot!  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 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   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.

Stay Organized.

I used to file my go-to recipes on my iPhone, under the Evernote app.  These days I just head over to my website and get them there.

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.

Grocery IQ Grocery IQ

No time to shop? 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.

Instacart Instacart

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 (the 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.

“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”

— Hippocrates
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I'm a functional medicine physician, gluten-free foodie, holistic mom & yogi. I think physicians should be role models when it comes to nutrition and healthy living. This is where I share that passion. Thanks for joining me!

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