One of the top challenges I am asked about is how to prepare healthful meals QUICKLY (or fast, but that’s not grammatically sound and I am nothing if not a grammar nerd!). So, I thought I would write a post (and create an Instagram video series) on my top five tips for quick and easy meals that are also delicious AND good for you! This is a great addition (if I do say so myself) to my How-to series, including How-To Plan and Prepare Healthy Meals and How-To Make & Eat Healthy Snacks at Home and On the Go!
With no further ado, let’s go with my top five tips, and I’ve even tried to order them from least expensive (in terms of both money AND effort) to most expensive:
Grocery Shop (with a list)
Grocery shop to ensure that you have healthful ingredients on hand. Healthful ingredients make for healthful meals! Having a list can help you to make thoughtful choices ahead of time, which keeps you feeling calm and in control when faced with myriad (tempting) choices. Plus, it usually has the benefit of saving you money because you buy what you NEED and you are not lured by things that you don’t (whether it’s certain foods that don’t support your goals as well or novelty items that you might not realistically actually eat). The real game-changer for me here was online grocery shopping – I do it at my convenience, on my time, from the comfort of my own home (usually in my pajamas – although with mobile devices you could pretty much do it from anywhere, in any state of dress or undress!). I save my time because I am not going up and down the aisles and I save my money because I’m not tempted by items on the shelves (because I’m not in the store to see them).
- I like to start with my proteins in mind. Consider that this is usually the way you order in a restaurant as well: “Oh, I think I’d like to try the duck. Or maybe on second thought, I’ll have the salmon.” Since we often think of meals in this way, it makes to start your shopping list here. Consider getting protein from a variety of food sources, whether animal or plant-based. Breakfast is the one meal where this is generally not the norm in North America, as it tends to be heavy on grains/carbohydrates. You are the boss of your breakfast, so feel free to bring in the protein, whether in the form of eggs or breakfast meats (watch out for high levels of sodium and other preservatives) or even just meat or seafood like poached salmon or chicken or pork. Anyone else remember the “Pork. It’s what’s for dinner” or “Pork. The other white meat” slogans? Well guess what? Pork (or chicken or beef or scallops or tofu or lentils): it’s what’s for breakfast.
- Now pick your vegetables to be your side dishes. Go crazy here – ideally you’re eating 6-10+ servings of vegetables each day, and prioritizing brightly coloured vegetables and especially the leafy, dark green ones. Don’t like vegetables? Try some (P.S. – in my world, corn is NOT a vegetable. It’s the seed of the corn plant and is treated as the body more like a grain It’s also one of the world’s crops most likely to be genetically modified. If you love corn, by all means include it as a “soul food” in the 20% of “fun foods” you have each day or week – but don’t count it in your daily 6-10 total). Looking to eat more vegetables? Challenge yourself to pick a new-to-you vegetable to try each week. Check out YouTube for some tips on how to select, prepare and enjoy new vegetables.
- Grab your favourite fruits, nuts and seeds to round out your meals or to enjoy as snacks. Wherever possible, pick organic fruit, especially for fruits where you routinely eat the “outside” (i.e. berries, apples, peaches, pears, plums, nectarines, cherries, etc.). Remember that nuts and seeds are super-concentrated nutrient sources and can cause inflammation and digestive upset in some people – a little goes a long way! One small handful is more than enough for one day – I like to use small containers for built-in portion control because one small handful does not feel like enough when I’m scooping from a large container or bag.
- Get a few servings of grains (the less processed, the better, i.e. whole grain rolled oats or wild rice vs. white bread) – this is optional as you CAN get enough quality carbohydrates and nutrients from starchy vegetables like squash and potatoes (especially vibrant yams/sweet potatoes). Dairy is optional as well and limit it to a few servings, like grains.
- Focus your shopping at the perimeter of the store vs. the aisles (most of the unprocessed, whole foods you are looking for will be in the perimeter or the outer aisles like the freezer section). The inner aisles of the stores will contain more processed/boxed non-food items. The one exception is for spices!
Take Advantage of Pre-Washed Pre-Chopped, and Pre-Cooked Foods
Here I like to balance time and quality. How much time can I save? How much quality can I preserve?
- My go to is pre-washed, pre-chopped produce. This is something where I can potentially save a LOT of time but I am still going to be eating lots of veggies. I often get a “party tray” of chopped vegetables. I ditch the dressing (and either skip it entirely or make my own – this is my way to know the quality and avoid unnecessary ingredients) and now I have a great big platter of mixed vegetables ready for snacking or to throw into lunch bags – or yes, even put out on the table at dinnertime. I also buy fresh and frozen containers of stir-fry vegetables or even packages of “omelette/pizza” vegetables, as well as pre-washed salad greens (I generally skip the kits because the add-on ingredients and dressings usually have added preservatives, etc. – this is the quality side of the equation).
- Next up is fruit. I am more likely to buy whole, organic fruit as I don’t find there is much prep work involved in eating it (so I am not saving much time). However, sometimes a fruit platter of mixed chopped melons and berries is appealing because it’s way less work for me than seeding and peeling and chopping melons myself.
- I will sometimes opt for pre-cooked proteins (the fact that you can buy shelled, hard-boiled eggs makes me happy), but here I do focus on how much I would be sacrificing in quality. Pre-cooked proteins generally have added sodium, preservatives and possibly artificial colour or flavour. I will sometimes buy a package of pre-cooked chicken breast strips to have as part of my lunch, but I recognize that it won’t be the same quality as when I cook a pan of chicken breasts with my own herbs and spices at home.
Try Out New Recipes and Practice Them!
Recipes abound! My blog has some; I routinely share recipes from my favourite food bloggers on my Facebook page; I demo my recipes on my YouTube channel; Pinterest has gazoodles of options, etc. etc. Even if it’s just one new recipe per week, you are expanding your repertoire and list of healthful options. As they say, “Practice makes perfect” and as I say, “practice makes fast” (and you are correct; that is grammatically atrocious).
Take Advantage of Healthful Fast-food Takeout Options
Yes indeed, they are out there and will do in a pinch! You can still make a better-for-you option at any fast food chain restaurant. You are going to look for options featuring vegetables (hello salads – just be mindful of what’s in the dressings and how much is used on the salad – if possible, get them on the side – I wouldn’t call you crazy if you had a small bottle of your own pre-mixed extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar in your purse or backpack or man-bag), grilled (vs. fried) protein and easy on the processed grains – look for wraps over burgers or ditch the grains entirely – where possible, substitute extra veg on the side instead of a grain. Sometimes I will even combine elements of fast food takeout with ingredients I have on hand at home to create a complete meal – for example, I will buy a few orders of chili from a chain restaurant and have it with the (pre-chopped) veggies I have at home to create a filling, nutritious meal for my family.
If you do want some “soul food” or “fun food” – go for it! But get the kids’ combo! For example, if I’m craving a burger and fries on the run, I’ll get a Happy Meal, keeping the portion sizes far more reasonable.
I feel comfortable making better-for-me choices at (but not limited to): Boston Pizza, Chopped Leaf, Cora’s, Dairy Queen, Denny’s, Domino’s (yes, pizza!), Jugo Juice, McDonald’s, Pita Pit, Starbucks, Smitty’s, Subway, Swiss Chalet, Taco Bell, Wendy’s…you get the point. Let me know in the comments if you want to know my top picks or via e-mail if you’re wondering about a restaurant not listed here.
Try Out a Healthful Meal Delivery Service
This is the final and likely most expensive option on my list, although if it gives you exactly the food you need and nothing more, it might actually save you money if you have a habit of buying groceries that you don’t use. Or if you routinely eat in restaurants, this might be a more cost-effective choice. Depending on the service, you might even get the ingredients of the meal, leaving you to actually prepare the recipe, which helps to reinforce my earlier tip about practicing healthful recipes. A quick internet search should reveal options in your area; be sure to read the review or ask friends, family members or co-workers for recommendations.
So there are my top five tips! Please try one or more and let me know what you think.
Have a fit day!