Creating healthy meals in your kitchen may or may not be a task you enjoy. When it’s time to head to your kitchen, are you thinking about what you’ll be creating? Or are you thinking about how much time it will take with finding all the supplies you need and making that new recipe you printed off? Or maybe you don’t even know what you’re going to make!
Often when people are uninspired to cook healthy meals at home (or to cook at ALL), it generally comes from 2 things
Not knowing what to make
Not wanting to spend the time
….and sometimes both!
But what if I told you that the answer to both of these is two words: Simplify & Plan
Simplifying Your Kitchen
The first step to creating healthy meals in less time is to simplify your space. When we have excess kitchen tools, pan, dishes, spices, food, etc., it creates a kitchen that is hard to work in. Drawers stuffed with kitchen tools make it hard to locate the tool you need, and weeding through 30 spice jars to find the ones you use often slows down cooking and makes it a frustrating experience. Decluttering your kitchen (of both kitchen tools and food) is a bigger blog post than I can fit into this section. But here are some starting points:
1. Get rid of excessive duplicates
Trust me, I love to cook and I have multiples of some kitchen tools. But there comes a time when multiples are too many. Do you really need & use 5 whisks? Could you work with only 2? Do you use all 4 skillets you own, or are some duplicates of the same size or rarely touched?
When I first started weeding out extras in my kitchen, I would take the items and put them in a box in the other room. I quickly found out if that extra item was of use to me or if I never even missed it (which is what happened 99% of the time).
Keeping less encouraged me to stay on top of doing dishes (excess can create laziness/procrastination since we have more we can use). I also found that if I really needed a spatula for something else and the one was dirty, I could quickly wash it. My drawers & cabinets have never felt better and it’s so easy to find things now!
2. Purge your pantry
When’s the last time you went through your cupboards to really see what is in there? There are things we buy and then never use or that we try and don’t like so they sit there. We often have a hard time throwing these things out because we paid good money for them and we feel bad wasting food. But having them sit in a cupboard until they expire so you don’t feel as bad throwing them out isn’t helping anyone.
It’s time to clean house! Empty a cabinet and put aside anything you tried & didn’t like, bought but know you won’t use, or that is expired/stale. Throw away anything expired. Donate unopened non-perishables to your local food pantry. For things you opened but weren’t crazy about, you can either toss or check with friends/family to see if they would like to try it. This is also a great time to clean out some of those highly processed foods that might be lingering in your cabinets!
Do this same method with your fridge to clean up (I’m looking at you random condiments!). All of this purging makes it easy to find what you need, see what you are low on and makes way for healthy food additions.
Simplifying Your Meals
Meals don’t have to be complex. I think the over saturation of tv networks with fancy cooking shows have made us feel like more is more. Elaborate recipes with huge ingredients lists and ingredients you have to scour 3 stores to find are not making cooking any easier.
When in doubt, stick to the basics.
How do we make a meal? By combining the basic macros (Protein, Fat, & Carbs) to give a well rounded, healthy meal. While this can be a homemade chicken pot pie that takes you an hour and a half to put together, it can be as simple as:
- Baked chicken thighs with roasted potatoes and broccoli
- Grilled steak with a baked sweet potato and salad
- Sweet Italian sausage with marinara sauce over sauteed kale and a bit of pasta
- Shredded pork roast (cooked in the slow cooker) mixed with your favorite bbq sauce served over rice, baked potato, or roasted squash with green beans
These are just a few examples, but the basic formula is Protein + Veggies + a bit of Starchy carb. Remember, More is More with veggies! 😉
Does meal planning have you confused? Keep reading to learn more, but make sure to also grab my Meal Planning 101 guide here:
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The best thing I’ve done for my health & the health of my family is to switch to eating primarily whole foods. The second best thing is meal planning. While it might seem like an overwhelming thing at first, once you get in the groove of it, it doesn’t take long at all and it will be the shining answer to “What’s for dinner??”
Every weekend I sit down and make a list of meals we’ll have for the upcoming week. As I record each recipe on my planner, I look at the ingredients list. I make two columns on my paper: Ingredients to Buy and Ingredients to Check.
Anything that I know I need goes on the To Buy list. If I’m not sure if I have it (did I use up the rest of that frozen broccoli? Do I still have ¼ cup of coconut aminos left?), I add it to the To Check list. Once my meal plan is done, I check the items from the To Check list and add any to the To Buy list as needed. I then add any other items like milk, butter, eggs, etc that we use and are low on. And just like that my shopping list is done!
So now meal planning is done, but there is more time to be saved…
If meal planning is the ice cream sundae of simplified cooking, meal prep is the cherry on top! Along with planning, meal prep will change your cooking. It takes a bunch of similar work and combines it into one time frame. It’s all about efficiency! If you are using chopped onion 3 times this week, wouldn’t it be easier to chop all of the onion at once and then use it throughout the week?
That’s the thought behind meal prep. And once you start to do it, you’ll find even more ways to prep.
One of my favorite ways to prep is chopping. Most veggies are good chopped up days in advance. This is a huge time saver when you can just start cooking instead of having to chop each night.
Other prep that can be done ahead are things like: pre-cooking meatballs, cooking & shredding or chopping meat, cooking rice, roasting or sauteing veggies, making sauces, boiling eggs, mixing spice blends, shredding cheese, etc.
Some things are better not done too far ahead like chopping lettuce, apples or bananas, or cooking fish. Anything that spoils, turns colors, or gets mushy quickly once cut or cooked is not a great option for prep.
If you’re looking for some great inspiration for meal planning & prep, I want to highly recommend the book Cook Once, Eat All Week by Cassy Joy Garcia of Fed & Fit. I can’t tell you how much I love this book! It is so nice to have a menu laid out…with shopping lists AND instructions for prep. It’s super cool! You can read the blog post I wrote about the book here.
I hope you can take some or all of these tips and implement them into your kitchen so that you can have a firm answer to the “What’s for dinner?” question. And so that the dinners you do make are low stress for you and healthy for everyone. If you have a favorite simple kitchen tip, share it below!