If you want to eat healthily, making your own meals (most of the time) is not an option but a necessity. It’s the best way to have a say in the ingredients, add variation to your overall diet and limit your intake of refined sugar, saturated fats and artificial flavours - now I know that this isn't always the easiest case, as mentioned before in my Spoons theory 101 blog post, you can use all spoons in the morning. However if you are after a more healthy lifestyle and saved up some spoons for cooking, its not only a great way to relax, but you can also eat leftovers another day saving even more energy.
Now, I love cooking. And I love all the amazing, wholesome recipes on food blogs, magazines and books these days. But honestly, after a long day working, squeezing in blogging and household/pet chores, it sometimes feels like too much effort to cut up tons of veggies and spend an hour behind the stove.
You’ve probably felt the same way when you’ve had a tiring day, whether that’s because of work, illness or your way too active kids.
And while it’s tempting to just order a takeaway whenever you’re too tired to cook, or heating up microwaved meals. Processed foods often contain too much salt, too little veg and an addictive combo of high sugar/high fat. And frankly, most convenience meals are just plain bland in taste compared to a home cooked dinner.
So let’s have a look how you can still put a nutritious meal on the table when you’re running low on energy.
1. Master a Few Super-Fast Recipes
It’s a lot easier to make yourself get behind the stove when you know it will only take you a short time before dinner’s ready. Having a few quick recipes up your sleeve for busy days will certainly help. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Stir-fry is a classic fast-cooking method. Basically, you combine a protein of your liking with a mix of chopped vegetables in a hot wok and add some flavours: garlic, spring onions, low-sodium soy sauce. You can even top it with some toasted sesame seeds or cashews and have some soba noodles on the side. Simple ..!
Low-cook, little time. Who says you need to cook to cook up a nourishing dinner ..? You can make a satisfying salad, easy gazpacho or tuna lettuce wrap in 15 minutes or less, without turning on the stove.
Keep your meals simple, with few ingredients that require little cooking time. Think: a wholegrain pasta with mushrooms, grilled fish with salsa or a microwaved 'baked' sweet potatofilled with beans, avocado and Greek yoghurt. Foods like couscous, leafy greens and eggs can also be quickly turned into a nourishing meal.
2. Saving Time vs. Saving Energy
When it comes to making meals, you usually have 3 options: either you save on time, on money on effort. For example, cooking from scratch is often the cheapest route, but it takes more time and energy in the kitchen. And while buying pre-chopped vegetables and pre-cut meat from the supermarket does speed up dinner preparation, it’s less budget-friendly.
So ask yourself: When you’re feeling worn out, would you rather quickly whip up a meal that requires keeping an eye on the stove, multitasking and leaves you with a messy kitchen ..? Or would you prefer making a dish that might need a significantly longer cooking time, but requires less effort chopping, monitoring and cleaning up ..?
A. Kitchen Time Savers
Buying pre-chopped vegetables and pre-cut meats for stir fries or one pot meals cuts down both on prep time and cooking time.
Work smart. Boil water in the kettle while you’re prepping, use a kitchen aid, clean as you go and master some useful kitchen hacks to save you time.
Cook once, eat twice. You can make double batches of your meal and freeze the other half for another day. Alternatively, you could also make ‘two-for-one dinners’, by preparing the (more time-consuming) base of dinner and giving it different finishing touches. For example, cook a simple bolognese sauce with mushrooms, peppers and onions. On day one, you eat it with pasta and Italians herbs, while on day day two you add some chili peppers and serve it in a burrito with fresh guacamole.
B. Low Effort Cooking
Let the oven do all the work. Meals like mustard roasted chicken with sweet potatoes doesn't require much preparation, they just need to long time to cook. Honey parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts and aromatic roasted vegetables make an awesome (side) dish for pretty much anything.
Have you tried one sheet pan dinners yet ..? This cooking approach takes effortless dinners to the next level. And since the protein and vegetables are baked on the same oven tray, clean up can’t be easier.
Slowcooker. Just like the name says, making a dinner with a slow cooker simply means popping the ingredients in and cooking them on a relatively low temperature for a couple of hours. From soups and stews to curries and even delicious desserts.
3. Meal Planning and Prepping
Knowing what’s for dinner and having some elements ready in advance can save your sanity when you’re rushed for time or low on energy.
Create a loose weekly menu (or just for a few days) to save you time with grocery shopping and have everything at hand on weeknights.
Prepare on the weekends. You could cut up your vegetables and store them in the fridge until later use, roast a chicken and use its parts in multiple ways during the week or even cook up a week of healthy meals in under 4 hours!
Have a freezer meal session. Once in a while, set aside a Sunday afternoon to prep a bunch of healthy meals in one go and pop them in the freezer. When you know you have a busy and tiring day coming, you thaw your dinner in the refrigerator overnight and heat them up in the slowcooker, oven or microwave.
4. Have a Healthy(ish) Back Up Plan
Some days you’re just really too tired or sick to put a home cooked dinner on the table, and that’s fine ..! During times like that it’s convenient to have some healthy alternatives at hand that beat burgers and fries. (Unless you really crave that, then by all means, have it ..! No food police here.)
Have a mental list of good quality ready-made meals and take out menus. What counts as 'good quality' all depends on what’s available in your supermarket or delivery area. Deep fried, crunchy or creamy dishes are not the healthiest options; anything loaded with veggies makes a much better choice.
Heat up some low-salt soup with plenty of vegetables with a slice of (sourdough) bread and a store-bought salad on the side.
Have breakfast for dinner ..! You can blend a green smoothie bowl, make avocado on toast or have some oatmeal with fruit in the same amount of time it would take you to order Chinese.
Cooking a nutritious meal when you’re exhausted doesn’t have to take a lot of time and energy – it mostly requires a shift in attitude.
How do you put a healthy dinner on the table when you’re tired ..? Please share your best tips with us in the comments!
Until next Monday,