Eating well with little time
Strategies to prepare food quickly
Eating healthfully does not require a huge time commitment. Here are some ideas to reduce the time you spend preparing food:
When you cook, make large portions or plan some time during the week to prepare meals. Store food in containers and put extra in the fridge for the next day or freeze for later.
Choose healthy foods that require very little or no preparation time.
Fruit & veggies
- Fruit and veggies you simply rinse and eat whole:
- Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Clementines - peel and go!
- Lebanese cucumbers
- Sugar snap peas, snow peas
- Mini peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Baby carrots
- Green onions
- Veggie party platter: they are washed and cut it up for you (put some in a Ziploc bag or container to bring to school with you)
- Celery. Stick in a jar of peanut or other nut butter for protein!
- Pre-cooked beets: more expensive than beets you prepare at home, because they're cooked and peeled for you; but delicious straight from the package at room temperature, and very nutritious
- Pre-cut pineapple
- Pre-washed salad – pour into a bowl and add some bottled salad dressing and trail mix or a hard-boiled egg
- Pre-washed spinach, baby spinach
- Pre-prepared salad mixes e.g. couscous salad, Lebanese Tabbouleh Salad, pre-shredded cabbage / coleslaw mix
- Pre-prepared guacamole
- Apple sauce and other fruit cups
- Fruit, canned or jarred. Choose those that come in water - not syrup! (e.g. canned peaches, pineapple, mandarin orange segments; jarred mango slices)
- Fruit sippy pouches (in the baby food section)
- Dried fruit: provides fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. They do contain naturally-occurring sugar, so enjoy 1 or 2 ¼-cup portions, not more. Popular choices include raisins, dried apricots, prunes, and figs, but discover other dried fruits like blueberries and cherries. Choose ones with no added sugar.
- Triscuit and other whole grain crackers
- Granola bars with whole ingredients: learn how to read a food label to make a good choice
- Granola or other whole-grain cereal (e.g.e Cheerios): choose the low-sugar options
- Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pita
- Single-serving oatmeal: pour hot water or hot milk on it and it’s ready to eat. Choose the low-sugar options
- Pre-popped popcorn (check the label and choose one that is popped in a heart-healthy plant fat)
- Cheese: break off a hunk, don’t even need to dirty a knife! Or pre-portioned cheese
- Yogurt pouches: store in the freezer to throw in your schoolbag
- Cottage cheese and ricotta cheese
- Low-fat milk
- Hummus, and tofu-based spreads
- Pre-prepared bean salads
- Hard-boiled eggs (you do have to boil them, but they stay fresh for a long time in your fridge)
- Seasoned tuna, salmon, sardines, and other fish and seafood in pouches (doesn’t even need to be drained); or in cans (if you don’t mind draining)
- Deli like lean smoked turkey
- Rotisserie chicken
- Different types of nut butters: peanut butter, almond butter, etc.
- All the different nuts
Invest in time-saving kitchen tools. These include:
Use time-saving cooking techniques. These include:
- roasting; preparation time is minimal but cooking time can be long
- slow cooking; preparation time is minimal but cooking time is long
- Cooking in parchment or foil
Have a repertoire of quick meals: Most people have a very limited repertoire of recipes. Get a couple of easy to prepare, healthy recipes and stock the ingredients. See below for some ideas.
Consider using pre-packaged, healthy convenience foods: These include pre-cut vegetables, pre-washed and shredded lettuce, bagged spinach, a cooked rotisserie chicken, canned beans, shredded cheese, frozen fish fillets and frozen or canned vegetables and fruit. Some of these options are more expensive (e.g., shredded lettuce is more expensive than a head of lettuce) but they are more convenient.
If you get take away, make it healthy: Use your knowledge about the qualities of a healthy diet (i.e., whole foods, plant based) to select healthy options at fast food or take-away restaurants. Some restaurant chains have nutrition information on their website or in-store. Use your label reading skills to identify healthy options.
Use food labels to identify healthy commercially prepared foods: There are many options of commercially prepared food (e.g., canned foods, frozen foods) that are healthful. Read the labels to identify if they are healthful. You can also enhance the nutrition of a not-so-healthy commercially prepared food by adding lots of healthy ingredients. For example, start with a can of soup or stew and add some canned or frozen vegetables, some meat (e.g., leftover chicken), beans or tofu, extra low-sodium broth and some spices. Now you have a larger batch that you can split into two meals.
Quick meal ideas
There are many healthy recipes available online that take little time to prepare. Some recipes are more healthful and nutritious than others. Use your knowledge of healthy nutrition to select those with ingredients that are most nutritious, such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, vegetable oils, lean meat and low-fat dairy.
For example, Cooking Light provides hundreds of recipes in a variety of categories that take 20 minutes or less to prepare:
- Superfast chicken (45 recipes): “Quicken your chicken with these dishes that require only about 20 minutes to prepare”
- Superfast pasta (44 recipes): “Including soups, stews and more, and incorporating flavors from around the world, these dishes highlight the versatility of noodles ― and none takes more than 20 minutes to cook”
- Superfast side-dishes (93 recipes): “Make a side to match any kind of main in 20 minutes or less with these great recipes”
- Superfast Mexican (30 recipes): “Zesty south-of-the-border flavor is easy to achieve with these 20-minute recipes”
- Superfast fruit (30 recipes): “From appetizers to salads, entrées to desserts, these 20-minute recipes use fruit to demonstrate nature's sweetness”
- Superfast sandwiches (56 recipes): “They're portable, easy to make, good for any time of day and these recipes all take 20 minutes or less.”
- Superfast salads (48 recipes): “Eat healthy in 20 minutes or less with these superfast, easy main-dish salad recipes.”
- Superfast vegetarian (43 recipes): “Meatless dishes, ready in 20 minutes or less.”
- Fast-cooking stir-fries and sautés (51 recipes): “Heat up a pan good and hot, and make dinnertime sizzle with fun, lightning-fast cooking.”
Salad bowls can be put together quickly. Consult the anatomy of a perfect bowl for ideas. [PDF]
Some recipes require no cooking at all. You can find ideas at quick and easy no cook dinner recipes, 20 quick and easy no-cook recipes or 17 healthy no-cook dinners to make on a weeknight.
A few more ideas:
- Sandwiches: Serve with a garden salad, soup or chopped vegetables on the side. Choose a whole grain bread (sliced bread, tortilla, bagel, pita, bun) and fill with salmon, tuna, egg, cheese, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, radish or whatever suits your fancy. Or try one of these healthy sandwich recipes.
- Salads: Choose a green such as lettuce, kale, arugula, or spinach and top with cheese, tuna, salmon, leftover cooked chicken, egg or beans. Add olives, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, corn or whaterver suits your fancy. Drizzle with a salad dressing. Or try one of these quick and easy cold salads.
- Seasoned tuna, salmon, sardines, and other fish and seafood; whole grain crackers + a bunch of no-prep veg and fruit.
- Whole-grain cereal with milk, berries, and nuts/trail mix.