December 14, 2023
These days we are busier than ever, and taking the time to cook a good and balanced meal doesn't always get the priority it deserves - or even seem possible.
Join Kristi on this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist and learn some helpful tips on how to get some quick healthy meals ready for the coming week - and spend less time in the kitchen while you're at it.
KRISTI: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. I'm Kristi Kalinsky, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. We're thrilled to be celebrating 20 years on air, discussing the connection between what you eat and how you feel, while sharing practical, real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Thank you for your support in listening over the years. Now let's dive into today's question.
Today's question is from one of our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners. It is, “What foods would you recommend for a family always on the go and really only has two to three days a week to cook a good meal?”
That's a great question. I know this is a common struggle amongst many of my clients and something I help them navigate frequently during their appointments. It just seems like nowadays we are busier than ever. We're rushing home from a long day at work, wishing to take a break or maybe relax a little bit in the evening but something else always seems to take a priority.
I know if you have kids at home, you might be running them to their sporting practices or going to watch their games. You might be going to a concert at school or another event that you have to attend with them. And if you don't have kids or your kids are a little bit older and out of the house, your priorities shift, but you're still very busy after work.
So it's just a different type of busy. I know I have a lot of clients that like to go and work out at the gym after work, or they might have different volunteer opportunities they're going to. Trying to cook a good meal for some just tends to get put on the back burner and doesn't really get the priority that it deserves. So hopefully today I'm going to help you find some ways to eat a healthier meal but not spend so much time cooking in the kitchen.
So the first thing I'd like to talk about is batch cooking. That's something that's a relatively new term over the last couple of years. If you aren't really familiar with what batch cooking is, it's taking usually one day out of your week and dedicating a couple of hours to cooking in the kitchen.
I know for me personally, when I batch cook, I usually pick a Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening. That seems to be a little bit slower time at my house. I know I can block off a couple of hours on my calendar where I can allow myself to be in the kitchen uninterrupted. I have noticed if I don't put it on my calendar, sometimes other obligations tend to slip in the way, so I make sure I write that down to remind myself that is what I'm going to be doing for that dedicated period of time.
The first thing I like to do when I'm batch cooking is I like to focus on the protein component of what I'm going to be eating at each of my meals. And then I can work other things around that protein source.
So a lot of times what I like to do is I like to make boiled eggs. I do them on the stovetop. I know a lot of my clients also like to use the Instant Pot. That's a very easy way to boil eggs as well. Eggs are very versatile, especially when they're boiled. It's something that's very easy to grab and go for maybe a quick breakfast, or it's a nice thing to have in the afternoon for your protein source for your snack. The other thing you can do is you can also mix it with an avocado oil based mayonnaise and make deviled eggs or egg salad.
The other thing I like to do is pick a couple of different animal proteins to also make and have on hand for the week. I usually pick at least two to prevent boredom from seeing the same protein day after day. In the summertime or in the warmer months, I like to use my grill and I'll pick different things like chicken or beef or pork or turkey, seafood; whatever sounds good to have that particular week or if I haven't had it for a while.
In the winter time, I'm not quite as brave to go outside and face the cold weather, so then I like to use my oven, and I will roast different meats. We have a great article on our website that talks about roasting meats. They focus on chicken and pork. It tells you the temperature and the time to cook those particular types of animal proteins so they taste wonderful and don't get too dried out.
The other thing I like to do too, besides making the animal proteins and the eggs, is I will usually in the wintertime, especially, make a soup or a stew. So we have quite a few great recipes on our website for soup and stew recipes, so I would encourage you to check those out and see what you might like from there.
I'm going to be referring quite a bit to the different recipes on our website. So if you'd like to take a look at them they are on our website at www.weightandwellness.com.
As I was saying, in terms of making the soups or stews, I will make a big batch of that while I'm batch cooking. What I like to do with that when it's done cooking is I like to store it in individual portions in glass containers. That way it's very easy to grab out of the refrigerator and put in my lunchbox, or it's very easy to reheat if I just need a serving for myself versus having to reheat the entire pot of soup or stew.
A couple of other great protein options to make off of our website are the wild rice meatballs. Those are really popular. They also freeze very nicely. And then our turkey breakfast sausage is also another very popular recipe off of our website. I like making those, putting a little bit in the refrigerator, and then like I said, putting the rest of those two things in the freezer, so then I've got some protein sources for a later date.
So along with those animal proteins that I mentioned, it would be great to pair that with some kind of vegetable carbohydrate. There are different ways to go about cooking vegetables. I personally really like to roast vegetables. I think they taste delicious that way. The article that I referred to earlier about roasting and how to roast a pork and a chicken also contains different vegetable recipes on there as well.
It tells you how long to cook the vegetables for what temperature to cook them at, and how long to cook them. You can store those vegetables in the refrigerator after you've roasted them. You can eat them cold if you'd like, otherwise they're very easy to reheat in the microwave or you can throw them back in the oven again to warm them up to have along with that animal protein that you've made for the week.
Another way I like to have vegetables on hand is by creating a raw veggie box for the week. So what I do is I buy different raw vegetables at the grocery store such as cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, cucumbers, peppers, celery, snap peas., broccoli, cauliflower. There's lots of different options and what I do when I get those home, I don't allow myself to put them directly into the refrigerator.
If I do that and I put them in the vegetable box in my refrigerator, they will go there to die, and I will end up throwing them away a week or two later. So what I do is I keep all of those raw veggies out on my counter. And I will wash them and cut them and put them in a container and put them in the refrigerator.
That way I have very easy access to vegetables at any time I basically want. I like to pair that with either a mini cup of guacamole or I will make the Lil’ Dipper's Vegetable Dip off of our website. So I get that added fat component to my meal or snack.
We've made animal proteins, you know, we've boiled our eggs, we have different vegetable sources on hand. The other thing I like to do when I'm batch cooking, besides those, is I like to make snacks as well. I personally like snacks that have the protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrate all wrapped into one.
That way I don't have to pack multiple things in my lunchbox, or I don't have to think about grabbing three different things when I go to have a snack. I really like pickle roll ups, so if you're not familiar with what that is, it is a whole dill pickle and then what I like to do is I like to dry it off with a paper towel, and then I will put full fat cream cheese over the pickle, and then I wrap the pickle either in nitrate free ham or nitrate free turkey deli meat. You can make quite a few of those and store them in a container in the refrigerator and grab a few when you need a snack.
If you're looking for sweeter options and not necessarily a savory option for a snack, we also have some muffin recipes on our website. There's three of them. And there's also three protein ball recipes on there that are also very delicious. Again, the muffins and the protein balls combine that component of having the protein, the healthy fat, and the carb all wrapped into one. The muffins and the protein balls freeze really nicely. So it's not something you have to make every week, but maybe every few weeks to keep on hand.
So that's batch cooking in itself. If you do batch cook, you still may not have quite enough food for the week. You can always rely on healthier convenience items to keep on hand, too, that you can find at the grocery store. The first thing I'd like to talk about having on hand is a rotisserie chicken.
I would encourage you to listen to a recent Dishing Up Nutrition podcast that aired on November 30th, 2023, called "All About Rotisserie Chicken". My coworker and fellow dietitian, Brandy, did a very nice job of explaining on how to select the best rotisserie chicken at a grocery store. There seems to be endless things to do with a rotisserie chicken besides just eating it plain.
I like to add it to a pot with some organic chicken bone broth or some chicken stock and maybe some leftover veggies or your roasted veggies from the week. You could even use a bag of frozen organic vegetables if you'd like, and you can simmer that on the stovetop and make a quick and delicious soup.
You can also take that rotisserie chicken, and dice it and mix it with a good clean buffalo sauce such as Primal Kitchen. You could mix that with a little bit of cream cheese as well. Otherwise, you can also take that chicken and mix it with a Primal Kitchen barbecue sauce. And you can place it on a lettuce leaf and roll it up to make a wrap or some of my clients just like to eat it plain.
The other thing I like to do with rotisserie chicken is I like to make rice bowls with the rotisserie chicken. Personally, I use cauliflower rice. I buy just a frozen bag of cauliflower rice that I can just steam quickly in the microwave. So what I'll do is I'll do that, and then I put the rotisserie chicken over the top of that cauliflower rice.
And if I'm in the mood for Mexican, I will put some salsa, maybe some sour cream or guacamole over it. You could also put black olives and you have a nice Mexican bowl that way. If you are not feeling in the mood for Mexican or not a big fan of Mexican, another option would be to make a Greek rice bowl.
So again, using the cauliflower rice, steaming that, putting the chicken over the top and then topping it with kalamata olives, cucumbers. You could do cherry tomatoes, maybe some purple onion. You could also put a tzatziki sauce on it, which is basically a sour cream sauce with some dill and cucumber to round out that bowl.
Besides having rotisserie chicken on hand, I also like to have nitrate free chicken brats or chicken sausages that you can easily heat in the microwave. You can buy precooked wild caught shrimp. It's usually found in the freezer section. You could either store that in the refrigerator for a few days and eat it within those few days, or you could keep it in the freezer and then when you'd like to eat it, you can just thaw it quickly over cold water.
Nitrate free deli meats are another great thing to have on hand for a quick and easy protein. Again, I mentioned eggs before. We talked about boiling them, but they're also very quick and easy to make on a stovetop, with scrambling them, or over easy, or fried, whatever you prefer.
Another great thing to have on hand is wild caught salmon or wild caught tuna in a can. You can mix that with an avocado based mayo and make a salmon salad or a tuna salad. Some of my clients are not a fan of the avocado based mayo. So what I will tell them to do instead is to use a ripe avocado that they can mash and then mix with the canned tuna or canned salmon and make a salad that way.
If you can tolerate dairy, it's always a great idea to keep organic full fat plain Greek yogurt on hand or organic full fat cottage cheese. You can top that with a half a cup of fruit and a quarter cup of nuts for a very quick meal or snack option.
I also encourage my clients to buy a variety of frozen organic steamer bags of veggies that you can heat very quickly. And then top with butter to have with your animal protein source for a complete and balanced meal. And the other thing I like to have on hand are bags of organic greens that are already pre-washed. So like bags of spinach, arugula, or field greens that you can top with a good quality olive oil and a balsamic vinegar as your dressing.
If you do have time to cook on one of those rare evenings where you have a few spare moments, I really like sheet pan meals. They are wonderful to have on hand because your protein, your healthy fat, and your vegetable carbohydrate are all on one sheet that you slide into the oven, so you're not trying to monitor and cook various things. It's all just put in the oven, and then when you're done, cleanup's very easy as well, cause you just have the one sheet pan to wash. We have quite a few great sheet pan recipes on our website.
There's a sheet pan fajita recipe that is a favorite of mine where you can use steak or chicken. There's also another very popular one with salmon and some different vegetables. And then this time of year, apples and squash are in season. So there is a sheet pan recipe with chicken, apples, and squash that I know is very popular, especially with kids.
Another thing to do for a fast and easy meal are crock pot meals. They are one of my favorites. They can be assembled the night before and placed in the refrigerator. And then in the morning you can just pop them into their holder and turn them on low and let them cook all day. If you have a little bit of extra time in the morning, you can also assemble the meal in the morning.
And then just go ahead and turn it on low and it can cook low and slow all day. It's nice to come home to a house that smells delicious. You don't have to worry about what you're going to make that evening. And it's all ready to go. Again, our website has some great crock pot recipes as well.
Something else you can do too is really utilizing your leftovers. I know I talked about the sheet pan meals and the crock pot meals that you can make. I will actually double the recipe for the sheet pan meals. That way I know I have another full dinner that I will have on hand that I can make and reheat the next night.
Otherwise, it provides me with a few different lunches to have for the week. The crockpot, same thing. I know, especially like our cream cheese crockpot chicken, it makes a lot of sauce, so I will double the chicken, so I have enough leftover for either another meal or some extra lunches.
Something else to keep on hand are adequate fats. It's important to remember that healthy fat component to round out our meal or our snack. So I encourage you to keep real butter on hand, a high quality olive oil or avocado oil that is expeller pressed or cold pressed.
Individual cups of guacamole are always nice to have on hand. Full fat sour cream, any kind of olive you can think of, different seeds and different nuts; all of those things you can place over your food or sprinkle over your food to round out your meal so it is nice and balanced. So hopefully these ideas have not only assisted you in making meal times easier, but they've also inspired you to try new things in the kitchen.
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