woman eating quick healthy meal
Despite growing health awareness, diet-related diseases are increasing. One of the greatest obstacles to eating healthy is the time needed for food preparation and the convenience of fast food.
The question is how can we improve our diet by making tasty quick healthy meals more convenient and less time consuming to prepare?

People who spend more time preparing their meals are making healthier food choices, says a study led by Dr. Monsivais. The study states that spending less than one hour a day preparing food is associated with more money spent on food away from home and more frequent use of fast food restaurants. The trouble is that time is the one of the things most of us don’t have enough of. Also many are not willing to spend more than an hour every day in the kitchen.
On the other hand chronic diseases related to poor diet like obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis and dental diseases are on the rise and are expected to rapidly increase worldwide. That’s why it’s important to assume healthy eating habits – high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. These are the recommendations of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion made in their 2015 dietary guidelines.

With a little bit of planning it is possible to overcome the burden of preparing time consuming fresh, healthy food. With these little tricks you will always have healthy food choices in your house making it less likely that you’re going to reach for take out food. All it takes is a little bit of planning, 2-3 hours of your time and your set for a whole week of healthy meals.

1. Cooked hard boiled eggs

hard boiled eggs

Having hard boiled eggs in your fridge is convenient for adding to lot’s of meals. They are also excellent as a quick snack when you feel hungry. After the cholesterol issue is solved at last and egg yolks can be enjoyed without the fear of raising blood cholesterol healthy adults can consume up to 3 whole eggs per day. If you prefer you can still eat just the egg whites without the yolk.

Hard boiled eggs will last for a week with their shells on if stored properly in the refrigerator. Simply take a dozen of eggs and boil for ten minutes.

2. Soup

hot soup in bowl

Soup is a great nutritious meal and can be made in advance. Soup has several health benefits:

  • it is packed with vegetables.
  • it fills you up before a meal.
  • it can help you lose weight since it is very low in calories but very nutritious.
  • it is cheap to make.

Just add a bunch of roughly chopped vegetables in a big pot with water, add some meat if you like (this is optional- you can add chicken, beef, lamb, ..), season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are done. Add chopped parsley or celery leaves to the hot soup at the end.
You can add different vegetables like carrots, potatoes, parsnip, paprika, parsley root, celery root, onions, garlic – your imagination is the limit here, really. If you like, you can also use frozen chopped vegetable soup mixes that will make soup making even easier.

When it has cooled down, put the soup in the fridge, with a lid on the bowl. It will last up to 4 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer.

If you make soup with meat you’ll notice that a layer of fat will form on top after cooling down in the fridge. Just take it away with a spoon to have a less fat treat. If you like adding pasta to your soup, add it in little portions when you reheat your soup. Don’t add it to the whole pot since it can make the soup mushy when reheated.

Having a bowl of soup before a meal or when hungry is a great way to increase vegetable intake and control your weight.

3. Chop veggies in advance

prepared chopped vegeatbles

If we were to  live in a perfect world the best approach would be to chop your veggies immediately before eating them. That way you would get most of the nutrients from each vegetable. Since this is often time consuming, preparing and chopping vegetables in advance is a strategy to avoid eating fast food just because it’s more convenient in that particular moment when you’re hungry. It’s better to eat even less nutritious vegetables than not to eat them at all.

For me preparing vegetables in advance so they are ready to eat is one of the most useful tips to stay on track with a healthy diet plan. With vegetables ready to use you can easily, in a matter of minutes, make omelets, scrambled eggs, salads for lunch, veggie wraps, egg muffins, quick snacks with a dip, …

You can chop almost all vegetables in advance and store them in tupperware or plastic sealed bags in your fridge. Here are some of the best choices, with their shelf life, you can prepare in advance and keep up to two weeks in the fridge:

  • Cabbage– shred and keep in the fridge for up to 7 days
  • Onions– will keep up to 5-7 days in the fridge
  • Carrots– will keep up to 2 weeks in the fridge. They will be even more fresh if you store them in cold water in the fridge. You have to change the water daily.
  • Bell peppers– will keep up to 3 days in the fridge.
  • Zucchini– chopped or cut in spaghetti will keep up to 3 days in the fridge
  • Celery -will keep up to 2 weeks in the fridge
  • Cucumber – will keep up to 2 days in the fridge
  • Tomatoes – will keep up to 3 days in the fridge
  • Mushrooms – will keep up to 2 days in the refrigerator
  • Baby spinach – kept in a plastic bag and washed just before use will keep up to 3 days in the fridge
  • Broccoli – will keep up to 5 days in the fridge
  • Cauliflower – will keep up to 7 days in the fridge
  • Kale – will keep up to 7 days in the fridge
  • Green onion (scallions)– will keep up to 7 days in the fridge

4. Always have lettuce on hand

green lettuce

Lettuce fills you up and has almost no calories (1 cup of shredded iceberg lettuce has 8 calories). You can eat it as a side dish, use it in sandwiches and wraps or make a whole meal with it by adding protein, other vegetables and some dressing.

Different kinds of lettuce can all be prepared in the same way. Hand peel the leafs, soak and wash in cold water, dry with a salad spinner, chop if you like and store in a plastic container with a paper towel on the bottom. This way your lettuce is going to be fresh and ready to use for 3-5 days.

5. Roasted chicken

roasted chicken

Having some tasty protein and vegetables ready in advance can make the preparation of a meal last less than you need to buy your fast food. So no excuses for bad meal choices anymore!

Take a whole chicken, slice it in parts, drizzle some olive oil over it and roast in the oven for 40-50 minutes. You can choose to roast the whole chicken, which will take about an 1 hour and 40 minutes. When cooled down, separate the meat from the bones and divide into smaller portions. Wrap each portion tightly with plastic foil and store in a plastic container in the fridge. Stored this way cooked chicken meat will last 3-4 days in the fridge and even up to 4 months in the freezer.

You can use this chicken to add to your salad, wraps, sandwiches, soups, stews, as a quick snack, …. One of my favorite ways to use this is to toss some lettuce in a container, add some chopped vegetables, and a portion of roasted chicken. When it is time for lunch I simply pour over the dressing which I stored in a separate little container to avoid the salad getting soggy. This way I can always have a healthy meal when I’m hungry.

6. Almond snack bags

almonds in bowl

Snacking on bad stuff can also be limited by preparing healthy little snack bags in advance. Just take one portion of almonds, about the size of your thumb, and put in a zip lock bag. Prepare one snack bag for each day of the week. You shouldn’t have more than one snack a day if you want to lose weight.

If you like you can add other nuts to the mix. It’s best to choose raw nuts without any salt or sugar added.  Avoid dried fruit and trail mixes since they are usually coated with sugar.

7. Slice your cheese

sliced cheese

Choose your favorite cheese (Cheddar, Feta, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Swiss, …)  and slice into separate portions- about the size of your thumb. Store in an airtight container or wrap tightly with plastic foil. You shouldn’t have more than one-two portions of cheese per day if you want to lose weight. This way you have portioned your daily fat intake and cut time for food preparation.

8. Frozen beans

red beans

Ready to eat beans are very handy to have in your fridge. They can be added to stews, soups, saucy dishes, salads, dips, … Beans are a cheap but very healthy source of protein. The healthiest choices for beans are black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas and lentils.

Simply soak dried beans over night and wash them out before cooking. Cook your beans in a pot with some garlic, carrots and salt. Drain the beans, take out the garlic and carrots and cool down. Put the cooked beans into tupperware containers and refrigerate for up to 7 days. Cooked beans are going to last for up to 6 months in the freezer. Simply put a layer of cooked beans in a ziploc bag and freeze. When you need them later simply thaw the whole bag or toss the bag on the kitchen counter to separate the beans and take as much as you need.

9. Precooked oatmeal

oatmeal

One of the ways to get a ready made healthy breakfast is to have some precooked oatmeal in the fridge. Simply cook oats with milk for as long as you need to get oatmeal in the desired consistency. Cool down and refrigerate for up to 7 days in a plastic container.

When having breakfast, heat up in the microwave and add some fruit and honey if you wish. This is an excellent breakfast for a healthy start of the day. Oatmeal is a meal with many health benefits – it is rich in fiber which helps with reducing cholesterol levels and aids digestion keeping you full at the same time.

10. Frozen ziploc smoothie bags

green smoothie

Another vitamin packed start in the morning can be a smoothie for breakfast. Instead of peeling and chopping fruit and vegetables in the morning simply prepare ziploc bags with the right amount of fruit and veggies for one smoothie. In the morning simply toss one frozen package into the blender and add a liquid base like milk, yogurt, ice, coconut milk or almond milk to get a liquid consistency. You can add some honey if you prefer a sweet smoothie

The combinations are endless, here are some suggestions:

11. Cut and freeze meat for meals in advance

meat and meat for cutting

Before you put your meat chunks in the freezer or fridge, simply cut them in single portions you’ll need for cooking. This way you’ll save a lot of time when preparing meals and waiting for a chunk of meat to thaw. Don’t freeze a whole package of chicken breasts if you’re not going to use them all at once. It’s easier to freeze every chicken breast separately and use it as you need it.

When you cut your meat to portion sizes it is easy and quick to make a healthy dinner. Simply take the frozen prepared meat out of the freezer in the morning. When you come home make a quick stir fry with the prepared thawed meat and chopped vegetables from your fridge.  This way your stir fry can be ready in 10-15 minutes.

12. Invest in a slow cooker

Electic slow cooker

A slow cooker is a good investment for healthy meals for the whole family. You can easily put meat, chopped vegetables, water or broth with some spices into the slow cooker and come home to a healthy warm finished dinner. This way you can make shredded roast beef, fish stews, chicken stews, curries, chillies, pot roast  … If your meat is prepared and cut (thaw over night if it was frozen) and you have chopped vegetables in your fridge the preparation for dinner takes literally minutes.

You can look for some inspiration for slow cooker recipes.

13. Cook once eat twice

Simply double your recipes and put half in the freezer for another meal. If you’re making a pot roast in your slow cooker simply put some extra meat and use it for tomorrows tacos. Cooking at once for two meals is very simple but you have to plan your meals in advance to get the best out of it or your family members will complain that they are always eating the same food.

14. Stock your pantry with healthy items- and throw away the trash

One of the keys to quick healthy meals is to have a well stocked pantry. Chances are you will eat those healthy ingredients and meals more often if you have them in your home right in your pantry.

To take the stress out of healthy meal planning we have listed all the basic ingredients you should have in your pantry and fridge. To make it even easier for you we have made you a printable grocery list so you can stock and restock easily.

With a well stocked pantry and food prepared in advance the quality of your meals is going to rise and the time needed for preparation is going to drop.

15. Have a food prep afternoon

preparing food

Obviously you have to do some planning and work to prepare your food for a week ahead. The best way is to have a food prep afternoon. You’ll need about 3 hours to get ready for a whole week ahead. Before you can prepare your food you have to buy everything you need. It’s best to do the shopping on a different day than the food preparing since it will become overwhelming if you have to deal with food prep the whole day.

Here is a possible step-by step guide how to get organized:

  1. Soak beans the night before
  2. Put eggs into a pot with water to boil (about 10 minutes)
  3. Soak lettuce leaves in cold water
  4. Put chicken in the oven to roast (about 1 hour)
  5. Put beans in a pot to boil
  6. Chop fresh vegetables and cheese and put into containers to refrigerate
  7. Dry lettuce and refrigerate in separate container
  8. Put chopped vegetables with some meat (optional) in a pot for soup and cook
  9. Cook your oatmeal and refrigerate
  10. Cut, arrange your meat and freeze in bags
  11. Put together your almond snack bags
  12. Chop some fruits and prepare your smoothie bags and freeze
  13. When cooked put beans into bags and freeze
  14. When cooled down portion the roasted chicken and refrigerate
  15. When cooled down put eggs into refrigerator with shells
  16. When cooked cool down the soup and refrigerate or freeze

It seems like a quite a bit of work but remember that most of the work is done by your oven! While you’re waiting for the eggs, chicken and beans to cook your preparing the vegetables at the same time. Preparing the vegetables will take most of your time. Packaging and assembling the portions is going to be much quicker. Just take care to have enough freezer bags and plastic containers!

With these little hacks you’re going to be prepared for a whole week of healthy meals. The key is simply to plan and do some work in advance so that the cooking is minimal during the week. With healthy tasty meals prepared in minutes it is going to be easy to skip the take away. How do you save time during cooking and food preparation? Share your methods with us in the comments section.

Photo credit:
Hard boiled eggs by Lisa Williams, chicken & veg soup-3, chopped veggies by jules, roast chook with chicken liver & rosemary stuffing by jules, fresh sliced green Granny Smith apples and cheese on wood cutting board by Shari’s Berries, Red Beans by cookbookman17, Green Smoothie by Wild Tofu, DSC_1491 by Ronald Sarayudej, crock pot by Janine, Glass food storage container