I won’t lie; anyone who has really converted to a way of eating that centers around consuming whole foods 90% of the time (or more) knows that it takes planning and preparation. Even though I try to do it gently, I always end up breaking this truth to the folks I council on nutrition therapy. The reality is that when you develop a chronic health condition that just won’t go away, you realize you basically have two options: 1) modify your diet and lifestyle in order to manage or even eliminate the symptoms or 2) rely on a medication (with a whole host of side effects and possible risks) to “band-aid” the symptoms for as long as you have the condition (possibly the rest of your life). Most of the people I work with come to me because they’ve already chosen to try option 1. So, speaking from the position of nutrition therapist, busy mom, business owner and someone who values tools and approaches to maximize efficiency, I’m offering you my own personal tried and true tips for cutting down on food prep time in the kitchen while still managing to prepare and eat a whole foods diet most of the time. Here we go!
Plan your grocery shopping on a weekend day or a weekday that you normally do not work and do not have a busy schedule. Once you get home and unload the groceries in the fridge, take some extra time to do the following right away:
Peel and cut up any raw veggies like celery or carrots and put them in a large bowl of water so that they are ready to grab and eat either on the run or as a quick snack. These will keep for up to a week. Peel and cut up any root veggies (sweet potatoes, rutabaga, beets etc) that you plan to eat in the next three days and place them in a bowl of water. You can save the ends/peels of these veggies to add to a large stockpot to make bone broth (at least, that’s what I do!).
Have a plan for your veggies and fruit so you use them at their freshest when the vitamin content is highest. With kale, you can make kale chips and keep in the fridge for a week (preserving the kale a bit longer). With other veggies, especially veggies you might add to soups or sautee later in the week, you can chop and put in a large ziplock and freeze to pull out when you want them. Same with fruit. Lots of almost rotten bananas (or as my five-year old say, “I’m sick of eating” bananas) get peeled, chopped and thrown into a ziplock to freeze and use later to make smoothies or banana almond milk.
Plan to cook double the amount of dinner than you normally do a few times per week when you’ve got ample time, and portion out extra servings into glass containers to freeze for later in the week. Since I don’t do microwaves, I like glass because it does not leach unwanted chemicals into food and because I can pull out a container in the morning, let it come to room temperature and then pop it directly in the oven without needing to transfer it to a different container to heat up.
Consider planning 1-2 bulk cooking days per month where you plan to make 4-5 meals in large quantities and freeze extras in glass containers. I also do this with homemade paleo bread. I make several loaves, slice them up and then freeze them in a large ziplock with parchment paper between slices to grab out just a couple of frozen slices to heat in the oven when I want bread. This bulk cooking day can be a fun event that you do with kids or friends or while listening to an audiobook or some good music; it doesn’t have to be “work.” When activating nuts or dehydrating fruit, do a lot at once and fill every tray of your dehydrator. You can always freeze the extras you won’t eat right away and nuts will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
Prepare the night before. Get into the habit of putting your grains (rice, quinoa, millet, etc) into a rice cooker with a timer you can set to go off at the time you plan to eat them the next day. You pre-soak your grains (breaking down the phytates and making them easier to digest) by doing this and save the cooking time the next day.