When everyone is home and they all expect to be fed for EVERY SINGLE MEAL, it can be a bit overwhelming, am I right? Today I’m sharing my best tips for how to stay sane and healthy when you’re cooking every meal at home.
In a “normal” week, you might have kids eating at school, one or both spouses eating out for lunch, and, if you’re like most families I know, you’re grabbing take-out or going out to dinner at least once a week.
But these past couple of weeks have been ANYTHING BUT NORMAL, and it seems like this way of life may be sticking around for a while until we’re able to get a handle on the COVID-19 virus.
Which means, this cooking-at-home-for-every-meal thing is likely going to be sticking round for a while too.
In times like these, it might seem easiest to grab pre-made, packaged foods and snacks because it will make life easier.
While there are definitely more options for healthy packaged foods than we’ve ever had available before, these foods are still not the best way to build the healthiest meals.
Packaged, pre-made meals are usually low in vegetables and they often have way more sodium than anyone needs. Plus, the additives and preservatives in these foods are not healthy.
So, what’s the solution?
Here are 6 tips for how to stay sane and healthy when you’re cooking every meal at home.
#1 Done is Better than Perfect when You’re Cooking Every Meal
Anyone who loves to cook knows how good it feels to make a really great meal that everyone in the family loves.
But here’s the deal…even people who love to cook (myself included) need a break sometimes.
So, don’t put so much pressure on yourself when it comes to making every single meal! They don’t all have to be perfect.
I want you to focus on getting balanced meals on the table, but YOU DO NOT have to cook or make fancy every single food you put on the table.
If you simply cut up some fresh produce (carrots, broccoli, pepper strips, etc.) for your veggie, rather than doing something more involved like roasting or steam-sautéing them, that is perfectly OKAY.
Here’s something that works really well for me when it comes to keeping things simpler with meal planning and prep.
If I’m making your basic meat/starch/veggie type of meal, I will choose 1 of those parts to keep really simple for the meal.
If it’s the veggie that I’m going to keep simple, I may do what I suggested above by serving cut up fresh veggies.
Or, I will simply use frozen pre-cut veggies that I thaw by soaking them in really hot water for about 10 minutes.
Then, I drain them, toss with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and some coarse salt and heat them in the microwave.
This works really well for frozen shelled peas. My family loves them that way and it makes a super quick veggie side dish for the meal.
If it’s the meat or starch that you’re going to keep really simple for the meal, that usually means using leftover cooked meat or a leftover cooked starch for the meal. THAT IS OKAY TO DO!
Don’t feel like you have to cook everything fresh for every single meal. Just make sure you consume any leftovers within 3 or 4 days (for meat, stick with 3 days, starches and vegetables can go 4 days).
If you need to use pre-made packaged meals occasionally to stay sane and keep food on the table, do your best to add a separate vegetable and fruit to the meal.
When it comes to choosing the healthiest pre-made, packaged options, the ingredient list is the first thing you should look for on the package.
The ingredient list is usually found right under (or beside) the nutrition facts panel (which is the area on the label where it lists out the calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates, vitamins, etc. that are in the food).
When you’re looking at the ingredient list, if there are a lot of ingredients listed that you don’t understand or that don’t seem like “real food”, skip that option.
Look for one that has a shorter list of ingredient that you can understand and that look like ingredients you might find in an actual recipe for that food.
#2 Chop Your Veggies in Batches
One thing that saves me time and again, is the concept of chopping your veggies all at once so that you have them ready to go when you need them.
Look in my fridge and you will almost always find a container of cut up carrot sticks, just waiting to be put on the table for a really quick vegetable. I can’t tell you how often that has saved my sanity when it comes to healthy meals.
When you get out your cutting board and knife, it doesn’t take that much extra time to cut up extra vegetables. Because you will only have to wash the cutting board and knife once, you will save time with dishes over the course of the week too. Bonus!
Here’s where people get tripped up…once you’ve cut up all the vegetables, how do you store them?
- Onion – Wrap chopped onion tightly in plastic wrap and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This will help prevent the onion smell from getting into everything in the fridge.
- Sweet (or bell) Pepper – Store pepper strips or chopped pepper in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I have not found peppers need added water to stay fresh.
- Carrots – Store cut up or sliced carrots in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the carrots. Store them in the refrigerator.
- Celery – Store cut up or sliced celery in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the celery. Store them in the refrigerator.
- Cauliflower – Store cut up raw cauliflower florets in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the cauliflower. Store them in the refrigerator.
- Broccoli – Store cut up raw broccoli florets in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the broccoli. Store them in the refrigerator.
- Cucumber – Store cut up raw cucumber in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the cucumber. Store them in the refrigerator.
- Radishes – Store cut up raw radishes in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the radishes. Store them in the refrigerator.
- Snap and Snow Peas – Store trimmed raw radishes in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the radishes. Store them in the refrigerator.
- Lettuce, Spinach, other Tender Salad Greens and Kale – trim and tear the greens. Rinse the greens well and either pat them dry by wrapping them gently in a clean kitchen towel (a tea towel works really well) or by spinning them in a salad spinner. Then, wrap them loosely with a dry towel (again, a tea towel works well) or a couple of paper towels. Store the loosely wrapped greens in an airtight container.
- Cabbage – Store chopped or shredded cabbage in an airtight container; add water to the container to cover the cabbage. Store in the refrigerator. Drain and pat the cabbage dry or spin the cabbage in a salad spinner to dry before cooking with it.
#3 Batch Cooking = Less Cooking
Whether you’re a fan of leftovers or not, cooking extra meat and even vegetables can do wonders for your sanity when everyone is home and you have to cook every meal!
Batch cooking works especially well when it comes to grilling, roasting and cooking in the crock pot or instant pot. With any of these cooking methods, you can load up the cooking appliance to maximize the amount of cooked food you end up with.
You’re turning it on anyway so why not cook as much as you can at one time?
Plus, once you get everything out to make whatever you’re going to cook, it doesn’t take much more time to prep and cook twice or three times the amount.
What works well for me is to simply double the amount I’m making. We eat half the food the first day and then either eat the same exact meal the second day (or skip a day so that you don’t have the same meal two days in a row), or turn the food I’ve cooked into something different for the second meal.
Sometimes I end up with enough food for three meals when I do this and then by the third meal, I’ll take the main components of the first meal and turn them into something different so that we aren’t bored by having the original meal a third time.
Even if you just cook extra meat when you’re cooking for a meal, it will help so much. You can toss the extra meat onto a salad for lunch the next day or turn it into a quick soup or sandwich if that’s more your style.
Roasted vegetables work well to make extra of. Serve them cold on top of a salad for lunch the second day, and you’ll be glad you made extra!
#4 Fill Your Freezer
I know it may seem like it’s hard enough to make just one dinner meal every day but do yourself a favor once or twice a week and make time to double the batch of whatever you’re making. Then stick half of the food in the freezer for another meal later in the week or month.
I’ve alluded to this in other parts of this post, but it doesn’t take twice the time to make a double batch of a recipe.
This is because you’re already getting out the bowls, pans, cutting board, knife, etc. to make the recipe once so those things are already there and ready for you.
Same with the ingredients. You don’t have to get the ingredients out twice, you just get them out once and then use twice as much. It saves time in the long run!
Give it a try, and I KNOW you will be really happy to have a full meal made and ready and waiting for you in the freezer.
This option works really well when you’re making things like meatballs, meatloaf or even taco meat. Fully cook the meatballs, meatloaf or taco meat. Drain off the fat, cool the meat and then store it in an airtight container
in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Cooked soups and stews also store really well in the freezer.
If I’m cooking chicken thighs or shredded beef in the slow cooker or instant pot, I will often cook extra and store some of it in the freezer for another time.
#5 Put Breakfast and Lunch on Autopilot
I don’t know what your typical schedule is like, but for my family, dinner is the one meal we eat most consistently together at home. So, we’re used to cooking most nights for dinner.
Breakfast is somewhat similar, although we’re usually on a tighter timeline to fit breakfast in, so it’s usually not super involved.
Lunch, on the other hand, well, let’s just say that the first week of us all being home meant lunches were a little sketchy. They weren’t always complete meals and there was more snacking than normal between lunch and dinner.
I quickly decided that needed to change in order to keep everyone fed and healthy.
Now, I’ve put lunch and breakfast on autopilot to make things easier.
This means I take a couple of hours each week to prep a bunch of food that we can quickly grab for breakfast and lunch. It makes those meals go so much smoother, and the kids can often help themselves, making it easier on my husband and I as we’re trying to get our work and all the house things done at the same time.
#6 Meal Planning – Keep it Simple
If you want to take this time at home to cook new recipes and explore new cooking techniques, have at it! I’m all for taking time to slow down and spend more time in the kitchen.
But, DO NOT feel badly if you make the same 5 to 7 meals for dinner for the next few weeks. Same goes for breakfast and lunch!
You have my permission to keep your meals simple, which will also keep your grocery shopping simpler too. And I’m DEFINITELY all for keeping the grocery shopping simpler right now. The fewer trips to the store, the better!
I know, I know, variety is the spice of life and is best for your overall health and nutrition, but this is a unique time. It’s WAY more important to not get stressed out over your meals and cooking than it is to be cooking with 20 different vegetables every week.
Plus, I guarantee that keeping your meals simpler will help in preventing you from falling back on less-than-healthy packaged, processed meals.
Too Long, Didn’t Read?
I know, that got really long, but if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed with all the cooking, go back and read just one or two of the tips for how to stay sane when you have to cook every meal. Even if you put just one of the tips into action, it can save you time in the kitchen.