What’s dinner prep like around your house? Peaceful? Calm? Quiet? Yeah, me too. Just kidding.
Let me paint a picture.
Usually, there’s 1 or 2 boys with their heads in the pantry, digging for snacks and claiming that there are none. There’s one child crying and pulling on my pant pockets while I’m trying my best to safely use knives or move hot pots, and another scribbling in permenant marker on one of the older sibling’s homework. Parenting at it’s best, really. This doesn’t seem to happen to Bobby Flay on Food Network. But it does happen to me.
And if it happens to you as well, we both need some help. Today, I’ve got the help for you. Short of a personal chef or a meal-box subscription (which take about as much meal prep as what you’ll end up with if you follow my tips), I hope these cooking tips save your time and stress. Whether your situation is cooking for a family, working late and trying to cook when you finally get home and are exhausted, or when returning from a great ride or run and knowing you need a good meal fast, these tips work. Here’s how to get it done. Healthy, whole and real food, and quick.
Top 10 Time-Saving Daily Nutrition Tips for Athletes:
Use Your Slow-Cooker: There’s something about getting dinner done before 10 am. And sure, some slow cooker meals are time-consuming, but many are not. Take this delicious Thai Chicken Meal – quick, healthy, and easy with just a handful of ingredients. A roast with 1 bottle of pepperocinis and some garlic. If nothing else, stick the meat portion of your dinner into crockpot, drizzled with avocado oil, and allow that cook throughout the day. It’s amazing what sort of stress-relief happens when at least the protein portion of your meal is started. Add a healthy sauce (see Tip #10), a fresh salad on the side (see below), and you’re all set. Need some inspiration? Here are two of my favorite slow cooker cookbooks: Paleo and Vegetarian.
Double Your Dinners and Freeze them: If you follow the advice above to use your slow cooker, you’ll often end up with extra’s. That’s perfect. Whether you use a slow cooker or not, go ahead and double that dinner. Most everything (with the exception of lettuce) freezes wonderfully. I freeze stir-fries, burritos, meatballs, soups/stews (of course), chili, homemade sauces, and more. Pesto? Freezes. Hummus? Like a champ. Mashed sweet potatoes? Freezes. Carrots fries? Seperate them on a cookie sheet, freeze, and then place in a container or freezer bag. Bonus Tip: The crux of this tip, though, is to place sheet of paper on the outside of your freezer, and keep a running list of what meals are inside. Mark my words, if you don’t, you’re likely wasting your money by placing entire meals in a black-hole of freezer burn. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with cook-free nights (try for one doubled dinner per week and then a reheat the next).
Double Your Meat: This may sound like doubling your dinner, but it’s not. Remember that meat we put in the slow cooker with avocado oil? Double it, cook it (almost til done), and then remove half before finishing off that dinner. Works the same when sauteeing, roasting, or otherwise cooking any meat. Place the extra meat in the fridge for tomorrow (or the next night’s) dinner. It’s still a clean slate of protein that you can do anything with. For example, this week, I double-cooked chicken on Monday night when preparing a stir-fry. Then, on Wednesday, I used the extra chicken, that I seperated before completing the stir fry, for a Italian Chicken with Spaghetti Squash meal. Or, saute it with a bit of lime, salt & cumin and use it for Taco’s that will Change your Life. Since the chicken is already almost cooked through, and just waiting for you in the fridge, it is super easy and stress free meal prep (without “seeming” like leftovers).
Rotisserie: Much like doubling your meat, the reward here is having it ready to go for any dinner application. You may want to eat it as is with a healthy BBQ Sauce, carrot fries, and a salad. Or, do something completely new with it like using it in this Delicious Chicken Soup. I can find an Organic Rotisserie Chicken at my local store, seasoned with only with salt and pepper, for ~$10 and it feeds us twice. I usually bring home a rotisserie chicken on the day when I grocery shop…it’s like a stress-busting reward after a trip with my toddler – ha!
Weeknight Routine: Like many things in life routines can save us a lot of time, but you must fight to keep them from getting too boring if you like variety. A weeknight routine doesn’t restrict me to any exact meal, but knowing what type of meal to cook takes the “what’s for dinner” stress away and helps me plan for doubling meat, freezing, etc. Our routine? Monday = Stir-Fry or Frozen Meal (if stir-fry, double meat – usually used taco tuesday); Taco Tuesday; Wednesday is a Slow Cooker Meal like a Stew, Chili, Roast, or Curry (doubled and frozen of course); Thursday is Spaghetti Ground Beef over Homemade Sourdough or Burritos (kids’ favorites); Friday is Pizza Friday for the kids & Beer Battered Fish for us; Weekends are Out to Eat (one night fingers crossed), Grilled Bison Burgers or Steaks on occasion or A Delicious Meal from the Freezer. What can I say, routines are a necessity when you feed 6 people each day and would rather ride your bike than spend all day cooking!
Pre-Washed Greens & Vegetables: I simply don’t think I’d have 1/2 plate of veggies each night (see Light at Night here), without prewashed greens. We all have to pick and choose our battles, and this is where I surrender. Lettuce & Spinach washing just isn’t going to happen. I will wash some other veggies for the salad, but something gets me about washing and spinning the lettuce and greens!
Frozen Vegetables Much like the pre-washed greens, these are a lifesaver. Frozen stir-fry veggies make Monday Stirfry easy-peezy. I first steam and then saute or roast broccoli or cauliflower once per week – just add a bit of salt, pepper, and cumin, yum! My favorite delicious soup, Broccoli Pepper Soup, is even easier with frozen broccoli. Don’t forget to double and freeze that baby.
Pre-Cooked, Peeled Hard-Boiled Eggs This is for the egg lovers. There are these magical little eggs, that are pre-cooked and peeled. They stay in the fridge for 6 weeks if un-opened; and for 1 week if the 6-egg pack is opened. I can find them at Costco and King Soopers. They are preserved with oxygen packing, and that is it. I looked and I looked to find the hidden preservative, and I can’t. For a family that eats quite a few hard-boiled eggs, this is a life-saver and comparable in price to other raw organic eggs.
Pressure Cooker: If having to meal prep in the morning for a slow cooker doesn’t work for you, or even if it does, a pressure cooker is a great thing! Most meals, from prep to eating can be made in 45 minutes. Either double, freeze, and reheat your delicious dinners, OR double the prepped but not cooked ingredients in baggies and freeze. Thaw, pressure cook, eat, and repeat. If you need help getting started with a pressure cooker, try this cookbook.
Delicious Sauces: Keep some great homemade OR healthy commercial dressings, condiments and sauces on hand. When I make a sauce for a stir-fry or other dinner, or a salad dressing, or I find a condiment I like (I love Thai Kitchen curry pastes – just add coconut milk & soy sauce), I keep them on hand so that I can make an otherwise same ‘ol meal into something great. Most sauces freeze well. So, when I make this pesto, I keep extra so that I can jazz up an omelet later. My favorite dressing works well for a stir fry. This easy sauce takes a rotisserie to the next level. And some commercial condiments (again, always skip the words on the packaging, and the nutrition label, and first look at the ingredients – no soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, or weird flavorings, colorings, etc) – Bragg’s dressings & Thai Kitchen are in my pantry.
Loving the BITE Bonus: 3 Keys to Healthy Daily Nutrition. These tips are all about quick meal prep, but they still all pass something more important: My Healthy Daily Nutrition Criteria:
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Love your bike? Wanna hit the trail & run? Good! Get out there more and spend less time worrying, prepping, and cooking if you’d like. You can still make whole, real food meals most every night and be a healthy, lean, strong, thriving athlete. You don’t have to be Bobby Flay, and you may have kids hanging from you pants. Deep breath. It’s okay. Dinner’s served.
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.
***Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietician, sports nutritionist, avid endurance athlete, and owner of Apex Nutrition, LLC. She has partnered with Heights Performance to help clients get and stay healthy, lose fat, recover from injury, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. She is also an expert in endurance sports nutrition, and focuses on optimal performance, best strength to weight ratio, recovery, endurance and stamina. She teaches clients to eat nourishing, real foods without spending hours in the kitchen or hiring a personal chef. Kelli can help you put great nutrition into everyday life.***
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(***Also, just FYI, links to Amazon are affiliates links, for products I’ve been recommending for years!)