by Lauren Lovell, lead nutritionist for Happy Hormones for Life
For most of us, weekdays involve an endless to-do list with plenty of commitments to work, family and friends. This leaves very little time to focus on planning and preparing healthy meals which can leave even the best-intentioned of us relying on more processed foods or ready meals.
It doesn’t have to be this way! By taking a little time out over the weekend and following a few time-saving tips, you can get a healthy, nutritious, mid-week meal on the table in no time. Here’s how…
- Plan – take 5 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday morning (I enjoy doing this while I have my coffee) to jot down your meal plan for the week (try these great planning templates) and what ingredients you need to top up on for this. If you follow the “cook once, eat twice” principle below, this could mean you only need to plan 5 main meals for the week and have the leftovers for lunch or a second dinner. Take the guess work out of meal times to save time and money.
- Cook once, eat twice – I can’t emphasise the time-saving power of this enough (not to mention less washing up!). Get your slow cooker out and make a big vat of soup or stew which you can dish into ready-to-go containers for lunches and dinners through the week. Cook up a big batch of quinoa to form the base of meals, always make double the amount of vegetables you need to save for other meals during the week. You can also boil up a load of eggs to have in the fridge, ready to serve with some vegetables or sweet potato toast for breakfast or to add to a salad for a quick lunch.
- Get roasting – cook a big roast on a Sunday with plenty of veggies. The meat can be portioned out and stretch to at least 2 or 3 meals – add some roasted chicken to some greens for a speedy lunch salad, add ready roasted vegetables to some scrambled eggs for a quick breakfast or make an omelette for dinner.
- Chop, chop, chop! – Doing some veggie prep over the weekend can save you so much time during the week. Chop then store, in the crisper or a bowl of water in the fridge, to keep fresh. Use these to make a quick stir-fry by adding to a pan with some protein like prawns, chickpeas or beef strips or simply have as a snack with some hummus or pesto. If the suns out, how about making a picnic-style platter? Simply pop the ready chopped veggies, some leftover roast meat, sliced avocado or olives and hummus or pesto on a beautiful serving board and enjoy!
- Make a dip – I love pesto! It tastes amazing with everything and quickly adds flavour to any meal. It’s so quick (less than 5 minutes) and easy to make plus doesn’t have the nasty vegetable oils often found in store-bought varieties. Jazz up some sautéed kale and eggs with a dollop of pesto or add to courgetti or brown rice noodles with some lean protein for a speedy dinner.
- Think small – having a fridge full of “small vegetables” that don’t need prepping at all (think radishes, cherry tomatoes, mangetout, olives, baby leaf salads) means you can throw a salad together in under 5 minutes – simply throw a handful of each in a bowl with some ready-to-eat protein sources (think tinned sardines, tuna, smoked mackerel, pre-cooked chicken, cooked prawns) and some healthy fats (a glug of olive oil will do!), and you have a quick, healthy lunch – really great for the office too!
- Ready, Steady, Go! – Sometimes, its ok to use ready prepared shortcuts as these can save us lots of time. Favourites are ready to eat sachets of quinoa or lentils; add to salads or serve with ready roasted vegetables. Curry and miso pastes can be rubbed into all sorts of meat or vegetables before cooking or turned into delicious curries with the addition of some stock or coconut milk, protein and those ready chopped vegetables! Courgetti, butternut squash lasagne sheets and cauliflower rice are available in most supermarkets now and can form the basis of lots of meals.
- Freeze – use your freezer to store par-cooked vegetables which can be added to meals and quickly heated until cooked through. Peas and ready chopped frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh and can eliminate prep time. Store leftovers which can be left to defrost during the day, ready to be warmed after work – stews, soups and bolognaise sauce all work well for this – defrost and serve with some 2-minute rice or ready-made courgetti noodles. Freeze your smoothies to enjoy later in the week or freeze smoothie bags (ready portioned out nuts/protein powder, fruit and vegetables) which can be quickly added to a blender for a cooling summer smoothie.
- Sweet tooth – having berries or apples on hand can really help when you’re in need of something sweet. I also ensure I have some coconut yoghurt in the fridge at all times. Serve together with a sprinkle of seeds, some nut butter and a drizzle of honey for a healthy, sweet treat. This could easily serve as breakfast too if you pump up the protein with extra nuts and seeds. A slab of dark chocolate (at least 70%) should live in every food cupboard too! This is the ultimate instant pudding.
- Go nuts! – have a stash of nuts on hand for snacking and adding to meals. They’re a great source of protein and healthy fats and can be added to smoothies, salads or stir-fries. Seeds are great added to soups and salads too. Or as part of your weekend prep, how about making a quick granola? Simply toast mixed nuts and seeds with oats, cinnamon, grated apple, coconut flakes and coconut oil to have during the week for breakfast. Use this to top your yoghurt too!
As you can see, simply spending just one hour in the kitchen on a Sunday can really help to cut down the time you spend on prepping and cooking during the week plus can give your diet the nutritious boost it requires to provide you with the energy and nourishment you need to sustain your busy lifestyle.
Lauren Lovell is a Registered Nutritional Therapist with a special interest in female hormone and digestive health. Having worked in the fast-paced recruitment industry for several years plus studying for 4 years during this time, she understands the pressures of a busy lifestyle and the impact this can have on our health. She supports her clients in making achievable changes that fit into their lifestyles so they can reach their health goals. She is passionate about inspiring her clients to embrace a balanced, sustainable way of eating that can support their wellbeing long-term. www.laurenlovell.com