For many of us, the thrill of making sourdough starters and slow-roasted meals has been replaced with kitchen burnout. When the pandemic first hit, people were actively seeking ways to make food more exciting since so many of our favorite restaurants were forced to shut down. My social media feed was filled with impressive food photos and I felt the urge to try out recipes I had bookmarked years ago. It was all going great … until it wasn’t. I quickly became exhausted and noticed that other people were over it too. As chaotic as this past year has been, it’s important to find flexible ways to nourish ourselves and the good news is that there are ways to do this quickly and efficiently. Here are a few things that can help.
Make meals that involve minimal cooking.
You don’t need to turn on the stove every time you want a satisfying, nutritionally balanced meal. Aim for two to four different food groups per meal (think carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber) and include foods that require the least amount of kitchen labor. Shelf-stable items like canned tuna and beans are incredibly helpful for adding a boost of protein to meals. One of my favorite throw-together meals is mixed greens with chickpeas, boiled eggs, avocado and dressing. Other ideas include sliced bread with hummus and vegetables or quesadillas with black beans and cheese. All of these can be made in less than 10 minutes and cover different food groups. In the mornings, smoothies can be a quick, easy alternative for breakfast- just keep in mind that fruit blended with juice or water is not enough nutrition for one meal. Consider blending fruits with yogurt, seeds or nuts, and/or milk for increased satisfaction.
Choose one day to prep ahead for the week.
Ultimately, you still have to buy groceries and this can be an opportunity to loosely plan for the week ahead. Choose one day to generally plan what you’ll be eating for the week and aim for foods that don’t require elaborate prep. Also go with foods that last longer when stored properly. For example, hardier vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are way more durable than spinach or green beans. Same goes with fruits: fresh berries aren’t going to last as long as apples and pears. This way you can cut down on supermarket runs and not worry about having to eat certain foods within a few days. Go to the supermarket armed with a list and once you have everything you need, meal prep for the upcoming week. Wash canned beans and store them in the fridge, pre-chop aromatics, boil eggs in advance … basically anything that will make the process run more smoothly when it’s time to eat. Taking one day to do all the mental and physical labor can help to alleviate the daily stress of eating.
Buy pre-made meals.
If the idea of doing any type of cooking or meal prep is giving you major anxiety, pre-made meals are a great option. If you’re thinking, “No way,” you don’t have to go for the steamed chicken and vegetable combo in the freezer aisle. Many people express concern about the nutritional value of frozen meals, to which I say two things: There are great frozen food options that are nutritionally balanced and actually taste good. If possible, go for meals that have a combination of protein and carbohydrates. If the meal doesn’t come with vegetables, you can add some mixed greens on the side for an easy nutrition boost. Also, it’s totally fine to go the not-so-healthy route if it helps to preserve your sanity. This part of healthy eating too! If you’re able to afford it, pre-made can also include meal delivery kits and takeout from your local restaurants.
As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Wendy Lopez, MS, RDN, CDCES is passionate about accessible and culturally relevant nutrition education. She is the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the co-founder of Food Heaven, an online platform that provides resources on cooking, intuitive eating, wellness and inclusion. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and medication management to patients with diabetes.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.