20 August 2019How to lose weight & eat healthy when you don't cook

Weight loss and healthy eating often come with the idea that we have to be a master chef in the kitchen, when in reality a lot of us prefer quick and easy meals that fit with our busy schedules.

My love for food, nutrition and cooking began at a very young age. I learned from a master of practical, wholesome and tasty meal prep - my mother. While growing up on a busy farm, I watched and helped her throw together super quick meals and snacks. She seemed to have it down to an art, putting together a meal even when she was really tired with absolutely no desire to go into the kitchen. Her role was to orchestrate the prep of quick, balanced meals within her hectic day because we had to eat. There were many summer days when she would ask me to run out to the garden just a few hours before the meal. I would dig up potatoes so we could wash and bake them for dinner. Back then, you couldn't just text in your pizza order!

Nowadays, we find ourselves surrounded with convenient meal options that allow many of us to grab a NY-style meal on the run. And yes, if we are not paying attention, these same conveniences can undoubtedly get us into trouble with our health and weight.

Obviously, I love food and nutrition. I studied it intensely for 6 plus years and pursued it as a career. However, don't get me wrong, I can't justify spending long periods of time in the kitchen, especially when I am tired or simply disinterested in cooking. Frankly, there are too many other things I want and need to get done in my full life!

Also, I have talked with many people during my career who have informed me that they hate cooking yet want to be healthy. Others are periodically disinterested in cooking or just don't have the time for it but still want to lose or manage weight. I have also worked with people who never learned to cook and find the kitchen intimidating.

Here are some of my best tips for anyone looking to shorten and simplify food prep:

1. Keep it simple!

Don't try to cook a complicated recipe when you don't have the time, energy or desire! Here are a few of my personal quick and easy go-to meals:

  • Sheet pan filled with chicken, red potato halves, and other colorful veggies seasoned with olive oil and seasoning of choice, then simply roasted.
  • Microwaved sweet potato or small squash with cottage cheese and leftover roasted vegetables.
  • Slow cooker meal of lean pork loin topped with a frozen vegetable mix and a jar of green chili

2. Plan ahead for meals.

Think about an easy meal you can throw together well before meal-time. This is much better than standing at the refrigerator door, dazed and hungry, without a plan.

3. Keep your kitchen pantry stocked with foods from a variety of food groups.

I keep an assortment of healthy food staples so I am prepared to throw together simple meals. Grab a sheet of paper and write down the food groups (proteins, vegetables, fruit, dairy or alternative, grains, and fats). Brainstorm, and list easy healthy foods from each food group that are enjoyed by you and others in the home. If you have a family, get them involved in this simple task. In fact, kids love choices and are more likely to accept foods if they are part of the planning process.

4. Use minimally-processed foods to supplement convenience foods.

For example:

  • A "healthed-up" frozen pizza with added veggies, like fresh diced bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, or olives.
  • Rotisserie chicken with steamed frozen veggies and a grain like quinoa or brown rice.
  • Leftover barbecued meat and fresh spinach or kale with a drizzle of olive oil and spices baked on a frozen cauliflower crust. Bakes in about 10 minutes.

5. Consider grocery delivery services if it is in your budget.

Instacart, Amazon and Shipt are a few of the available websites/apps that may partner with your local grocery store to deliver food right to your door. I don't personally use these services for food but go for it if it simplifies your life.

6. Meal prep kits can help cut down on meal prep time.

Grocery stores are full of meal kits, like this Sesame Crunch Chopped Salad Kit from Trader Joe's. Ingredients are already prepped and ready to go into the bowl, onto the stove or grill or into the oven. You can personalize them by adding other ingredients to suit your preferences. This can be a good option if you are pressed for time and are not on a strict budget.

Bottom Line

With a little effort, it really is possible to eat healthy in a simple, practical way. This not only can help with weight and health management but may also help keep your food costs down! Please share what works for you!

Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE
Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/"Plan, Shop, Prep, and Cook"

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