Photo by Sydney Rae on Unsplash

Go Faster in the Kitchen with the Right Ingredients

Do you ever walk into the kitchen to do more than reheat restaurant leftovers or pour yourself a bowl of cereal? Are you giving cooking a go? Good on ‘ya.

Given the pressures of modern life, it is hard to square away time to prepare healthy meals. Heck, high fives if you managed to put on pants today!

Be gentle on yourself. Don’t overcomplicate. If you are finding a point in your grocery shopping, food prep, or clean up that feels like a pain, seek out workarounds and redesign your workflow to work for you. It is all about removing barriers between you and how you want to be living your life.

Here are some guilt-free substitutions:

  • Canned Beans (Up to 10 hrs saved) — Beans are only partially digested, so they are tremendously filling, and if you are trying to lose weight, beans are your secret weapon. Yes, slow-cooked dry beans may be a bit tastier and their per-unit cost is very attractive. However, eight people hours pre-soaking the beans and another two cooking them in a typical pot is a long time investment and requires planning to execute for a meal. Sure, you say, I can cook my black beans in about 45 minutes without pre-soaking in my Instant Pot or stove-top pressure cooker. That is certainly a good optimization if you want to work with dry beans. Another great move is cooking lentils instead. Lentils can be rinsed, sorted (I have never fully appreciated this step, perhaps I need to sort alphabetically), and cooked in 25 minutes flat. If you take the cooked beans, you’ve just zoomed to the front of the line. Open the can, dump them into a strainer and rinse with water, heat them if you wish, boom! Done. What about cooking? They are already cooked and generally contain about 3.5 servings per can, which may be perfect for 3–4 person families. Get a gold star; look for beans marked low sodium. The nutrition profile is almost identical to the slow method. If you are trying to lose weight, you might shy away from baked or barbeque beans due to the higher sugar content.
  • Bagged salad (5 mins/meal saved) — Sure, you can buy a head of lettuce and carefully wash and dry each leaf if you have the time. Otherwise, default to the bagged salad, often pre-washed and ready to go. Spinach, kale, arugula, romaine, butter lettuce all are healthy and popular choices.
  • Frozen berries (Extra runs to store and cursing when fresh berries turn moldy quickly) — You’ve probably been there; those fresh berries looked awesome at the store, then you get them home and pour some out and you discover mold lurking sneakily on that ONE EVIL BERRY which was completely obscured from view at the grocery store. Then that awful mold calculus goes floating through your head. Will these other berries make me horribly ill? (I don’t know the answer to that, BTW) The solution: keep frozen berries on hand. Are they just as healthy? Yep, in some cases more so as they are flash frozen right after picking.

One shortcut that wasn’t a shortcut for me: frozen vegetables.

I’m feeling the hate from dieticians everywhere, but the above suggestions had no significant nutritional or flavor tradeoffs in my opinion. Frozen vegetables don’t have any nutritional downside, but it just shakes the vibrancy out of those wonderful morsels. I tried. I wanted to like them. They are wonderfully convenient. Perhaps if you are a big fan of steaming vegetables, they can work for you. Perhaps you know the lost art of making them appealing for sauteing, roasting, or stir-frying. If so, please share. For me, this is one spot I enjoy grabbing some fresh veggies and a chef’s knife and spending some quality time.

One last tip: have apples or other high fiber fruits on hand. If you get an unexpected hunger pang that has you reaching for the pizza carryout’s number, perhaps every once in a while you can grab that apple instead. The fiber content in the apple will take the edge off and you can do that happy dance for making a thoughtful choice for your health. You can then regroup and figure out what you want for the next meal.

We are all learning. Experiment and figure out what works for you. Please share your time savers and other insights!