A year ago the world just about shut down forcing Americans, and the rest of the world, to change their lifestyle dramatically. For most of the people in the United States, our lifestyles have always been “GO, GO, GO”! Because of the pandemic, over the last year, we have been forced into our homes with more time on our hands. Among all the negative the world was going through, we also saw some positives that were like taking a breath of fresh air. People were flocking to the outdoors, enjoying nature, being physically active with their families and getting into the kitchen to cook more homecooked meals. Gone were the days of eating out in restaurants daily. Although takeout remained available and app services such as Door Dash and Uber Eats became highly relied on, many people chose to learn new skills in the kitchen. The 2020 Food and Health Survey found that more than 80% of Americans changed their eating habits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Memes circulated the internet joking about a banana bread renaissance as many people were empowered to try new things from the comfort of their homes (not to mention trying to get rid of their over ripe bananas they stocked up on).
From a dietitian’s standpoint, these lifestyle changes were exciting! People preparing more home-cooked meals and eating out less is something we have been encouraging people to do for years as home cooked meals tend to have healthier properties. Cooking at home has been a strategy we have used to help people battle obesity, heart disease and diabetes due to the ability to make smaller portioned meals that contain less sodium, fats and added sugars. Although the world is slowly starting to get back to normal with vaccines becoming readily available, positive case numbers declining and easing restrictions, COVID cooking fatigue has set in for many. Home-cooked meals although glamourous and fun for many who enjoy creating works of food art, can be a laborious task to the majority of people. Not only the amount of time shopping for the ingredients, prepping the meal, actual cook time but then the dreaded dishes! What can we do now? With life normalizing again and many people burnt out from cooking, how can we continue with the benefits of home cooked meals without living in the kitchen all day cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner? Here are some tips that can help!
Supplementing your meals with frozen foods
The frozen food isle has come a long way since the days of “frozen dinners” with many companies opting to follow the demand for healthier foods. Venturing down the frozen food isle you can find many frozen meals that are lower in sodium, fat and added sugars, higher in fiber and made from whole foods rather than a list of ingredients that we can’t pronounce. Adding these healthier frozen meals into your home cooked meal regimen can give you a much-needed break from the daily grind of meal service while still providing your body with healthy nutrients and fuel. Another way to incorporate frozen foods into your meals while still making fresh home cooked meals is to use frozen ingredients to speed up the amount of prep and cooking time. Doing something as simple as cooking the entrée of your food and supplementing it with frozen vegetables or even adding more frozen vegetables to your store bought frozen meals can add an extra bang of nutrients while saving you time.
Make your own frozen dinners
Scour the internet and you’ll find so many “freezer meal” recipes that can be a savior on a day that you don’t have time or don’t feel like cooking. You can cook things ahead of time and freeze the cooked meal or freeze the raw ingredients and just pop them into the oven when you are ready to eat. Freezing soups, stews, casseroles and veggie dishes into individual portions (or multiple portions if you prefer) can make for an easy grab when cooking isn’t an option. Some foods that don’t freeze well are cheese, rice or pasta by themselves. Don’t forget to label them so you know what they are and the date they were frozen.
Check these freezer meal ideas out from SkinnyTaste, Taste of Home, and Happy Money Saver!
Meal prepping can be a savior, not only when you lead a busy lifestyle but for those times you just don’t feel like cooking. Meal prepping can come in so many forms. You can do as little or as much as you need to make the week easier for you. Figure out what works for your life and go for it. Some people like to just prepare the ingredients so when it’s time to cook the meal there is minimal prep time and food can just be popped into the oven. Others like to cook and portion out meals for the week into the fridge so that they just need reheated at the time of service. Another effective meal prepping method is to making large servings of meat that can then be reused in a few meals in different ways. For instance, making baked or boiled chicken, shredding it or cutting it up and using it in salads, sandwiches, burritos etc. Planning is key in order to successfully meal prep so sit down and develop a plan that will work for you. Look at the week as a whole and determine what kind of meals will work in your schedule, how much time you want to or can spend cooking, what foods can be chopped and prepped ahead of time, and what types of foods you may be able to use in multiple meals to save on time.
Consider utilizing meal delivery services
Meal delivery services such as Hello Fresh have become more and more plentiful. Nowadays there seems to be a meal delivery service for any dietary preference. Utilizing these meal delivery services can add a fun twist on cooking because it not only takes out the work of planning a meal, but also eliminates grocery shopping and provides you with a fun new recipe to try. One downside to this method is that it can be costly (look for specials and deals!) so this may not be an option for you if your trying to cut costs. Here is a list of some meal delivery services available in 2021.
Simplifying your meals
Home cooking doesn’t have to be a 5-star gourmet meal each and every night. Many recipes can be healthy and take under 30 minutes to prepare. Simplify things and leave the recipes that may take a long time for a day when you are feeling ambitious and have extra time. Here are a couple websites with some good 30 minute meals!
Focus on one meal
After the pandemic started, many people found they were spending all day in the kitchen preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for their families. Thinking up and creating meals 3 times a day can be daunting and contribute to the burnout. Focusing your efforts on creating one meal of the day can ease stress. For example, eating a whole grain cereal for breakfast, a sandwich, wrap or salad for lunch and making a home cooked meal for dinner may be the way to go. Depending on the age and abilities of your family, you may be able to have healthy foods available to them so that they can make and eat breakfast and lunch on their own time schedule but come together as a family for dinner and enjoy the home cooked meal you prepared.