I am sure that I’m not the only one finding cooking 3 meals per day (and thinking about the occasional healthy snack) something of a challenge at the moment. I LOVE COOKING and yet it has tested my patience, resolve, ingenuity and stress levels as time has passed.
If a full-time chef could have been employed I would have considered it a worthy investment, and getting take-out every night would have been another that would have fluttered through my mind (but I recognised and jettisoned the idea because it’s not good for the waistline or my wallet).
Instead I have had to look at some food prepping ideas and short-cuts for saving time, energy and stress and these have helped enormously with my daily dinner and meal dilemmas.
On the basis that we all need a helping hand I am passing on my TIPS & TRICKS to you – not in any particular order – but hopefully a few might resonate and fit your own circumstances.
1. USE YOUR FREEZER
Buy frozen vegetables, fruit, herbs, grains and anything that speeds up your prep time. They’re usually pre-chopped, partially-cooked, or fully-cooked and take the faff out of preparation plus they cook quickly and are great for cutting down on food waste. I like the free-flow ones where you can grab a handful or just the right amount you need (remember appetites are small especially after WLS) and are often cheaper than some expensive out-of-season options. Favourites for me include peas, soya beans, berries, autumn or forest fruit mixes, cooked grains, sliced avocado, smoothie fruit combos and fish pie mixes. Some even have better nutritional profiles than their fresh counterparts.
Likewise freeze leftover portions of a dinner already cooked for another meal occasion. I do this with things like lasagne, curry, soups and casseroles for example but I also freeze portions of bulk made main meal sauces such as ragu or bolognese for use in other dishes like like a moussaka. In other words cook once, eat twice.
Some things I make from scratch myself that are better than ready-made frozen options – popsicles and protein ice cream are two I frequently make.
Ragu used in Moussaka (click here for recipe)
Frozen popsicle (click here for recipe)
2. BUY PRE-COOKED CHICKEN
Rotisserie chicken is a terrific buy for those days when you don’t have anything up to 1½-2 hours to roast your own. I use it as a great and easy way to get a Sunday-type roast meal on the table mid-week; as an ingredient for a salad or deli style meal; chopped as a short-cut for a stir-fry (with frozen pre-cut vegetables too); as a relaxed and on-hand filling for sandwiches and wraps; for adding to pasta, rice and grain gratins; and any leftover carcass can also be used to make the stock for a soup. What’s not to like?
For More Ways To Use Rotisserie Chicken (click here)
3. USE YOUR SLOW-COOKER
I use my crock-pot or slow-cooker at least once a week (maybe more when working) and it never fails to make me smile when I lift the lid after a few hours of slow cooking – a brainless way to get food on the table after just a little effort early morning I find. I use it to make my Peanut Butter Chicken (recipe here), Pulled Pork (recipe here) and countless chillies and pot-roasts.
For More Ways To Use A Slow Cooker (click here)
4. LOAD UP THAT SHEET PAN
Not much could be simpler than loading up a sheet pan or tray with meat/poultry/fish etc and veggies. Add herbs, spices, rubs and other flavourings, spritz with low-fat spray or mist and let the oven do the rest. Plus it minimises on the washing up so a win! win!
Chicken Sheet Pan Meal (click here for recipe)
5. FOILED AGAIN
Individually wrapped portions of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables make great ‘serves 1 or more’ meals that can be cooked in the oven or on the barbecue. They can also be bespoke – a great way for WLS patients to prep their own one and individual family members to also get involved by building their own. Again – eases on the clean-up operation too after dinner.
Lemon Chicken and Courgettes/Zucchini in Foil (click here for recipe)
Easiest Ever Salmon in Foil For 1 (click here for recipe)
6. PLAN A THEME NIGHT
When inspiration fails you then fall back on a theme night regular. You know the ones – Taco Tuesday, Fakeaway & Pizza Night Friday, Meatless Monday etc. I find these make meal planning so much easier and have a host of reliable recipes that we make so regularly I can recite by rote! Go to the recipe archive here for some great pizza recipes using a whole host of bases (some extra speedy using a wholemeal wrap or a pitta bread for the base); some great Fakeaway Favourites for Chinese and Indian food; some flavoursome meat-free recipes where you won’t miss the meat; and taco ideas too. You can see a few of the pics of them below:
7. VISIT THE DELI
Make a superb and high protein meal without cooking at all – just visit the deli or deli counter of your supermarket and buy cooked meat, poultry, smoked fish, olives, cheeses, pates, special breads, ready-made salads, salsas and much more then arrange artfully as if you have spent hours making everything! Mix and match the same with salad ingredients to make special salad platters that become the main focus of the light meal. They make great appetisers and snacks too – mozzarella balls with cherry tomatoes and basil leaves are a favourite.
Peach and Parma Ham Salad (click here for recipe)
9. CANNY IDEAS
Use those canned beans, lentils, chick peas and sachets of rice, noodles and grains to cut down on the prep time appreciably. Use for salads, stir-fries, chillies, soups, curries and other made-up dishes. I find them invaluable when eating solo since I can just use 1-2 tbsp to put on my Bariatric Portion Plate and keep the rest for another use.
Easy Meals From A Can Of Beans (click here)
Three Can Curry (click here for recipe)
Easiest Ever Moroccan Chicken Bake (click here for recipe)
10. LEAVE IT OVERNIGHT
Yes make your oats for next day breakfast by soaking overnight with a varying mixture of milks, fruits, nuts, seeds and flavourings – the choice is wide. So much faster than making porridge from scratch and you can grab a jar to take with you to eat later if time is short or you’re not a great early breakfast eater. I often make 4 or 5 mid-week day breakfasts on a Sunday evening this way and then go a bit more ‘Full English’ at the weekend. Oat couture!
Overnight Oats (click here for recipes and advice)
Not only do I cheat by using ready-prepared chopped garlic, ginger, chillies and lemon grass for example but I also have a whole shelf of ready-made pastes from harissa, pesto and Thai curry to make quick and easy meals. Likewise I use some jarred sauces too (checking they don’t have any or few added rather than naturally-occurring sugars).
I also am not averse to buying ready-made custard, flavoured quarks, ready to eat jellies and anything else that is low in sugar. I am an avid back of pack reader and so know which to look out for – and can anything be more comforting than jelly and custard that’s in the bowl in under a minute when dessert is required after all?
12. FINALLY WASTE NOT AND RE-PURPOSE!
I loathe waste, and during these challenging times when food supplies are short or depleted, even more so. Therefore I often make a fridge-clear dish (often a soup) and a fruit salad mixture that uses the stray single oddments at the end of the week or those left in the fruit bowl.
Likewise if we go out (not at the moment admittedly) and bring home a ‘doggy bag’ or have a food delivery that has leftovers I do re-purpose the food into something else so that they get used up and monotony doesn’t creep in. I find not very much can’t be added to an omelette, a crustless quiche, salad and pasta bake!
Fridge Clear Soup (click here for recipe)
Mini Crustless Quiches (click here for recipe)
Egg Noodle Slice (click here for recipe)