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Quick, Healthy Meals…When You Hate to Cook

As a registered dietitian, I frequently get asked how to prepare quick healthy meals. I'll tell you how. But first, I've got a confession to make: I hate to cook.

“You’re a Dietitian and You Hate to Cook?”

People are baffled when they hear that even though I’m trained in the science of nutrition (my bachelors and a masters degree), I don’t like to cook. Even though I spend a lot of my professional life talking about food, I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I don’t watch cooking shows and my social media feed is NOT filled with pretty food pictures. I love eating healthy, but food preparation is not my thing. 

Quit the Guilt

To be honest, I used to feel guilty about telling people that I don’t like to cook. But not anymore.

You don't like to cook either? Here's why you should stop feeling guilty. 

Let me ask you…do you build your own houses? Repair your car? Sew your own clothing? No? You’re not alone. And, do you feel guilty about that? I doubt it. I don’t.

In my opinion, there’s only so much time in the day and we have to choose how we’re going to spend it. Plus, there are so many people that can do those things way better than me.

So, if you like to cook, that’s great! But, this article isn’t for you.

Now, please don’t assume that just because I don’t like to cook that I don’t like to eat. That is not true at all. I love to eat!

Every once in a while I meet people who say that they don’t like to eat. They wish they could just take a pill to meet all their daily nutritional needs. If this is you, sorry…but this article is not for you either.

Hate to Cook but Love to Eat

I appreciate quality food and great flavors but I just don’t want to spend much time getting my food ready for consumption. For me, it’s just a matter of priorities. I’ve got a long list of other things I’d rather spend my time doing. Perhaps, on the other hand, you love cooking, but just don’t have the time to spend much time in the kitchen. Are you with me? Either way, I’ve got some tips for you:

Consider what aspects about food preparation you like and don’t like. I think there are four steps to getting food on the table: 1) knowing how to eat for health, 2) meal planning, 3) grocery shopping, and 4) the actual meal preparation.

Knowing which aspects you find easy and fun…and which aspects you dread, will help you come up with solutions. I’d love to hear what aspects you love…and what you hate.

#1. Don’t Know How to Eat for Health?

Lots of people struggle with this. Sometimes these decisions start to take over their lives. (I can relate. I initially got into the field of nutrition because of an eating disorder. I tried every diet there was).

People will read about “macros” and then try to get that exact proportion of protein, carbs, and fats (good luck!). Then they’ll read another book about eliminating carbs, or going gluten-free or being vegetarian – and they keep flip flopping from one “diet” to another. What a waste of valuable time and energy. It doesn't have to be that difficult to maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risks of disease. 

If I just described you, please reach out to me. I love coaching clients about making food choices easier. I love helping others simplify their lives by helping to discover a style of eating that works to achieve their goals…without driving them and their loved ones crazy. I think people make this step too difficult. The Canadian Food Guide is a good place to start in terms of how much to eat of what.

#2. Don’t Like Meal Planning?

I’ve already stated several times that “I hate to cook”. And, seriously, that’s what I thought for many years, until I started testing out meal-in-a box companies.

That’s when I realized that it’s not the actual meal prep and cooking in the kitchen that I dislike. Ok, admittedly, cooking is STILL not one of my favorite things to do. But I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I do meal planning and shopping at the grocery store – or OMG having to go to more than one store to get what I need for a recipe!

Lots of people tell me that like to go on Pinterest to find an interesting recipe to try for dinner. I’d rather do push-ups than search for recipes (and, trust me, I’m not a big fan of doing push-ups either).

If you don’t like meal planning, you’ve got plenty of options to make life easier. You can subscribe to a meal planning company which provides recipes for a week at a time. Some of these options include: YourDinnerIsPlanned or eMeals.

Although frankly, I don’t like too many choices. PrepDish is slightly different. You get a weekly menu with shopping list, but the instructions guide you prepping all the food in a couple of hours…so that putting together the daily meals are much quicker.

The company only offers Paleo and gluten-free options. BTW you don’t have to be on a gluten-free diet to follow the gluten-free plan. I love the way they incorporate more legumes and ancient grains to keep the menu interesting.

Meal-in-a-Box, Anyone?

Have you tried any of the meals-in-a box companies such as Hello FreshBlue ApronHome ChefSun Basket, and others? I have and I enjoy using them on occasion.

They work out to be about $10-15 a meal per person. That’s less expensive than going out to eat. And, the meals tend to be more well-balanced in terms of being moderate in calories and higher in veggies than what most restaurants serve.

Yes, you still select your menus, but the options are limited for each week…which is great for people like me, that get overwhelmed with too many options (like at Chili’s restaurant..lol). If $10 a meal per person sounds expensive, realize that they give you all the ingredients you need…in the amount you need. There’s no need to buy a bottle or jar of an expensive ingredient just for the one teaspoon needed in a recipe.

If It's Tuesday, It Must be Tacos

Here's an even simpler way to meal plan. You can also make up your own limited list of meal options. One client told me that her philosophy is, “If it’s Tuesday, it must be tacos.” 

She said that meal planning used to take up so much bandwidth (both time and energy), that she simplified her family’s weekly menu so that everyone knows what to expect for each day. Every week they buy the same things, in the same quantity. And, come dinnertime, anyone can get the meal started.

Perhaps you can simplify your menu by finding a handful of great recipes that are easy to make and great tasting…and then repeat the cycle? Then, a few months down the road, plan another full week of menus.

#3. Don’t Like Grocery Shopping?

I get it. It’s no fun for me either, and thank goodness I hardly have to do it. We use Alexa to add foods to our shopping list. And, then my husband does all the shopping. He actually LIKES grocery shopping (bless his heart) so I gladly let him. He works from home and likes the distraction of getting out every day for a few items.

If you’re not so lucky to have someone to shop for you, see what delivery services you can get in your area. There’s Instacart – which my local grocery store uses. Walmart will shop for you – and will take it out to your car. Even just putting your staples on Amazon’s automatic reorder system might make your life easier.

#4. Hate to Cook?

You don’t need any fancy recipes to make quick healthy meals. There are a lot of options for you, like these simple recipes for Meal-in-a-Bowl. These can be quick to prepare when you buy fully cooked options such as roasted chicken, pickled veggies, canned beans, and pre-made sauces.

And, then, of course, there are usually pre-sliced veggies, salad-in-a-bag mixes, and marinated and/or seasoned meats options in your grocery store. Which of these “convenience” foods do you take advantage of? For example, I no longer spend time cooking brown rice or quinoa since I discovered these simple (and delicious) 90-second heat-in-a-bag grain blends. What are your go-to easy-to-make recipes? Send me an email at [email protected]

Maybe you need to eat out more. I’m been writing about eating healthy in restaurants since my first book on this topic came out in 1991, and I’m convinced there’s almost always something healthy on the menu (or can be modified to be so).

Plus, it's likely that GrubhubDoorDash, and UberEats deliver from restaurants in your area so you don’t even have to get out of the house…if you don’t want to.

Fully Prepared Meals

Fully prepared meals are also available for delivery for people who hate to cook (or don’t have time) and require just a 3 minute warmup. Check out Freshly or TheGoodKitchen. 

Many cities have their own meal delivery companies as well. For example, you can buy pre-prepared complete meals from Catered Fit if you live in certain parts of California and Florida. Three meals a day for five days is $150. Fully-cooked meals are available in my area (Jacksonville, FL) from FitMealsPrep.

Search for companies like these in your area. If you’re concerned that the fresh foods will rot in your refrigerator because of your hectic lifestyle, there’s always frozen meals – but different than what you might find in the grocery store. MosaicFoods offer frozen meal deliveries in the NY Philly area.

Do you own a crock pot or Instant Pot? Omaha Steaks offers skillet- and crockpot-ready meals consisting of meats and veggies. Dinner for two starts at just $15. Some companies only do local deliveries. PrestoEats offers food delivery in Vancouver and Calgary for quick 30-minute Instant Pots. RealFoodReady offers ingredients for your crockpot in the Denver area.

See what I mean? Even if you hate to cook, there’s not need to feel guilty about spending less time in the kitchen. There are so many companies that want to help you make your life easier. If you’re not going to sew your own clothes or build your own house, why should you have to cook if you don’t want to? Want to share how you get dinner on the table fast? Send me an email at [email protected]

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