5 Ways to…cook when you’re “too busy too cook”!

I know the busiest people in the world!  They don’t have time to sleep, work out, or cook.

(But I see you posting on Facebook!  I digress.)

When you’re feeling like you don’t have time to cook, here are my real-life, tried-and-true, top 5 tips for how to feed yourself something healthy and (mostly) homemade without planning ahead. All of these strategies can be used right now, although you might have to stop by a grocery store.

Why do I care about cooking at home?

Many reasons, but as a personal trainer I care that you cook at home because processed food is so hard on your body, and you never know what’s in most restaurant food.  You’d be surprised how quickly the hidden calories add up in packaged and pre-made foods that you think are healthy!  (For example, I’m still scratching my head over the IHOP Garden Omelette’s 930 calories…I can make a super-cheesy, 3-egg omelette at home with as many vegetables as I’d like for under 500 calories, so why is theirs double that number?  IHOP is far from the only offender – there’s a reason (or 500) why restaurant food tastes so good!) Nourish yourself with the best and you’ll get your best possible results!

1. Give yourself a head start.

You know what exists in the grocery store now?

  • pre-cut fresh vegetables (either in their own case or at the salad bar)
  • frozen vegetables
  • pre-cooked chicken breast

You know how easy it would be to pick up some vegetables and toss them in a pan with some olive oil?  You can put your own protein (chicken, fish, steak) with it, or pair it with a pre-cooked chicken breast.  If you keep a stash of frozen vegetables in your freezer, you won’t even need to think – just turn on the heat under a pan and add vegetables.

2. Double up.

Already cooking something now?  Make an extra portion (or 3) and you’ll have food waiting for you the next time you’re hungry.  This is happening in my own kitchen right now – I’m pan-roasting some sweet potato rounds, and it took me 13 extra seconds to peel another sweet potato and slice it into circles so I’ll have extra for tomorrow.  Rice, pasta, vegetables, proteins, anything can be doubled up so that you have extra that only needs to be reheated.

3. Cheat on flavor.

If you’re cooking in a hurry, you won’t have time to develop deep, complex flavors.  (Trust me, most of my meals go from pan to plate in under 10 minutes!)  But that doesn’t mean your food has to be bland.  My favorite cheats:

  • Fresh herbs – they take just a few seconds to rinse and chop (or tear), and they keep well in the crisper for about a week.  They will make your food feel – and taste – much fancier.
  • Dried herb blends or herb pastes – shake a little over your food or stir in a blob of paste while your food is cooking and you have instant italian/mexican/greek/thai/indian/anything.
  • Jarred sauces – they keep in the fridge for a long time, and you can pick up flavors from around the world to keep your frozen vegetables and plain chicken from tasting like frozen vegetables and plain chicken.
  • Olives.  They bring a zesty zip to pretty much anything.

4. Make breakfast.

Breakfast for dinner is a big win! Most breakfast foods are designed to be cooked quickly while you’re still half asleep, so you’ll probably find they come together even faster for dinner.  Grits (topped with veggies, cheese, or whatever you have on hand), oatmeal (topped with yogurt and berries), eggs in a variety of formats, and even a breakfast sandwich are great dinners that can be made, start-to-finish, in under 10 minutes.  You have time for that.  Ordering takeout takes longer than that.  Heating frozen things takes longer than that, unless you’re not including the part where you burn your mouth because you didn’t want to let the food cool first.

5. Make pizza.

Combine any crust, sauce, and toppings and throw it under the broiler, into the oven or toaster oven, or into the microwave, though the microwave might leave things a little soggy.  Make mini-pizzas and let everyone* top their own!

Crust ideas:

  • frozen crust
  • bread (any kind! rolls, sandwich bread, english muffins…)
  • pita bread
  • tortilla
  • baked potato
  • cauliflower crust (chop fresh or frozen cauliflower florets in the food processor, stir in an egg and some grated cheese, pat into a disc and bake at 425 for 10 minutes…make mini-crusts if you want them to cook even faster, and don’t forget to make some extra crusts and freeze them for next time!)

Sauce ideas:

  • jarred sauce – any kind
  • salsa
  • sliced tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • that random jar of tapenade, roasted red peppers, or other mystery substance that’s been hiding in your pantry for months

Toppings:

  • literally anything
  • make sure it’s edible
  • probably not chocolate
  • include protein (chicken, scrambled egg, steak, sausage, turkey, tofu, cottage cheese) to make a complete meal
  • add some vegetables because you know your trainer will see your food tracking
  • cheese is totally optional but tasty; try to keep it to 2 tablespoons of grated cheese or 1 tablespoon of spreadable cheese (cream cheese, goat cheese, etc.) per slice

*unless “everyone” is you and your dog, in which case you should probably choose his toppings for him and/or not feed the dog pizza no matter how much he begs

Bonus: 31 more recipes for when you think you have absolutely zero time.  They’re not all the very healthiest, but they’re better than takeout!

Share your quick cooking victories in the comments!  What was your best (or worst) quick pizza combo?  What’s your new go-to fast meal?  Mine used to be polenta with veggies and goat cheese, and before that it was quinoa pasta with veggies and tofu…now it’s eggs poached in tomato sauce or chicken with green beans and a splash of barbecue sauce.  Not glamorous, but tasty!

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