It’s true that most Americans are cooking many more meals at home as a result of the pandemic, but not everyone is finding joy or enthusiasm in the kitchen.  If you are one of the many grappling with the lack of time, energy and creativity that feeding your family requires these days—here are 5 ways make gruel meal prep less grueling:

1) Simplify the planning process 
While meal planning does take a little time, having no plan almost always ends up costing us more time and energy. 
To simplify the meal planning process it can help to:
a) keep all your favorite recipes or meal plans in one place to reference or spark ideas when you are not feeling inspired.  You do not have to reinvent the wheel every week.  Then, add to this collection as you find and prepare new dishes.
b) Use apps or search engines that generate recipes based on the ingredients you already have on hand.  For example, lets you check off up to 15 ingredients you have on hand and then provides a list of recipes you can make from those. 
c) Consider online grocery shopping. Over the course of a few weeks everything you buy on a regular basis will be in your saved list. This is the equivalent of having a master inventory list that can be reordered with a click. An added benefit is you are also more likely to stick to your shopping list and avoid impulse purchases. 

2) Keep meals simple
Let’s face it, no one is coming to award us a gold medal for making perfectly balanced meals from scratch every night.  Healthy meals don’t have to be big elaborate productions.  Meal-in-a-bowl recipes, grilled cheese, omelets, frozen cauliflower pizzas with added veggie toppings or your favorite frozen burger patties (chicken, turkey, black bean, plant-based, ect) can all be served with a side salad or veggie to provide good nutritious meals.  Serving no cook meals occasionally is also an option.  Whole wheat pita breads can be stuffed with store-bought hummus, lettuce, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded carrots, onions, olives and feta.  Or, put out a healthy version of a charcuterie or cheese board with a variety of items such as whole grain crackers, cheese, dried figs, nut butter, canned or smoked salmon, bean dip, pesto, olives, grapes, marinated artichokes and roasted peppers. 

3) Plan for leftovers
If cooking is not your thing or taking a toll on you right now, you might want to consider using the cook once, eat twice method.  It doesn’t take much extra time or effort to double a recipe.  Serve the same dish 2 nights in a row or pack one batch away in the freezer for one of those times when your day just goes all wrong and cooking is not an option.  In general, leftovers also make great lunch options.  Leftover proteins can be wrapped up with lettuce and tomato in a whole grain tortilla or added to a salad. Canned beans can be added to those leftover roasted veggies and rice creating a vegetarian “bowl”.  

4) Have a few “empty the fridge” recipes
Pasta dishes, soups, stir-fries, frittata and fried rice are all great meals for using up those odds and ends you have lurking in the fridge at the end of the week.  Yesterday I sautéed a wilted bunch of kale with an overripe tomato, garlic and olive oil.  Then added in a lone leftover piece of grilled salmon in small chunks and tossed it with freshly made pasta and the juice from a half of lemon hanging around. None the wiser, my family happily gobbled it down.

5) Do “convenience foods” the right way
Rotisserie chickens (sans the skin), a bag of frozen rice, bean and vegetables blends and bagged greens can help you put a fast, healthy meal on the table in about the same time it takes to go through the drive-thru--but will leave you feeling much better.  Convenience items worthy of their slightly higher cost include things like precut produce, prewashed bagged greens, jarred marinara sauce, microwaveable grains (rice, quinoa, barley), riced cauliflower, frozen cauliflower pizza crusts, frozen burger patties, shredded cheeses, rotisserie chicken, Dorot frozen garlic, herb and spice cubes and ready-made salad or stir fry kits.   


These materials are provided to you by Blythedale Children’s Hospital and Kohl’s
Eat Well, Be Well Nutrition Outreach Program.
For more tips and information, please visit eat Eat Well, Be Well.

Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well Program

Blythedale Children's Hospital, through the generosity of Kohl’s Department Stores, is proud to offer Blythedale and Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well, an innovative outreach program designed to bring health and nutrition education to schools throughout Westchester and Putnam counties. Through this program, Blythedale staff members teach healthy eating habits to children by providing curricula, training and educational tools to school districts throughout the area. The program provides general nutrition guidelines to students, parents and school faculty. Blythedale Children's Hospital offers experts in nutrition and health-education to speak with local parenting groups, PTAs and school personnel.

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