If there is one thing I would recommend to anyone looking to improve their health, athletic performance, and/or relationships, I would suggest they cook more at home. By cooking a majority of your meals at home, you have control over the amount of salt (sodium), sugar, and fat, in addition to the portion size. Most restaurant meals contain unnecessary amounts of sodium and fat, and portions that are 2-3 times the size they should be. And, once it is put in front of us our ability to portion control is challenged and often failed. When it comes to athletic performance, making your own meals and snacks for before/during/after workouts provides freedom from heavily processed and soy laden bars and protein powders that are full of fillers. Making your own options at home allows you to play around with the carbohydrate : protein ratio to determine what works best for you. Also, meal times are an excellent opportunity to sit down and socialize with friends, family members, or significant others. Research shows that children of families who eat together are less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthful foods, have greater academic achievement, and experience improved psychological well-being (Source). Eating with others gives us feelings of closeness and comfort, and cooking together can further enhance those feelings.
The first step in preparing more meals at home is to meal plan. Many would argue that they do not have the time to cook at home. However, I can almost guarantee you that if you spent just 1-2 hours on the weekend planning healthy meals (with 30 minutes of cooking time or less) and going to the grocery store to buy the necessary ingredients, you would actually save yourself the time of going to a restaurant or picking up take out. When you come home to a fridge loaded with ingredients and a recipe you already picked out, you will have no excuse to eat out. With the internet, pinterest, food blogs, etc., there are thousands if not millions of recipes at your fingertips. And a simple peruse at your local library will prove to you that there are even more available to you at little to no cost.
If I can do it in the midst of 50-60 hour graduate school work weeks, exercising 4-6 days a week, and spending time with my husband, you can too! To help you out with meal planning, I have created a handful of Pinterest boards specific to meal planning.
Here, I will continue to pin recipes that would be great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I also created a board for snacks, both day-to-day and for before/during/after workouts, and baked goods.
I also have special boards for slow cooker meals, sides, personal favorites, and tips and tricks. In each pin I will indicate how I will include tips on making it a complete meal where appropriate, if it conforms to special diet concerns (vegetarian, vegan, gluten free), and anything else I have to offer. Each weekend, take some time to sit down, look at each board, and plan out a calendar full of healthy, home, cooked meals for the week. Make a list, check it twice, and make a trip to the grocery store. It may seem like a lot at first, but start with planning at least 4 dinners, and have the leftovers for lunch. Over time you will find it becomes easier, you will save money, and you will feel better. Also, feel free to let me know via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Email if you try out a recipe and how you like it; I’d love to hear from you.
Here are another few resources I use to make things easier.
- Pros: completely free; easy to use; great for adding recipes from a website to your grocery list without having to do it manually; has a mobile app so you don’t have to print your grocery list.
- Cons: if you add three onions from different recipes they are listed separately, which can be mildly annoying; often times foods are listed in the wrong categories and you may find yourself going back to certain sections if you don’t scroll through your whole list.
- Pros: meals are chosen for you, you get 4 new recipes a week; recipes can be made gluten-free, paleo, or vegetarian; weekly grocery list is sent directly to your inbox; recipes include detailed instructions (and videos!) on many basic cooking skills (like making salad dressing, roasting vegetables, etc.) that you can take with you; meals cover an excellent variety with fish, vegetables, and some fruit; leftovers can be made into lunch; great for the weeks after busy/out of town weekends.
- Cons: while $6-8 a month will most likely not break the bank, it is an added expense; some ingredients (like fish and other specialty items) may increase your grocery budget; some recipes may have high amounts of calories and large portion sizes (according to serving size); if you want to make a meal that is not in the weekly plan, you have to add it to your grocery list manually.
I am also noticing that some of my favorite recipe sites are offering menus and meal plans. Check them out on My Recipes, Whole Foods, Eating Well, and Clean Eating. If you start to run out of ideas, go based off of your cravings, look on my Pinterest page or Google a recipe for it, and learn how to make whatever it is at home. Have fun trying new recipes and learning new cooking techniques! Also, save your meal plans and grocery lists! Once you have 4 weeks of meal plans together you can rotate through them each month, adding a new recipe here and there for some variety.
I hope you enjoy!