If you’re trying to learn how to cook, or you’re a seasoned chef and short on time, fear not because there are plenty of ways to simplify your meals without having to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare your food. I find it best to simplify my meals most of the time, even though I love to cook. It just takes the stress away from having to think about what recipe to make or taking too much time to fix my food. Also know that simple does not equate to boring. In fact, I like to get creative with my food but I don’t want to spend a lot of time making it. I also want it to taste good without spending hours browning, basting, broiling or sautéing. Here are some of my favorite ways to simplify your meals and still keep them tasty.
1. Use One Container
One of the ultimate ways to simplify your meals is to use the same container. Whether you’re making breakfast, lunch or dinner, keep everything in the same pot, pan or blender. For example, I make smoothies for breakfast and just throw everything I need in the blender. If you like oatmeal, keep everything in the same pot. Cook your oats with your milk and add your blueberries or bananas and nuts to the pot just before serving. Sprinkle in some cinnamon and stevia too, for sweetness. You can also do this overnight in the Crock-pot and let the fruit caramelize, which is tasty and hassle free. Let’s say you want fish and veggies for lunch, or quinoa and veggies if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Simply oil a pan, steam some veggies with fish over it, or make the quinoa in a pot and add some veggies just 5 minutes before you’re ready to serve so the veggies can steam in the same pot. Making dinner? Use a Crock-pot. I love mine and simply put some veggies with some herbs and spices, add some fish or even eggs for easy baked eggs and serve it when it’s ready. You can also do all this in one pan in the oven. So simple, yet so tasty. Cooking in the same pot, pan, baking dish or using a blender is great for cleanup purposes, and it keeps all your flavors together, enhancing the taste.
2. Use Spices
You don’t need lots of culinary oils, butters, or salad dressings. Stick to some simple herbs like oregano, basil, parsley, turmeric, curry powder, paprika, chili powder and garlic powder. I also love simple black pepper. Use these with some lemon juice or vinegar and you’ve got a tasty meal in no time without too much fuss.
3. Nutrient Balance
Don’t make your meals over-complicated with too many ingredients. Make sure you have a protein, a carb and a fat. Keep carbs in the veggie or fruit department, and this is even easier to get in all your nutrition for the day. Breakfast could be oats or quinoa with bananas and nuts or flaxseeds, or a smoothie with some spinach, Greek yogurt and some berries and a touch of sweetener if you need it. I also like simple protein powder with greens blended with a little stevia and some chia seeds for healthy fats. I like to eat fish and veggies for lunch and something similar to one of these for dinner. No need to get fancy, just get in a protein, a carb and fat and you’re good to go.
4. Easy Peasy Snacks
No need in making tons of time-consuming snacks to keep on hand, or spend too much money on pre-packaged ones. I like things like Greek yogurt with some carrots and celery, red bell peppers with cucumbers and almonds, or a smoothie with Greek yogurt and berries. No need in making things complicated. Stick to the basics.
5. Don’t Use a Recipe
I know you’re thinking that this is a crazy idea, especially if you’re new to cooking, but using a recipe can actually make your meals more complex. Most recipes call for lots of ingredients or steps. Go with your gut. What are you in the mood for? What are some healthy options you have on hand? Again, pick a protein, a carb and a little fat, and just go with it. There’s no need for lots of steps or prep work. Making food doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process unless you want it to be. If you need instructions on ways to make simple foods like quinoa, oats or fish, usually the package you buy them in will tell you. Veggies only take 10-15 minutes to cook or 30 minutes in the oven for things like potatoes, squash, etc. Fish and meats usually take the same or anywhere from 5-8 minutes in a pan.
6. Keep Simple Foods in the House
If you want to make simple food, then buy simple foods at the store. Don’t buy a lot of ingredients you have no idea what to do with, or buy produce that you’re not going to eat. If you have no idea what to do with a food you buy, then don’t waste your money. Buy simple foods like veggies, fruits, yogurt, eggs, fish, quinoa, oats or brown rice, almonds, walnuts or flaxseeds, and if you like smoothies, keep some frozen fruits and spinach on hand, along with some chia seeds, and yogurt or protein powder. Beyond that, don’t make things complicated.
7. Don’t Buy Boxed Meals
I know boxed meals sound easier, but they don’t nourish you and aren’t very filling. They're also pretty expensive per serving. Instead, just keep simple ingredients at home and prepare them yourself. Just because you make something yourself doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. Boxed meals can actually mean lots of microwaving in steps, or mixing lots of powdered seasonings together. Do it yourself with simple ingredients like herbs, spices and a dash of salt or pepper if you need it. If you live on-the-go and like the grab-and-go convenience that pre-packaged foods offer, consider preparing some dishes one day when you're off work, and keeping these in your fridge in containers or baggies for the week. This can make your grab-and-go choices a lot easier, and make coming home to dinner a cinch.
Eating doesn’t have to be hard or boring. You can still get in all your nutrients and eat filling foods without spending hours preparing your meals. What are your tips for simplifying your meals?