There are always times in your life that are busier than others. Family obligations, travel, work deadlines, special events, illness, school, and so many other things can cut down on your free time to cook and prep meals that work for you and your health goals.
While it can feel easier to order something or pick something up from a restaurant, over time, that can affect your health and your wallet, depending on where you’re going. Rather than throw cooking out the window all together, you can buy certain foods to cook and prepare meals with that will save you some time while keeping your body nourished through the busy season in your life.
Here’s a short list of foods that can give you a leg up on your meal prep or weeknight cooking when you’re pressed on time. Because some of the prep work has been done for you (chopping, peeling, preparing, maybe even cooking), these foods could cost a little or a lot more than their whole, uncooked, or from scratch versions. Make the choices that work best for your time, health, budget, and sanity.
Spiralized Vegetable Noodles
Companies and certain healthy grocery stores now spiralize vegetables for you into noodles. So if you don’t have time to spiralize your veggies or don’t have a spiralizer, you can find these in the prepared, pre-cut refrigerated produce sections. Zucchini, butternut squash and sweet potatoes are the most common veggie noodles you’ll find. Certain companies also spiralize beets and white potatoes.
You can enjoy them raw, sauteed or roasted in any dish you enjoy noodles with for a quick meal. You can add them to salads to boost your vegetable variety as well. If you keep them raw, you will have to use them quickly, because they’ve been spiralized they can go bad faster. If you cook them they should last a few days.
Pre-cut Fresh Vegetables
In addition to spiralized vegetable noodles, the prepared, pre-cut section of the produce section also has a lot of veggies you can easy buy to cook with and cut down on your prepping time. Depending on what’s available in your store and region, you could find pre-cut broccoli, kale, carrots, green beans, squash, beets, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic.
You can roast them, pressure steam them, add them in a soup, and some you can enjoy raw. Depending on how you’re using the vegetables you choose, you may have to some cutting, but overall it should be less. Because these are fresh and cut, they also may not last as long as uncut vegetables, so keep that in mind when you’re planning and buying.
Pre-washed Salad Greens
Pre-washed salad greens are a great addition to your meals. You can easily choose from a variety of greens to either quickly add color to your plate or make a salad in an instant. Depending on the kind you get, you can get a mix of a lot of different greens, or you can get a single variety, like spinach, baby kale or arugula.
If you get heartier greens like baby kale, you can also saute that and add into any meal quickly, no chopping required. Some stores also sell pre-washed and pre-cut kale and swiss chard, most of the time, the stalks are included.
Frozen Cauliflower Rice
Another food trend that’s become easier to enjoy, during a busier time or not, is cauliflower rice. Cauliflower rice can be made by throwing raw cauliflower florets into a food processor and running it until the cauliflower is broken down into rice-sized pieces. If you want to enjoy cauliflower rice and you’re low on time, now you can head to the freezer section and grab pre-riced cauliflower rice. Certain grocery stores do sell fresh cauliflower rice, they can have a slightly different taste to some and won’t last as long as frozen cauliflower. You can use it in stir-frys, in soups, and any recipe you would use rice in.
While you’re in the frozen aisle, you can also grab some frozen vegetables to cook with as well! If you want to stock up on veggies to cook with and not worry about them going bad, frozen could be a good option for you. Most frozen vegetables are frozen in their peak season, so they won’t taste bland after cooking them.
Frozen vegetables can be great for stir fries, bulking up soups or any cooked dish. Frozen veggies may require a more watchful eye, some can easily be overcooked.
Marinara sauce can quickly bring a meal together with very little prep work. Pair it with cauliflower rice or spiralized vegetable noodles, add a protein of your choice and you’ve got a meal. You can also use it in soups and stews, as a sauce in casseroles, or to make a quick pizza. When you’re buying your marinara sauce, check the ingredient list to find lower sugar kinds with olive oil instead of lower quality vegetable oils.
For meat eaters in a time crunch, a rotisserie chicken can be a great buy. Depending on how many people you’re cooking for, one chicken could be several meals and several dishes. You can use the thighs, wings, and drumsticks as one meal and shred the chicken breasts and put them in another meal.
You can put them in an endless amount of meals and dramatically cut down on your cooking time. If it’s in your budget, go for an organic (or if it’s available, a pasture raised) chicken.
With all of these options, you can easily make meals that can nourish you during the busy seasons in your life. Whenever possible, get organic versions of these to cut down on your potential exposure to pesticides. Even if you’re only able to make 2-3 meals per week, making your health a priority is always a win. Try to approach this busy time with flexibility and kindness.
Celebrate any and all health wins you have, no matter how small they feel. That can help this moment pass with a little less stress and make it more fun.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit: Efired/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Oleksandra Naumenko/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Cartela/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: New Africa/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock.com