At the end of the day, I am way too tired to cook.
At the end of a long day, it can be hard to find the motivation to cook an involved meal. But you need to eat. A healthy meal does not need to be complicated or take a lot of effort. There are two ways you can approach this problem, you can
1) reduce the number of times you need to cook and
2) minimize your efforts when you do cook.
REDUCE THE NUMBER OF TIMES COOKING:
Choose Recipes that use Similar Ingredients: for example, my wife and I like to pair meals together: fish tacos and Carolina dogs both use red cabbage; Greek salads and gyros both use tzatziki and peppers. Or if you have to go through the pain of shredding chicken, you might as well shred three pounds instead of one (as the recipe calls for) and save some of the chicken for later in the week.
Have a Backup Plan: find healthy options at a local take-out place that can be your go-to when you have nothing to make. Or conversely, only eat out as an emergency (i.e., when you do not have any food available to make or are too tired). For example, my wife and I like to eat Chipotle on days when we have dropped the ball in meal planning or are just too tired to make something at home.
Disconnect Preparing from Cooking: you do not have to prepare your ingredients and cook your meal at the same time. More often than not we cut our veggies and brown our meat during our cook time. There’s no rule against cutting veggies in the morning or evening when you have a few minutes of downtime. I personally, like prepping veggies when my brain is too tired to do anything else productive like in the evening just before I sit down to watch television.
Leftovers: plan to make double or even triple the amount you will eat at once. Put part of it in the fridge for lunch or dinner the next day and part in the freezer for next week (or next month). Depending on your family size, planning 3-4 dinner meals/week can usually get you by provided your family does not mind eating leftovers a few times per week.
Utilize Your Weekends: meal plan, shop, and cook when you have the energy and the time. Sunday is also a good day to make a lunch that you can pack with you and eat for Monday – Thursday (i.e., quinoa salad).
When You do Cook, make Large Batches: eat some for lunch or dinner the next day and freeze the rest for later in the week.
Try Meal Kits and Meal Delivery: meal kits have all of the ingredients for a meal ready for you (i.e., chopped up and measured), all you have to do is cook the meal. If that is too much work, you can also order meal delivery from companies that specialize in healthy food. Meal delivery is not the same as ordering food in from a local restaurant, meal delivery tends to be healthier than ordering in from a restaurant.
Keep the Kitchen Stocked to Reduce Emergency Store Trips: sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, peppers, cheese, canned beans, pasta, pasta sauce, grains such as quinoa, broths, canned soups, meats and bread in the freezer, and so on and so forth are all items that can be stored for several weeks and months. The last thing you want to do after a long, hard day of work is make a trip to the busy supermarket. Having these items on hand can prevent an extra trip to the store.
Identify Some Low-Calorie Fast-Food Items Ahead of Time: identify a few go to fast food items that are relatively low in calories that you can get if you are just too tired to make anything at all. Whether that means eating off the kid’s menu or skipping the fries and drink, there are ways to keep your calories less than 500 for that meal and still feel satisfied. The meal may not feel “healthy” but sometimes we need to sacrifice health in the short term in order to stay within our calorie goals.
REDUCE EFFORT WHEN COOKING:
Let Your Equipment do the Work for You: there are many meals that you can mix, dump, and cook. Utilize a crock pot, Instapot, or oven. Contrary to popular belief canned foods are not the devil. They will make your life much easier in many instances.
Choose Simple Recipes with Only a Few Ingredients: and reduce unnecessary steps. Experiment with recipes to see which steps you can skip. For example, do you really need to char that pepper or can you get away with just chopping it up. Or do you really need that Asian spice that your regular grocery store never seems to carry? Or will omitting that spice make the recipe bland? Only you will know the answer to this through trial and error.
Reduce Cooking time using Canned or Frozen Veggies and Canned or Precooked Meat: we are not saying you should do this all the time, but it is okay plan to use these short cuts every once in a while.
Master a Few Simple Recipes and Learn how to Prepare Them Fast: you can use them frequently if you do not mind eating the same thing a lot. Also, it is nice when you can make a meal without having to refer back and forth to a recipe, you have it memorized by heart.
Eat Fresh Fruits and Veggies for Sides: not everything has to be cooked, raw is fine. Find a dip that you enjoy for the veggies. It will go a long way in helping you eat them.
Organize the Kitchen for Easy Access to Tools and Staples: bending over and reaching to the back of a cupboard to retrieve your favorite mixing bowl is a real pain in the butt. Make sure to take some time to (re)organize your kitchen every once in a while, based upon the things you use the most often.
Use Pre-Cut Produce and Bagged Salads: these might cost a few dollars more, but you have to ask yourself, what is more important to you at that time, time or money.
Ask for Help. Give Everyone in the Family a Job: peeling potatoes, browning beef, or making sure a pot does not boil over are all jobs that can be delegated, provided you have the kitchen space for it.
Eat Cereal: or some other easy to make meal such as sandwiches. I think there is a certain stigma that we feel when we eat cereal or sandwiches for dinner, but the stigma is more cultural than anything. The real stigma should/could be going through a fast-food drive through, which is for whatever reason, much more acceptable than eating cereal for dinner, despite the superior nutritional profile of the cereal instead of the fast-food meal.