It’s no secret that I work a lot. One of the questions that I have been asked countless times over the years is how I have the energy and creativity to make homemade meals when I’m working long days and late hours. The first thing I always say is that it’s like therapy for me. Cooking and eating a home cooked meal signifies a transition for me from crazy days to feeling like I have personal time and a home life. It actually stresses me out more to pick up takeout, eat something like a bowl of cereal (NEVER will you catch me doing this) or make a frozen dinner. I get so sad that I don’t even have time to cook a meal for myself. I totally admit that I love dinner out but I never want to get in a pattern of picking up takeout every night.
When the work hours get longer, the meals get a lot simpler. I pack breakfast the night before, eat lots of lunches out, start putting my meals in bowls and I have the 20 minute meal protein + veggie + grain/starch for dinner thing down to a science. I can walk in the house at 8:45 p.m. and have everything in the oven in under 10 minutes. Notice I said lots of lunches out…this is where I will cut myself some slack. When I can’t make it home for lunch my go-to is a soup or salad from a market that is walking distance from the gym. I get a change of scenery without having to take too long of a break. I still LOVE going home for lunch but when that’s not possible I just roll with it. You have to pick your battles.
The key to eating homemade and healthy with a demanding work schedule is preparation. I have had meltdowns of epic proportions both standing in the middle of the grocery store and in the middle of my kitchen at 10 p.m. You seriously cannot think rationally when you’re hungry and exhausted. I prevent this by making sure that my pantry and fridge are stocked with staples that I know I can easily prepare meals from. I do one big shopping trip per week so that I’m not wasting time running to the store every day and stressing myself out about what to get. I admit that I’m not very good at doing Sunday meal prep and cooking for the week but the things I keep on hand are generally easy to cook in under 20 minutes. And again, I enjoy the process of actually making the food when I get home (especially when sipping a glass of wine at the same time!). I usually do manage to cook one grain kind of thing to keep in the fridge for lunch/dinner bowls like quinoa, brown rice, cous cous, etc. (Read more about bowls in this post.) So here’s a look at some of my recent eats during a time when I’ve been working 10-12 hour days.
Overnight oats are my go-to breakfast to eat at my desk in the morning after training clients. Although I have been more into smoothies and eggs lately, you can’t beat overnight oats for the ease of preparation the night before and portability.
Big salads for lunch from Reid’s. It’s a specialty market across the street from the gym and they offer unlimited premium toppings for a flat rate of $7.99 lb. You can create so many different themed and delicious salad mixes. I loved this one with arugula, spinach, chick peas, red peppers, kalamata olives, artichokes, pecans, dried cranberries, feta and balsamic.
Soup…soup for lunch, soup for dinner. Of course I prefer it homemade but I’ll take it pre-made from Whole Foods or Reids or from a can. It’s always one of those comforting foods to turn to when nothing else sounds good. Favorites include lentil and veggie.
This dinner seriously took five minutes to get in the oven. I started the couscous and then turned the heat off to let it cook while seasoning the salmon with lemon pepper, slicing a lemon and throwing it in a 400 degree oven. The veggies were steam in a bag. I accidentally got the mixed veggies with cheese sauce but it was a welcome mistake! 😉 I usually prefer to roast a fresh veggie but sometimes steam in the bag has to do the trick. I was able to hop in a hot shower to unwind while all of this did it’s thing.
This is a little more of a typical dinner. I preheat the oven to 400, prep my veggies with olive oil and seasoning and place them on a baking sheet lined with foil. Often I also add a sliced sweet potato on there to bake but on this night I had a boxed grain thing from Whole Foods with currants, pumpkin seeds, peppers, etc. While I’m prepping the veggies I heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. I put the veggies in and then season the chicken with the rub or sauce of my choice and then brown it on both sides in preheated skillet. I always finish chicken in the oven with the veggies. I find it hard to cook a whole chicken breast in a skillet without it overly browning on the outsides unless it’s pounded thin. The brown then oven bake method has kept my chicken juicy and flavorful. I also love having everything in the oven so I can go shower, clean, etc.
And it’s not always pretty. I like to call this a healthy hamburger helper…I started pulling things out of the fridge and this is what came to me. Leftover lentils and quinoa tossed with sauteed mushrooms, lean ground beef, sundried tomatoes, spinach and broccoli with marinara sauce and cheddar cheese. I know the cheddar cheese is random but when I was younger I used to love putting cheddar on my spaghetti instead of parm so this was a nod to that. (I just needed that comforting memory and taste last night.) I have a late client tonight so I won’t get home until after 8:30 p.m. The plan is bunless blue cheese burgers with sweet potato wedges and salad.
Let me know if you have any specific questions. I’m happy to offer insights about what has (and has not!) worked for me. I would also love to hear your tips for staying sane and eating good when life is crazy.