I’ve mentioned several times on my blog that I started following a mostly real food diet for myself and my family after learning about the excessive amount of sugar and artificial ingredients in processed food. Even before that, though, I prepared the majority of our food at home in order to serve my family healthy balanced meals on a budget. When I talk to people about making home cooked meals (or my own baby food), the most common reason I hear for not being able to do it in their own lives is, “I don’t have time.”
Following a whole food diet does take time. I won’t even try to pretend otherwise. But there are a few tricks that will make it easier and more feasible for busy mommas.
The Bible says that our bodies are temples (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 or 3:16-17), and it’s important that we take care of them. I believe that feeding our family healthy wholesome food should be a priority for us as moms and homemakers. But it can be very difficult to fit into work schedules and activities. I get it!
That’s why I’ve compiled a list of the best secrets to preparing healthy meals for your family, even when you don’t have the time. I hope that they help you feed your family well without adding stress to your life!
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9 Tips for Cooking Real Food When You’re Busy
Make use of freezer meals
Freezer meals are one of the best hacks for a busy mom. If you’re not already regularly stocking your freezer with freezer meals, you should be! They allow you to cook wholesome meals when you have the time, and store them away for when you don’t. You can prepare your freezer meals in two ways:
- Freezer meal sessions – Set aside a chuck of time (on a Saturday, vacation day, etc.) to make as many freezer meals as possible. (Check out this post to read about how I made 11 freezer meals in under 2 hours!) To make the most of these sessions, try to be as efficient as possible. For great tips and recipes, I recommend Jessica Fisher’s book, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook.
- Make Two, Freeze One – This is my favorite way to stock my freezer with meals because it doesn’t require big chunks of time. Rather than making a bunch of meals at once, Make Two Freeze One simply means you double what you’re already making for dinner and freeze half of it. Making two batches of something barely requires any more time or energy than making one batch, so it’s a very efficient way to stock your freezer with healthy, delicious meals!
Prep ahead of time
Dinnertime can be hectic, especially when you’re just coming home from work or after a long day with the kiddos. I totally get it – I do both! But you can make things a lot easier on yourself by prepping meals in advance. Then all you have to do at the 5:00 hour is assemble a dish or pop something in the oven!
Here are a few examples of things you could prep ahead of time:
- Cut up meat or veggies
- Cook rice or beans (See #4 for my favorite tool for maximum efficiency & flavor!)
- Brown hamburger
- Cook a chicken and cut it up
- Mix up a casserole
- Put all the ingredients for a crockpot meal in a gallon bag (or put the entire inner crock in the fridge, if you have room)
Increase your efficiency with batch cooking
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every evening. Try to find pieces that will serve dual purposes, and then make a big batch of it ahead of time.
My favorite example of this is cooking whole chickens. Cook a whole chicken on the weekend, then use the meat for meals throughout the week, such as white bean chicken chili, chicken enchiladas, chicken and rice casserole, chicken tortilla soup, chicken avocado salad, or chicken salad sandwiches! If you’re up for it, you can even then use the bones to make your own chicken stock (it’s not as hard as it sounds, and it takes no time at all in the Instant Pot)
Rice is another food that works great for batch cooking. Make up a big batch of brown rice to use as a side with your favorite meat and veggies one night, then save the rest for homemade chicken/pork fried rice later in the week! Leftover rice is actually better for fried rice than fresh, so it’s a win-win!
Use your slow cooker
I’m sure if you’re a busy mom, you’re already well-familiar with your slow cooker, but if you’re not, you should be! A slow cooker is very handy to have around – for working moms and SAHMs alike! I love using it on the days that I go to work because I can put everything in (assembling it the night before whenever possible) and set it before I leave, and supper is all ready by the time I get home!
But I also love using it on days I stay at home with the boys. I have found that I have more energy and ambition in the morning than I do by 5:00 (two little kiddos suck it all out of me 😉 ), so even on the days I’m home, I love the feeling of having supper already made by the time evening rolls around.
For a list of my favorite things to make in the slow cooker, check out this post!
Get an Instant Pot – a busy mom’s best friend!
By now you’ve probably been hearing about the Instant Pot and all it can do. You might have even thought it sounded too good to be true. I thought that at first too, but let me assure you, it’s not! This thing is seriously awesome, and I tell everyone I know how much they need one.
There are many reasons I love the Instant Pot (you can read about them here), but if you’re a busy mom who doesn’t think she has time to cook homemade meals, then you definitely need to consider this handy tool. It makes cooking from scratch so simple and so fast. You will be amazed at everything you can do in this thing, for a fraction of the time it would take you in any other appliance.
Swap with friends
I’ve never actually done this, but I’ve seen the idea floating around, and I think it sounds super fun. If you’ve ever done a cookie swap around Christmas time, that’s essentially what this is, only with wholesome dinners instead of cookies.
Get a few of your friends together, gather some recipes, and divide and conquer. Each of you will take 1 or 2 recipes, but you will make enough for each family participating. As I’ve already stated, it’s MUCH more efficient to make several batches of the same meal than it is to make several different meals, so you’re saving yourself a ton of time and energy, but still getting several home-cooked meals.
KISS – Keep It Simple, Silly!
This is my biggest secret to cooking real food in my current season of life. It’s the only way I’m able to make nearly everything from scratch (on a budget) plus do everything else I have to do in a day. Gone are the days of meals that require hours in the kitchen or a million ingredients. Other than on weekends or special occasions, I keep meals pretty simple. My priorities are a) real food and b) a balanced inclusion of all the food groups. Everything else is unnecessary. In this season of life with little ones, I don’t need to get fancy.
Purchase real food shortcuts
I have a pretty small grocery budget, so I make nearly everything that we eat. But if you have lots of wiggle room in your budget and you have more money than time, you can certainly find real food shortcut options. While you should stay away from anything in a mix or a box if you’re trying to follow a real food diet, there are some good real food options for things like bread, pitas, tortillas, and more.
I’m not an expert in this area, but a very good resource to learn about what’s “real” and what’s not in the store is Lisa Leake’s 100 Days of Real Food cookbook. It’s more than just a cookbook (although it is full of great recipes) – it’s also a very informative guide to real food eating.
“Steal” other people’s menu plans (or pay for a subscription service)
I think planning a healthy diet is half the battle, and it can be quite time-consuming. If you have room in the budget but not in your schedule, you might want to consider a menu plan subscription service. I have never actually used one because I always make my own menu plans, but I have read reviews from people who rave about how convenient they are.
Here are a few top-rated meal plan subscription options:
You can also find free real food meal plans floating around the blogosphere. Here are a few from some of my favorite real food sites:
I know that as a mom, it can be VERY difficult to feed your family wholesome meals every night, especially when you work outside the home (though it can be quite a challenge with little ones running around the house, too!) I hope after reading this post that you see that, even with a busy schedule, you can still prepare home-cooked meals. All it takes is a little planning, the right tools, and some tricks for greater efficiency, and you can fill your family’s bodies with food that is clean, nourishing, and delicious!
What do you think? Which trick are you most excited to try? Do you have any tips that aren’t on this list that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
You Might Also Enjoy:
- Why I Love Making My Own Baby Food
- 15 Make-Ahead Breakfasts for More Relaxed Mornings
- How I Made 11 Freezer Meals in Only 2 Hours!
- 7 Simple Healthy Lunch Ideas for Moms