Written by: Tara Garrison, NASM, ICANS, CFSC and Superfeet Wellness Panel Member. Tara is a health optimization coach who is passionate about human potential. Tara specializes in the ketogenic diet and teaches people to "Do Keto. Not Forever" for metobolic flexibility and optimal human nutrition. Follow Tara on Instagram for more tips about how to live your best life.
As a single mom of four kids ages 7-14, running my own business, tackling my own personal and fitness goals, and maintaining some semblance of a social/dating life, having a streamlined system for food has become absolutely crucial. There is no way I would be able to keep my body and brain power on point if I didn't use the hacks I'm about to share with you.
Meal prepping, for me, doesn't mean I spend an entire day cooking food and packing it away into individual Tupperware containers for the week. I absolutely do not do that.
But, I do have a system that works for me to keep healthy eating almost effortless.
I rarely eat out. My kids do not eat fast food, except for maybe the occasional burger joint.
We've found a system that works for us, and this is what it looks like:
Hack #1: Become a meat prepper
I may not be a meal prepper, but I am definitely a meat prepper. Not on any particular day. I am just conscious to make sure I always have meat on hand that is ready to eat. Because if meat is ready to go, when I'm super hungry, I can make a meal almost instantly.
Here are some examples:
As soon as I come home from grocery shopping , I put fresh boneless/skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs in the crockpot with half a bottle of avocado-oil based ranch or Caesar dressing, I cooke them on low about 6-8 hours, shred with 2 forks, add salt and store it in the fridge. I throw this on broccoli slaw or greens for a fast salad, roll up in lettuce wraps, add to quick stir fries, or sometimes just eat it plain.
When I cook burgers, I make tons so I have extra patties for quick leftovers or even a snack. I love serving burgers over buttery garlic cauliflower rice, inspired by the Hawaiian style teriyaki burgers served over rice instead of on a bun.
Crockpot grass-fed beef rump roast is one of my favorite foods on the planet. Like the chicken, I just put it straight into the crockpot when I get home from grocery shopping. I top it with garlic, garlic pepper, onion and salt. I don't add any liquid, it cooks in its own juices. I cook on low for 6-8 hours and shred. I love to serve this with Wildbrine sauerkraut in the big containers from Costco for a probiotic boost. I'll eat that for breakfast sometimes and it's amazing. I also sometimes throw baby potatoes and baby carrots into the crockpot to make life even easier.
Hack #2: Spring for the pre-chopped vegetables and roast, baby, roast!
The goal is to make your healthy foods as fast and convenient as unhealthy ones. When you get home from a long day starving, and you're trying to decide between the girl scout cookies and chopping up bell peppers or a head of red cabbage, who do you think is going to win out eventually?
I love to buy:
Cole slaw mix. It's cheap and basically pre-chopped cabbage. I throw my pre-cooked shredded chicken on top with some olive oil and coconut aminos, and voila, food.
Chopped red cabbage. I throw this into salads, stir fries and egg scrambles.
Chopped broccoli and cauliflower. I throw it straight onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, spray some avocado oil on top, add baby carrots, lots of Kosher salt and Italian seasonings, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees until crispy and browned, about 20 minutes or so.
Broccoli slaw. Instant salad. Top with chicken, coconut aminos and sesame seed oil for a super fast asian salad with healthy crunch.
Pre-chopped butternut squash. If you've ever actually chopped one fresh, you know this is worth every penny. I get it at costco and follow the same protocol as the broccoli and cauliflower. It is so delicious.
Spaghetti Squash. Ok I do buy these whole, but I love to cook 2 at a time - so 4 halves face down on parchment paper and baked at 400 for about 20 minutes or so. I salt them and keep them in the fridge so I can just top one half with pre-cooked chicken, marinara sauce and a little parmesan later on under broil in the oven so I have an amazing dish ready in about 5 minutes. It's incredibly filling and delicious.
Hack #3: Just add carbs for kids
I'm a ketogenic diet specialist, and my kids did do keto with me for about three months. Let's just say they're not the biggest keto fans in the world these days. I don't think kids really need to be keto unless they have a medical need for it, but I do think they need more quality carbohydrate sources when they do eat carbs.
So in our house, I live the low-carb lifestyle, and I just add carbs at dinner for the kids. This is usually a quality rice like black rice or red rice, mini boiler potatoes or fruit. Then they eat what I'm eating — a soup, stew, curry, roast, etc. It has been working well for us for years now. I keep boiled potatoes and cooked rice on hand in the fridge so we can just heat it up fast for dinner. We don't really go off recipes for dinner, we just throw things together smorgasbord style and feast.
The key is to keep things running in a way that flows with your lifestyle, not becoming a slave to expectations that just aren't working.
Look for the areas that breakdown in your current healthy eating life groove and make a plan for success that will seamlessly fit into your life, like simply throwing veggies in the oven when you have a few minutes!
It doesn't take long to snag a roast while you're grocery shopping, and put it away into the crockpot instead of the fridge.
These tiny moments of easy preparation have made the biggest difference in the long run, and have allowed me to maintain my fitness and perform at peak levels for many years now.