Originally published in the September 2013 issue of CarbSmart Magazine.
“What will I eat?”
“What will I cook?”
Those simple sentences elicit feelings of anxiety, dread, and angst in us all. Whether you are a dedicated physician with a thriving private practice; a factory worker on shifts and exhausted from overtime, or a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom returning from a long day at the zoo, the need to be nourished is inescapable. As your day is winding to a close, and you suddenly realize that you need to eat, those feelings loom. If you have a family, the number of mouths that must be fed each day only intensifies the worry. Throw a special eating plan into the confusion – your low carbohydrate diet — and the panic may become all-consuming. I assure you that it does not have to be this way. With just a few simple suggestions, you can turn those dreaded moments of desperation into food-filled victories.
Hint #1: Be As Prepared As Humanly Possible.
When we are distracted by the hustle and bustle of everyday life, our thinking tends to be centered around what is occurring in the moment, rather than focusing on what will happen in the future. Thus, thoughts about food are pushed aside for later. Often “later” becomes too late, and problems arise when that “later” meal becomes almost unthinkable. Planning ahead can save you from dread about your impending meal.
The ultimate time-saving, plan-ahead strategy is Once-A-Month cooking. Once-A-Month cooking involves planning and shopping for a month’s worth of meals to be prepared and assembled over the course of one or two days, then loaded into the freezer. If you have tons of freezer space and large chunks of time for preparation and clean-up, this may be the proper strategy for you. However, if that large chunk of time for cooking and prep work simply is not feasible, this strategy may cause more time issues than it solves for you.
A more flexible option may be once-a-week cooking. Once-a-week cooking still involves planning menus and shopping lists, but only for food for one week. This greatly reduces the time that must be allocated to meal planning and cooking. With once-a-week cooking, your time is dedicated to preparing all of the meals that you will need for the week in one large cooking session, greatly reducing the time ultimately needed for meal preparation. You will also have less temptation to eat off-plan since you will be properly prepared.
First, you need to decide what will be prepared during that week.
Foods Appropriate for Once-A-Week Cooking
- Casseroles with low carb ingredients
- Big Pot Favorites
- Large Side Dishes
- Mashed cauliflower
- Cabbage or slaw
- Low carb veggies sautéed in butter
- Salad veggies
- Meat, and lots of it!
- Breakfast foods
You may also want to consult your family about menu selection. It will only lead to more anxiety if your family ultimately rejects the food you’ve prepared. After menu selections have been made, carve out time in your schedule to shop for the needed items and to cook them. You will need to allocate several hours to prep the food, cook the food, store the items, and clean the kitchen.
If once-a-week cooking sounds like a time-consuming, complex nightmare to you, I have yet another suggestion: When you are preparing a meal, just make extra. For example, if your dinner is going to be oven-roasted chicken, purchase two or three chickens, cook them all simultaneously, serve one for dinner, and save the others for later. You can easily save this extra food in the fridge or the freezer. It takes the same amount of time energy to roast two meals as it does to cook one. It also takes just slightly more prep time to prepare a little more of the same food you’re cooking for today – a double batch of slaw, for instance. If you continually do this, over time you could have several meals saved in your fridge and/or freezer with minimal extra effort on your part. The same foods appropriate for once-a-week cooking would also be great for just making extra quantities during regular cooking sessions. This method probably yields the greatest results with the least amount of time and energy expended.
Hint #2: Use Your Slow Cooker.
Since prehistoric times, man has cooked many foods slowly, over low heat. In modern times, most of us can remember our mother or grandmother making liberal use of a slow cooker to prepare the family’s meals.
In the digital age of faster is better, the slow cooker is often pushed aside for the faster, more up-to-date appliances. Do not neglect this oft-forgotten piece of history; it can make your hurried life easier. Food placed in a slow cooker overnight or prior to leaving for work can be ready and waiting for hungry stomachs in the evening. If you need inspiration, Dana Carpender’s 300 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes has many ideas to make your low carb slow cooking much easier.
Hint #3: Do Not Be a One Man (or Woman) Show
If other people live in your home and eat your cooking, they should be involved in preparing meals. From menu selection to prep work, anyone can pitch in and lend a helping hand in the kitchen. Some ways family can help in the kitchen include assisting with prep work and pre-cooking, cleaning the kitchen and dishes, putting away the spices and dishes used during the cooking process, and completing the final step in the cooking process after the experienced cook has assembled the dish. Gradually, children can be taught the art of cooking, starting with simple dishes then moving on to more elaborate ones. This will eventually cut down on the stress of meal preparation because the responsibility can be shared among the entire family. Plus, the family has the added benefit of feeling good about helping to make this a win-win endeavor.
In the modern digital age, we are all generally overworked and overstressed. Do not let your low carb plan add to the anxiety. With these helpful hints, you should be able to greatly reduce the time worrying about what you will eat, and focus more on the things you truly enjoy.
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