Get it on Google Play
Download on the App Store

How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jules Clancy of Stonesoup.

Are you eating real, whole food as much as you’d like?

If you’ve been following Zen Habits for any length of time, you’ve probably been inspired by Leo’s story. My favorite part is how he went from being an overweight junk food eater to a lean, plant-food-loving machine.

Like Leo, I’m a big believer that for optimum health it’s best to eat real, whole food as much as possible. Preferably prepared at home.

The good news is, it doesn’t need to take as much time as you’d think.

When I was writing my book ‘5 Ingredients 10 Minutes’, one of the things that kept surprising me was how I could make healthy, home cooked meals in not very much time.

So today I wanted to share with you 7 tips for eating real food without spending hours in the kitchen.

1. Start small.

When I was learning to meditate as part of Leo’s Sea Change program, one of the biggest lessons for me was to set small, achievable goals.

It’s all about making it as easy as possible for yourself to take the first step.

The same applies to cooking for yourself. Its so much easier to start with one night a week and build from there.

Making it achievable also means you’re less likely to end up with a fridge full of vegetables that make you feel guilty when they go bad and you throw them out.

2. Learn some quick and easy recipes.

Having a little collection of easy recipes that focus on speedy cooking techniques is half the battle. Especially when you’re just getting into cooking real food.

If a recipe has an ingredients list as long as your arm, or has instructions like ‘simmer for 30 minutes’ it’s best to save them for weekend cooking when you have loads of time.

Look for simple stir frys, hearty salads or one pot meals. If you’re stuck for inspiration there’s a collection of ‘50 healthy 10 minute meals‘ over on my blog to get you started.

3. Experiment with different ingredients.

Avoid getting stuck in a food rut by swapping different ingredients into your favourite speedy meals.

For example, if you normally make a stir fry with tofu and kale, try it instead with bok choy or broccoli. Same goes for flavourings. If you normally use garlic, try ginger or a new spice.

4. Skip the peeling.

I’ve never been a big fan of peeling vegetables. It takes ages and you lose the nutrients close to the skin. These days I just rinse or scrub and move on to the next step.

You won’t notice the difference for veg with thin skins like carrots or sweet potatoes. For things like butternut squash or beets, I roast with the skins on. It’s easy to slip the cooked skins off but often I leave them on because they’re delicious.

5. Try it raw.

I’m far from being a raw food purist, but I do try to include some raw vegetables in my diet every day. Not only is this beneficial for getting extra enzymes and heat-sensitive vitamins, it’s also much quicker than cooking.

For example, it takes a fraction of the time to finely slice a bunch of broccoli and toss it in a dressing than it takes to steam it. (see recipe below)

Think about finely slicing or grating veg and serving them raw. Some of my favorites are shaved raw broccoli or grated raw cauliflower to serve in place of steamed rice with curries or stir frys. I also love shaved fennel or cabbage in salads and finely sliced kale or raw bok choy – which has a surprisingly moreish crunchy texture.

6. Use convenient ingredients.

The ‘real food police’ aren’t going to arrest you because you haven’t prepared everything yourself from scratch. So don’t be afraid to cheat and use pre-prepared veg when it makes sense for you.

I’m a big fan of things like pre-washed salad leaves and scrubbed potatoes. I usually don’t like paying extra for pre-chopped veg, but if it works for you, go for it. I do use grilled veg from the deli from time to time.

Also try convenient ingredients as a flavor highlight or sauce. Think about commercial hummus, pesto, salsa, soy sauce, curry pastes or olive tapenade.

7. Don’t forget about frozen veg.

I once asked a nutritionist friend her thoughts about frozen veg. She said that freezing is probably the best method for preserving veg without losing much of the nutrition. In fact, frozen veg picked at its best will often have more nutrients than old ‘fresh’ vegetables that are past their prime.

Frozen veg are especially beneficial if your schedule is variable because they will sit in the freezer waiting for you to be ready for them. They also save you loads of prep time. Compare sitting down to shell a giant bowl of peas with the time it takes to open the packet and pour them into a pot.

Frozen peas are a pantry essential in our house but also consider things like frozen spinach, collard greens, broad beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or even frozen veg ready to stir fry in your wok.

broccoli & feta salad

Raw Broccoli & Feta Salad

Raw broccoli salads are very popular in my house. At least once a week or so, some sort of raw broccoli dish turns up for lunch. If you do prefer your broccoli cooked, however, this salad is just as delicious with steamed broccoli.

enough for 2:
1 tablespoon seeded mustard
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 head broccoli
100g (3.5oz) feta
handful pine nuts

  1. Combine mustard, vinegar and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a medium bowl. Taste. Season.

  2. Finely slice the broccoli stems and chop the florettes into tiny bite sized trees. Toss in the dressing.

  3. Crumble feta and sprinkle over the salad with the pine nuts.

vegan / dairy-free – replace the feta with an avocado, flesh scooped into chunks.

nut-free – replace the pine nuts with sesame seeds or finely diced red capsicum (bell pepper) or red onion.

herby – serve sprinkled with fresh herbs such as coriander (cilantro), parsley, mint or basil.

more substantial – increase the amount of feta and/or toss in a drained can of chickpeas or white beans.

Jules Clancy blogs about meals in minutes over at Her new book ‘5 Ingredients 10 Minutes’ is now available.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life Tips for Traveling with Kids My Grand Travel Experiment The Parent I Aspire to Be The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief 7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges The 30-Day Learning Challenge The Place Where You Are Feeling Determined to Change Practicing Non-Judgment Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire Don’t Waste Your Opportunity How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method When Others Frustrate You Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play Leave Yourself Wanting More Fail Faster at Habits The Anti-Bucket List Getting Started with the Discipline Habit The Case for Caring About Your Work Questions of Priority The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More Pare Down with the Declutter Habit You’re Not Doing Life Wrong Getting Lost in Just Doing An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit The Source of Contentment Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It” The Things That Get in the Way of Doing The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive The Contentment Habit The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books In Praise of Limits The Art of Being My Dad 5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015 Essential Zen Habits of 2014 Karate Chop Practicing Slowness & Being Present Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make My 2014 Successes and Failures Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life When You’re Lonely The Brain’s Fast Mode 5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide The Four Hidden Habit Skills The Power of Delay Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book Please Support the Zen Habits Book Are You a Lift or Drag Force? When Resistance Smacks You in the Face When Your Plate is Too Full The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize The Empty Container The Realization A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits The Smart Way to Stick to Habits My Most Effective Learning Tools What I Do When I Fail How to Put Your Writing in Public The Productive Sprint The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear What to Eat for Fat Loss The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification How to Get Motivated After a Vacation 7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction How to Breathe 7 Discipline-Mastering Practices 7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes How to Believe in Yourself Don’t Waste a Moment How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach How to Be Great Making Yourself Work Inhabit the Moment How to Master the Art of Living The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day Living the Simple Life How to Be Prepared for Anything Turn Toward the Problem The End of the Day Philosophy The Painful Beauty of Impermanence How to Change Other People Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent Looking for Love How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed Why We Have Regret The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes My Struggles with Eating Boring Food The No Procrastination Challenge Creating a Lovely Morning A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women Turn Inspiration Into Action Coming Back From a Setback The Gift A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids How to Make a Marriage Work Love Notes Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness The Letting Go Ebook, Free The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit How I Tackle a Big Writing Project The Habit Action List The Reality of This Moment Confidence in Your Business 10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do On Making It Through Tough Journeys The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most What to Think About During Exercise You’ll Be OK The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome You’re Not Worse Than Other People Being Mindful of Your Stress What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself? The Universe of a Single Task Simplifying Is Painful Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress My Month Without a Smartphone What I’ve Learned as a Writer What the Exercise Habit Did For Me Fear is the Root of Your Problems This Moment 36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums How I Conduct My Business Constant Task Switching The Habits of Five Amazing Founders The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project? I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard! Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem Letting Go of Judging People Don’t Scratch the Itch Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit Zen Productivity When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation The Child That Holds Us Back Stateless Mindset My Month of (Almost) No Internet 12 Changes for 2014 Essential Zen Habits of 2013 The Fear of Being Alone The Calm Approach Things Every Man Should Own Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled A Method to Find Balance 16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go Finding Focus When You Run Out of Ideas The Necessary Art of Subtraction Jealousy & Suffering How Creativity Works, & How to Do It Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences Make It Your Job Developing Selfless Compassion Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong A Month Without Sugar Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations) 12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools Burn Down the Farm My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee 3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities My Pursuit of the Art of Living A Month Without TV or Video The Way of No Debt Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One The Way to Be Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits The Time to Shut Down The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes 8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’ The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling My Advice for Starting a Business Creating Your Habit Environment Travel Lessons with My Family Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches The Fear of Being Found a Fraud The Flexible Mind Declutter Your Life A Month Without Coffee The Healthful Vegan Diet Living the Quiet Life The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life The Habits of Happiness How to Keep Habits Going During Travel A Year of Living Without The Key Habits of Organization I Failed Vegan Guide to San Francisco The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others A Secret to Dad Greatness Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now 6 Steps To Being More Creative How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems Working with the Obstacles in Your Path 9 Rules for a Simpler Day The Little Book of Contentment The Obstacle is the Path 5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger Smile in Each Moment A Guide to Practical Compassion 6 Steps To Healing Yourself The 7-Day Vegan Challenge Why You Should Write Daily Achieving Without Goals Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else) Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger A Guide to Practical Contentment The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen Quitting Your Habits The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers How To Make It Impossible To Fail The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years Walled-in: Life Without Facebook The 7 Habits of Calmness The Four Habits that Form Habits Advice to My Kids My 10 Essential Email Habits The Daily Checklist Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring The Power of Habit Investments Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early Do Less: A Short Guide How to Savor Life What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World Simplify the Internet 12 Rules to Live By The New Rules of Fitness for 2013 52 Changes for 2013 The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program Essential Zen Habits of 2012 The Other Person is Never the Problem The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do 28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life The Clutter-free Holiday Guide The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck The Work You Love is Waiting For You The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013 How to Learn Anything Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring 15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan The Willingness to Think Differently Create a Superhealth Community A Vegan Tour of NYC