Becoming an organisational ninja in the kitchen can stop us reaching for the takeaway menu, says nutritional therapist Amelia Freer. And it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Enlighten us please, Amelia!
Healthy eating is all very well but what about the steps before it? Planning the meals, buying the food, making sure you have everything you need in your kitchen to create it and then carving out the time to cook it? No wonder so many of us are tempted by Deliveroo after a frazzling day at work.
It’s these steps that Amelia Freer focuses on in her new book, The Organised Cook (£10). “Most people know at least the basics of what they ideally should be eating. Yet I still meet so many people struggling to eat a good diet,” says the nutritional therapist with a celebrity client list (including Victoria Beckham). “There was an obvious disconnect between our general knowledge of nutrition, and our desire to implement it, and actually doing it."
Organisation and planning are key, says Amelia, to avoid kitchen overwhelm and stay on track with healthy eating. She walks the walk, as well as talking the talk, by the way – she has a young daughter so totally gets the busy working parent juggle, and fielding the dreaded question, “Muuuum! What’s for dinner?” (“Ask Dad” tends to be my answer to that one.)
The book is crammed with achievable advice. Amelia urges us to edit our kitchen equipment (just throw away that blunt box grater and buy a new one). We should define our “golden work space” – the bit in the kitchen where we do most of our cooking. Keep it uncluttered and ensure knives, chopping boards and saucepans are within easy reach of it. Planning meals is key, she says, and we should keep each week’s plan rather than throw it away at the end of the week – that way we have a handy back catalogue of ideas to draw on when we’re running low on inspiration. There are also 70 recipes in the book so we can put our newfound habits into action.
We asked Amelia for her top tips for taking the hassle out of eating healthily and she obliged…
Meal planning is everything – and you can do it in small steps
Meal planning helps to reduce decision fatigue, which means we are less exhausted, which then means we have more energy to make better decisions elsewhere in our lives. (Where else apart from with our food do we have to make so many decisions, so many times a day, every day, for the whole of our lives?) And if we know (roughly) what we are going to be cooking, then we can buy more precisely what we need – and leave the rest to be ‘stored at the store’. A bit of meal planning - even if that’s just cooking enough at the evening meal to leave leftovers for lunch a couple of times a week - can go a long way to reducing overwhelm and boosting nutritional balance. Little steps really do add up.
Think like a supermarket boss – manage your stock
Once you’ve done your weekly shop, it’s really about good stock management. Use things up in the right order to avoid them going off before getting to them. Be much more mindful with leftovers (or ‘planned overs’ as someone once suggested to me and I quickly adopted).
Have some ‘dumping ground’ recipes
It’s really useful to have a couple of recipes up your sleeve that can reimagine all those random odds and ends left at the end of the week into something more inviting - like a veggie curry, stew, or frittata. I often remind myself that food waste is not just bad for the planet and our wallets, it’s also lost potential nutrition.
Batch cooking is your friend – and there are different ways to do it
If I have a spare few hours and the inclination to cook, I might whizz up a few different freezer meals on a whim - usually some sort of soup, vegetable stew, bean burgers and a curry. I feel it’s a bit like banking my cooking energy on a day when I do have it, to support me through times when I don’t. On those days, I defrost a lovely dahl or soup from the freezer rather than cook.
Or I might specifically plan to batch cook one evening, if I know I’ve got a really busy few days ahead of me and get those meals into the fridge ready to go. A frittata, a soup and some cooked vegetables, for example.
Thirdly, I might do rolling batch-cooking throughout the week, adding a little more to one meal to support the next: Like cooking an extra portion of dinner to take as a packed lunch, or preparing to have leftover vegetables to save the prep time the following evening, or getting ahead with breakfast and leaving it in the fridge overnight.
Try 'split shift cooking'
We often tend to leave the bulk of cooking until the evening, however, that is usually when most of us are tired and want to relax. Split shift cooking is about making the most of a few minutes here and there throughout the day. For example, while heating up soup for lunch, you could quickly prep the vegetables for dinner (if you work from home that is). Or while making breakfast, you could prepare some of the evening meal or put it into a slow cooker. It is just about breaking down the stages of prep and doing them when you have more time or energy.
Think about what you can add to your plate to make it healthier
I was chatting with a client recently who “confessed” to mostly eating cheese and crackers for dinner as she was too tired for anything else. I think she was expecting me to say she needs make healthier choices. Instead, I said, “What do you think you could add to that to make it a little more nourishing?”. We ended up with a great list of things like kimchi or sauerkraut, chopped cherry tomatoes and coriander, a handful of mixed salad leaves, an apple or pear. By adding these things she can massively up the fibre and nutrients, making it a much healthier meal. Always think what can you add to your meals to make them more nutritious.
It’s almost always the littlest things that we do each and every day that unlock the optimal health potential within us. Health and wellbeing are not achieved through grandiose changes that aren’t sustainable for more than a few days or weeks at a time. So just choose one thing that you can realistically imagine making a long-term habit, such as adding in an extra portion of vegetables each day.
The Organised Cook by Amelia Freer is out now