How To Eat Better And Spend Less Time Cooking

By Jane Mountain | August 5, 2012

Salad Mix

I love cooking, but sometimes it is a royal pain in the ass.

There’s no getting around it. Some days you’d rather eat your own arms than cook another damn meal from scratch.

So what do you do?

Suck it up and cook anyway? Eat microwave food? Order in? Go out?

There’s a better solution. One simple idea can get you from zero to tasty in 15 minutes or less. Plus, it’s not expensive, time-consuming, or hard on the environment.

The Make More Strategy

The Make More Strategy is easy. It goes like this:

Any time you prepare a labor-intensive staple, just Make More.

I’m not talking about re-heating limp leftovers or freezing meals for a rainy day. It’s also not about planning the week’s menu in advance.

It’s just about bulk-prepping a few key ingredients that become the foundation for ridiculously delicious meals you can make when you’re short on time, brain power, or the will to live.

Make More Ingredient 1: Green Salad Mix

We all know salad is great for us. I love eating it, but I hate making it. You have to wash and dry the lettuce, scrub your veggies, peel and cut and slice and… yawn. I even get bored writing about it.

Because of this hatred of salad-making, I used to leave half-used bunches of lettuce in my fridge until they were all wilty and inedible.

Salad-in-a-bag is no solution. First of all, it seems to go bad the second you open the bag. And, you know, it comes in bag, which is just stupid in these days of dwindling petroleum and flourishing landfills. It’s also nutritionally deficient (turns out washing lettuce in chlorine bleach isn’t such a good way to retain vitamins), prepared by underpaid and ill-treated workers, and adds to your food miles in a big way.

What’s a salad-lover to do?

Make more!

On a day when you actually have a little time and patience, wash and cut all the raw veggies you want in your salad mix at one time. Instead of just ripping off a few leaves for your side salad, clean an entire head of lettuce. Add handfuls of spinach or cabbage. Wash and chop extra carrots, cucumber, peppers and herbs and throw them all together in a big bowl.

I did this in 10 minutes this morning before work.

I now have a monster bowl full of my own pre-washed salad mix (no chlorine bleach added) that will keep for up to a week in my fridge.

I’ve been employing this monster salad technique for a few months now.

The result?

  • I eat more greens because my salad is right there, ready to go.
  • I haven’t thrown out a single leaf of lettuce. Now it’s gone before it has a chance to even think about wilting.
  • I save money because homemade salad is one of the cheapest eats around.

To make dinner tonight, I’m going to dole out a plate full of salad mix and add in a few cherry tomatoes, nuts, and avocado. Then I’ll fry a little protein (probably tofu or seitan) and slide it on top.

Voila. Delightful dinner salad in way less than 15 minutes.

Make More Ingredient 2: Whole Grains

You know what’s delicious? Wild rice. You know what takes for freaking ever to make? Wild rice. Even quinoa or regular brown rice takes too long when you’re hungry.

So you just end up eating extra bread or other less healthy carbs.

What’s the fix?

Make more!

I always make at least twice the grain I need for a meal and stick the rest in an airtight container in the fridge. The beauty is, making 2 cups of rice takes exactly the same amount of time as 1 cup.

Twice the food, same amount of time! I like that math.

To make your leftover rice into dinner, just slice up a few veggies and a little protein (beans work well). Throw them all in a pan and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Then add your rice and heat it up. Sprinkle spices, soy sauce or hot sauce on top to add a little flavor.

Hey, it’s not gourmet, but it tastes great and kicks ass in the health department.

If you need more help, try this Stuff In A Pan recipe.

Make More Ingredient 3: Anything You Want

Recently, I’ve started making more of pretty much everything I cook. Pasta? Check. Potatoes? Check. Chili? Check. Curry? Check.

Usually I bring out the leftovers for lunch, spiffing them up a little when I’m at home, or eating them straight out of the container at my desk.

This leaves me free to spend my lunch break doing what I want to do, instead of hunting down some over-priced, calorie-laden, taste-deficient sandwich.

If the leftovers make it past lunch, I can use them to build a whole new meal upon. Last night I added some Make More bowtie pasta to a few veggies and some chorizo seitan. It took all of 5 minutes to throw together, and was very tasty indeed.

A Quick Note About Waste and Your Waist

If you’re not used to having extras in your fridge, it’s easy to forget about them. They just become wasted food, which costs you money and is terrible for the planet. To make sure you don’t forget to eat what you prepared, look in the fridge before you decide what’s for dinner. The thought process goes like this. Oh, I have rice. I’ll make a wild rice salad for dinner. Yum!

For some people, making a bunch of extra food is just an invitation to overeat. This isn’t so bad if you’re just eating extra helpings of salad. But other extras can be a big problem. To keep them out of harm’s way, pack them away in the fridge before you eat your meal. That way they’re out of sight and out of mind when it’s time to go back for seconds.

What are your favorite foods to have on hand? How do you make them into meals? Please share below. I want to try your ideas.

Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.


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  3. Comment by bob browning

    bob browning Reply August 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Like minds here. I’ve done such for a while now but several good specifics in your article and your weeks- worth- o- salad plan is inspirational. thanks,

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM August 6, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Thanks Bob! I hope you enjoy the increase in your salad eating which is sure to follow. Salad days, indeed.

  4. Comment by Jamie

    Jamie Reply August 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Great ideas! I am a teacher on summer break, so I have been cooking a lot from scratch because I’ve had the time to do it. I am so proud of myself, but now I’m worried with going back to work that I’ll be able to keep up my good habits. Most days after working I get home and cooking is the last thing I want to do!

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM August 6, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Hi Jamie,
      Glad to hear you like the ideas. I hope it’ll help smooth your transition back to work a little. I do think the key to cooking when you don’t feel like it is to keep it dead simple and be adventurous. No fussing with recipes or rules – just make it up as you go along.

      Let us know how you get on once school starts.


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