What to Cook When You Have No Time

Even when you have no time (or energy!), you can whip together something satisfying with these quick tips on what to cook when you have no time.

Person adding pepper to an omelet

Just the thought of cooking a meal after a long day may persuade you to swing by the drive-through. But don’t let that idea dominate your diet. Even when you have no time (or energy!), you can whip together something satisfying and well-rounded with these quick tips on what to cook when you have no time.

Bring on the batch cook

Batch cooking is making a large meal (more than one serving) with the intention of saving the extra for a later meal. It not only saves you time but can also help you stick to healthy eating and a budget

Schedule at least one day during the week to set aside time to go to the store and prepare your meals. Saturdays and Sundays are often ideal if you work during the week. And don’t forget to grab some food containers or tupperware if you don’t already have them. 

Sheet pan meals are a super easy way to batch cook with minimal prep and clean up. All you need is an oven and a sheet pan. You prep all the ingredients and cook them together. Just keep in mind that you should use ingredients that require a similar cook time, such as chicken with root vegetables

Check out how to stay safe when cooking and preparing batch cooked meals.

Double up then dig in 

On the days you do have time to cook, double the portions and make enough for leftovers. If you get bored of having the same thing twice, create a meal with some of the ingredients. For instance, that you cooked the grilled chicken with root veggies found above. If you cook up some extra chicken you can recreate it into a warm chicken salad for lunch the next day.

Don’t worry about repeating meals if you want to keep your life more simple. Try choosing three to six main meals, depending how much variety you crave. Make the meals work for you by interchanging aspects of your recipes. For instance, if you ran out of rice from the previous night, swap quinoa or whole grain pasta of a similar portion. 

Stock up on supermarket shortcuts

Highly processed foods often contain lots of sugar, fat, and sodium since these can increase the risk of some diseases and obesity (1). But food processing also includes freezing, drying, canning, or partially cooking foods. 

Supermarkets offer lots of these options that can make your life a bit easier. Sometimes it’s worth that extra dollar to grab something that’s partially prepared. Keep these supermarket shortcuts on hand to help you whip up a “something out of nothing” meal in no time.

  • Partially cooked brown rice or whole grain couscous 
  • Canned beans or legumes
  • Frozen or canned vegetables 
  • Tofu or eggs

Picture this: you get home after a crazy long day. Instead of dialing up delivery, you can throw together the above ingredients into a rice and bean bowl with vegetables and over easy eggs.  

Make breakfast and snacks a no-brainer

Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day because it provides energy and calories to get you going for what’s coming your way. But when you wake up in a rush, it can easily get sacrificed and replaced by a mid morning doughnuts and coffee. 

Keep healthy foods on hand that can be easily mixed and matched. Do you head out of the house first thing? Stock up on to-go snacks such as nuts, fruit (apple, banana, unsweetened dried fruit), or healthy granola bars. 

Healthy ingredients include:

  • Seeds (chia, sunflower or pumpkin seeds) 
  • Oats or whole grain, low sugar cereals 
  • Nuts (almond, cashews, walnuts) or nut butters (peanut, almond)
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt or milk
  • Whole grain bread or English muffins
  • Fresh fruit 

These can be used both for quick and healthy breakfasts or snacks. 

Simply stir-fry

A simple stir-fry is a prime solution for a short cooking session. This are also great whether you’re single or supporting a family. All you need is a pan, a protein (eggs, tofu, shrimp, fish, chicken), and rice or noodles (optional). Then dash on your choice of spices and seasonings. 

Start with a pan heated on medium-high and start by cooking your protein. If you’re using an animal protein such as eggs or meat, make sure it’s all the way cooked through. Set the protein aside on a plate. 

Add chopped vegetables to the pan and add a bit of water. Cook for a few minutes, while constantly stirring, depending on the type of vegetable. Then return the protein to the meal and toss well with sauce or seasonings of choice. Serve with a grain such as whole grain rice if you’d like.

Check out this quick entertaining and educational video to help inspire your stir-fry: Lifesum Beef Stir Fry 

Quick last words 

When you know how to prep your meals, you won’t have to spend time wandering around aimlessly at the supermarket or staring off in the kitchen after a busy day. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. 

Unless you’re feeling like embracing your inner chef, preparing healthy meals should be simple, quick, and easy. With a dash of creativity and a scoop of prep time, you’ll be mixing together a masterpiece of nutrition before you can say bon appétit! 

Enjoy hundreds of tasty and nutritious recipes with Lifesum

All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.