Knowing how to develop healthy eating habits is one of the single most impactful things for your health, and hence your life.
A lot of these skills are like riding a bike. You only need to learn them once and will benefit of them for the rest of your life. Others are skills you will develop and perfect over weeks and even years if you like.
There is definitely a lot of value in seeing the development of convenient healthy eating habits as a long-term effort.
It might seem impossible at first to make delicious plant-based food every day. Like with many systems that achieve a lot, you might not realize what it takes, how deep the matter is. However, let me tell you: Convenient plant-based food can absolutely be wholesome and well-paired.
Table of Contents
1. 5 minutes are realistic
2. How to develop healthy eating habits while being busy
3. Apps to organize knowledge, recipes and meal plans
4. Automate nutrition
5. Building a recipe base
6. Batch cooking
7. Meal prep
8. Good produce
9. Good tools
10. Learn to use a chef’s knife
11. Fast food
12. All-rounder sauces
13. Rearrange your kitchen
14. Try intermittent fasting or eating twice a day
5 minutes are realistic
Believe me, it’s possible to conjure up a well-paired wholesome meal in 5 minutes. Taking the preparation into account you can still easily be under 10 minutes on average.
I regularly cook a meal in 5 minutes.
I am not talking of avocado toast but rice with delicious sauces and a salad or a nice stew.
The catch? You need to learn how to do it. There is a little more to it than you probably realize now but it can be learned within a few weeks or months depending on your level of experience.
Some practices only need to be learned once, others require some practice to improve.
Once you’re familiar with the basics and find yourself working on them you’ll start building a more joyful relationship with food. You’ll start your journey of exploring your wellbeing and potential.
And once you’ve built your system it won’t need much time to be maintained at all.
You might be the type who just wants to nourish yourself quickly and get down to work.
The thing is everyone needs to eat. If you care about wellbeing, performance and longevity you want to get your system right.
From there, you can either dive deeper into your heritage, personal taste, memories, nutrition, or cooking techniques.
It might sound crazy that this is possible but it’s like climbing a mountain. It can seem undoable but with the right tools and skills coming together at the right time you can do it. No magic involved.
How to develop healthy eating habits while being busy
A key principle: Let systems work for you. There is so much in our work lives that demands our time and energy.
Together with cooking, cleaning and commuting around it can really be exhausting.
We need to eat multiple times a day so any time we can save by preparing or waiting for food is huge (at this point I’m even more efficient than if I ate out).
It adds up.
Apps to organize your knowledge, recipes and meal plans
If you don’t have much experience with cooking grains or legumes things like a simple table with the water ratio, cooking time and how much your pots can maximally cook would be helpful.
But it wouldn’t be of much help if was on your desktop. You want to be able to access it instantly. So you want to go for a mobile app, preferably lightweight and offline.
I recommend Obsidian, a free personal knowledge management app (an advanced note-taking app). Even though the supporting material, like templates, meal plans etc, I am providing is most effective with it, you can definitely stick with the note-taking app you’re using.
If you think “I don’t want another app on my phone and I’m not really into note-taking”, just view a note-taking app as your app for cooking intelligence and enhanced eating habits.
Also, let’s be honest. This is not the first post you read on better cooking. Are you practicing what you’ve read? Probably not as much as you’d want to.
If you are serious about changing your habits, you want to make sure to have tools that help you retain the most relevant information – it will be too much to memorize.
And not just that, you want to have it present in your day-to-day, you want to revisit new habits and your goals.
For recipes, I’ve had good experiences with Paprika 3. It’s basically free, meaning it’s very unlikely that you’d need the paid version.
With this mobile app, you can browse recipes online like with a normal browser and download them with one click for offline usage. The sizes are very small so don’t be concerned about memory.
From your phone you can see your recipes with just two taps.
You can also organize and edit them. There is even functionality for creating meal plans and a shopping list. I’m not really into meal plans but they can certainly help you to get going.
Low info diet
Remember complaining about having too little time? This is where you can save some.
Stop reading blog posts about how healthy a bell pepper is. Or that drinking turmeric with lemon juice is a good way to start your day.
Stop trying to memorize nutrition profiles of certain foods if you’re not even eating an abundance of low-processed plant-based foods.
Any school of nutrition agrees on the fact that a healthy diet should include lots of veg and fruits and that highly processed foods are bad for you.
So look at rolling at the cashier. If there are mostly fresh vegetables, fruits, maybe some grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, that’s good.
Most of what you buy should be in its whole state or not too far from it.
That’s what matters. So let’s get the nutrition down once and for all and then focus on practicing it (unless nutrition is a hobby or career for you).
That means focusing on the culinary and psychological side of food.
Choose and note down the most relevant dos and don’ts so everything just works.
Dr Michael Greger has this concept of the Daily Dozen, which I like. It’s a checklist of things you want to eat in a day.
I adjusted it to myself because I need other reminders to improve my eating habits.
Here are my reminders: fruits before meal, lots of veg, greens with every meal (at least a handful), low fat, little syrups
Having a concise set of rules will help you skip the decision of whether you may or may not eat something that shouldn’t be eaten too much of.
Setting limits: Which are the foods you tend to eat too much of? Especially think of fatty foods and those that contain lots of syrup or molasses.
Note them down.
Now how much would you want to eat of those at most? Note it down.
Here is an example of my limits.
3 tbsp molasses or honey per week, not including sweetening of sauces; 1 tbsp tahini or nut butter per day; 250g bread per week, 2 (or 4 with soup) slices per day, little dry foods, little fatty foods
Building a recipe base is all about collecting convenient, whole foods, plant-based recipes you love.
It’s not easy. That’s one of the reasons why I’m here, writing on this blog and creating recipes.
But you need to be persistent and see it as a long-term project. And after all, you don’t need that many dishes.
If you look at most households, even of good home cooks, there’s a circulation of usually a surprisingly small number of recipes.
As soon as you know the basics of flavor pairing, food combining and diversification you’ll never grow tired of your loved recipes.
Because you’ll know how to adjust and reinvent them for you or the people you cook for.
Say there are 15 main recipes that circulate every 1-3 weeks and then 10 more that are made once every few months.
That’s 25 recipes in total. So it won’t be a huge project to assemble those.
That’s what you aim for in the beginning and then you can build on top of that. First, focus on recipes you would love to eat every week.
There are not that many meals you eat in a week.
Breakfast, like oatmeal, often tends to be simple. So you probably don’t need full recipes for them. Here’s an example.
Excluding breakfasts, there are 2 x 7 = 14 meals you have in a week. You could adjust that number for your situation but the gist is: It’s not that many.
Here’s a checklist:
- would love to eat every week
- easy to prepare
- only made with whole plant-based foods (no oil or low on oil)
- can execute with my equipment
These are the main criteria. I also like to keep them low on gluten. Add more filters as needed.
But you don’t need to go research 25 recipes now. You’ve been eating all your life so you’ll know a bunch of dishes already that fulfill the three criteria.
Chances are, some of them don’t quite fit in, which brings us to…
Hacking loved recipes
Sometimes there are ingredients included in a dish that are not whole or plant-based. So meat, dairy, sugar, white flour, too much oil, too much syrup…are the usual suspects.
Changing loved recipes is a sensitive topic and one that I feel strongly about because it touches our culture and identity.
Once you know more about flavor pairing and cooking basics you’ll be able to write or modify recipes much better.
That means replacing for example exchanging junk ingredients with wholesome ingredients and reimagining dishes. But sometimes it means saying goodbye.
Simplifying loved recipes
At this point, when I look through food blogs and cookbooks, I pay less attention to recipes that require me long prepping like stuffing and a series of processing. As a rule of thumb food preparation for two shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes.
That doesn’t include boiling time. Plus, batch-cooking makes it a lot easier.
I also don’t like checking up on the food more than 1-3 times.
Why most recipes are complicated
- stirring and adding ingredients after 2 min, 4 min, 7 min… Give me a break!
- too many ingredients (recipes can seem undoable and take longer to put together)
- complicated preparation: stuffing, tiny cuts, filling, arranging (like lasagne)
- too many steps: “blend, dip into batter, bake, then fry…” I’m never gonna make this 😭
My approach to batch-cooking is that you cook and freeze those foods that take long to cook: grains, legumes, and maybe some starchy veg, eggplant…among others.
So with batch cooking, I don’t mean that you always need to cook a whole dish in batches – although you can.
With some dishes that you really like to eat often and that are freezer-friendly, it might be worth it. Like lentil soup for example.
If you freeze batches of whole dishes that you don’t eat frequently, you’ll crowd your freezer or your system will lack diversity.
Cooking grains, legumes etc on their own will enable you to focus on simply putting the ingredients together in a delicious way.
You need to develop the habit to take them out in advance so they defrost.
Personally, I like to have a meal with grains, like fried rice with salad, and a stew of veg and legumes for dinner.
Everything will be ready when you need it so the preparation will take about 5-10 min for lunch and 10-15 min for dinner.
So imagine it’s time to cook. You’ll just take your batch, quickly heat it and flavor it, prepare some veg and you’re done.
- Defrost batch at least 6h in advance.
- Heat and flavor.
You’re done. It works. I’ve made these meals following the above workflow in a breeze.
Here’s an example of mussabaha, a Levantine dish closely related to hummus. I batch cook the chickpeas (you could also buy them canned) and it takes 15 min to assemble this dish.
If you cook this for two days you’ll have a nice balance of convenience and diversity!
The whole point of batch cooking is to increase the amount that you cook so that you’ll be more efficient.
Cooking one cup of rice takes as long as cooking two cups of rice.
In order to maximize efficiency, you want to maximize the amount you cook in one go. Having multiple pots on the stove can be stressful but definitely go for a maximum capacity of a single pot.
Streamline the process
Another convenience tip is to stick to the same measuring containers (they don’t need to be official standards) and pots. Say you want to cook rice.
Then you’ll know you can use x cups of rice with y cups of water to fill up your pot. This eliminates any need to check whether you need to add more water etc.
With batch cooking you need to shift you’re thinking from “I cook when I need to” to “I cook when I can”.
This is critical and can be difficult to get used to. So make sure you have this habit noted down and pay special attention to it if you’re new to this.
To emphasize this even more: I think that’s the single biggest difference between people who are effective in kitchens, like chefs and Turkish housewives, and the rest.
If you’re serious about saving time making good foods and being effective in the kitchen, using the freezer should become almost as normal as using the fridge.
There’s a big mental blockage for many people. For most people, it’s this box for frozen pizza and other premade frozen food they’ve bought. Or some see it only as something for long-term preservation (for months down the line) – and maybe forget about it.
It can be this box that preserves your food for four days from now.
So let’s break a meal into its parts. A wholesome and satisfying meal usually consists of veg, grains and legumes in some form.
“Frying” (without oil) is the way to go when you want to make defrozen grains flavorful. I take them out a day or two earlier and put them out or into the fridge. You can use spice seeds, other spices and paste.
Then add a little water, then the grains. I can recommend Indian food and the cookbook Zaika for this kind of cooking.
For legumes, you want to go with a different technique as they are denser so you’ll need some moisture. I often do stews with root veg, flavorful paste and and optionally more veg or spices.
- packages need to be for about two portions or you will be left with too little or too much
- can handwash zipper plastic bags or silicone
- can cook pure grains, legumes or veg or entire dishes
- consider cooking on two, three or even four pots at the same time
Produce typically goes through three stages before becoming a dish.
Roughly, they are washing, cutting, cooking.
There can be more, like peeling, blending marinating etc, or less, like in raw food.
You want to effectively manage, bypass or outsource the steps in this sequence as you approach the dish.
If you want to prep meals for cooking after work because you often are exhausted and don’t feel like cooking much, you can view any step as an opportunity to get closer to your meal.
For example, to prep starchy veg like carrots and cauliflower you can wash, cut and boil them. Unspiced.
So when you need them you just heat them together with some other ingredients and flavoring and you’re done.
You can often find starchy veg cut and precooked in the frozen food section of grocery stores. So that could be something you can outsource.
However, I like to do it myself because I love buying veg directly from farmers and they won’t do it for me. Also, as discussed, since those veg are more flavorful the preparation will be simpler.
You could also just precut them the day before. If it’s going to be cooked, you can pre-cut any vegetable even two days ahead.
I often make my salads fresh but if you want to prep them, keep in mind tomatoes and soft leaves don’t keep well once they’re cut.
- prepare, shouldn’t be cooking hungry
- Plan food for tomorrow
Here a few more ideas
- knife and cutting board always ready so the threshold of chopping something is lower
- keep pans and pots ready to use
- baked goods, condensed (dry) foods as complementary convenient food
- can use stalks of greens in an air-tight container, use as hard veg (if using leaves first, cut the stalks and put in a container, if using stalks cut and use)
- while cooking use Google assistant for alarms
- even on busy days like birthdays plan ahead that I want to eat salad, enough etc
Good produce will save you time in preparation.
It might take more time to go to the market but there is a good chance you’ll save it in the preparation.
Good quality veg is much more flavorful so often they don’t need much spice or dressing. Think of veggie plates – the most time-effective veggie dish (that’s not a smoothie). They’re not fun with conventionally grown veg.
Fruits are nature’s convenient foods. They’re conveniently packaged, come with lots of energy and require little energy to digest.
They’re the most effective food out there in terms of net energy.
When I suddenly realize that I’m hungry and there’s no meal ready yet (try to avoid that) I grab fruits. They’re a wonderful first course you can have while prepping your meal.
That way, you keep your appetite busy until your meal is ready.
This little trick will make you much less likely to just eat something to fill yourself and skip the vegetables.
In addition, they can be an effective antidote to craving junk sweets.
I always advise people to get good-quality tools. I think about tools almost as if I’d be buying them for life. And for many, it’s probably not very far from the truth.
The single most important tool is a chef’s knife. Enjoy the process of selecting, learn how to use it and how to take care of it. It’ll be your most valuable companion in the kitchen.
Before buying any tool, I recommend taking your time. If you don’t have much time or money to spend just focus on a good knife, which you can get starting from $20. The rest of the tools are not really necessary.
The next tool I’d get if you don’t have one already is a good blender.
I really like Vitamix. It’s pricey but keep in mind that it’ll go a long way (probably longer than the 7-10 years warranty). The value you get from it is so much more worthwhile. Being able to blend small quantities is a game changer.
Tony Robbins said this about juicers but I’d adjust it:
Sell your car and buy a good blender. It’ll get you much farther.Onur Malay
Here are some tools that no one really needs but they will definitely make your life easier or add diversity to your personal food culture:
- reusable freezer bags
- instant pot or pressure cooker: Instant pots can handle anything from steaming to slow cooking and the fact that you can simply set up a timer and forget about it is a huge convenience factor – especially for grains and legumes! Pressure cookers are also very convenient due to the fast cooking time but come without the timing option.
- rice cooker (unnecessary if you have an instant pot)
- mandolin (with adjustable thickness)
Turn cutting into a breeze
With the right technique and practice (while cooking) you’ll easily double if not quadruple your cutting speed.
Seriously, learn to use a chef’s knife. It’s one of the biggest drawbacks for many people. Note that a good knife is critical to be able to execute the right techniques.
Don’t picture yourself cutting like the chefs on cooking shows but you’ll have a solid foundation for handling a knife safely and effectively. A foundation you can build on.
After a few months dicing an onion will be a matter of seconds.
Those fancy cuts you keep seeing in restaurants will be accessible to you. It will be normal to diversify your personal cuisine with them.
Here are some healthy fast food ideas that can take off some time pressure.
- instant oats
- homemade shake with roasted flour (preferably gluten-free) together with veg, protein or fruit powders
- sliced bread (you can freeze it, ready to eat after toasting)
- tortilla, flatbread in freezer (heat shortly on pan)
- roast a batch of whole grain or legume flour and add it to smoothies
The last tip is little known. Most people think you need to buy special powder to make shakes with it. Like protein powder mixtures etc.
But the reason why using flour in shakes and smoothies is uncommon is simply because you need to roast or bake flour to make it edible.
Once you’ve done that it’s okay to add it to smoothies and shakes.
It’s even more convenient to use rolled grains, like oats, millet, quinoa etc as they have been roasted already.
That is if you have a blender.
Smoothies are definitely easier to make because you can just add fruits and greens and it’ll be delicious.
Sauces are your friend. They make a delicious meal surprisingly effortless. I like to go with about 3-4 in stock and make some of them myself. If I make them myself I make a lot and freeze them.
Look at Japanese or Chinese cuisine. They usually put veg briefly on high heat (another time-saver) and top with some good sauces, often low in oil in contrast to many western classical sauces.
It’s delicious! I like a good soy sauce (e.g. by Kikkoman), Teriyaki, pomegranate molasses, or any acidic-sweet molasses, tomato sauce (optionally self-made with heirloom tomatoes)…
I prefer tomato paste over buying cans of tomato sauce because it’s very easy to go from tomato paste to tomato sauce by adding a little water. It’s not easy the other way round.
Rearrange your kitchen
Rearrange everything in your kitchen in the most convenient way.
A lot of things go without saying but oftentimes the reality is that the kitchen is not well arranged. So let’s quickly go through a few ways to design your kitchen for efficiency.
You want to minimize running around in your kitchen. Things should be close to where they are needed.
Spices, flavoring, vinegar, soy sauce, (if you use any) cooking oil, olive oil should be within reach when you stand in front of your stove.
It makes sense to keep them right next to your stove.
While cutting it’s not only relevant that you have a container to discard cutoffs but also where it is placed.
If you’re right-handed it makes sense to place what you need to cut on the left, move the sliced food to the right and put the discards to the upper left side because it’s your left hand that doesn’t hold the knife.
So discarding and grabbing for the next food to cut happens in one motion.
Make sure you have a bowl close by for discarding things quickly while cooking, especially if your trash bin is hidden inside a cupboard.
There are more things to optimize like this but you should’ve understood what it’s about: paying attention to detail so the things you do day in, day out are absolutely streamlined.
Again, it adds up and all these little savings will make a difference.
Keep at it. Your first setup might be not the best so be flexible for development.
Do intermittent fasting or just eat twice a day
Intermittent fasting is when you eat twice a day within 8 hours.
I know it might sound unhealthy. But there is a lot of scientific support for the benefits.
Many people use it to lose weight but it can be simply a healthy way to eat.
I tried it for a few weeks to save time but since I burn calories fast, I realized that I need to eat a huge amount to get enough energy.
So much that I wasn’t able to work well after those two meals, which ended up eating more time than having three meals a day.
But if your metabolism is slower and you don’t have/want to eat that much it might be worth a try.
What is a WFPB diet?
Are you convinced? Now you see what I mean. There is a lot going into convenient healthy eating habits.
If you see this as a long-term effort, always making a step forward, no matter how small, you’ll see drastic changes in your schedule, find you’ll eat much healthier and more joyfully.
What are your major challenges you need to overcome to practice what you’ve learned here? Feel free to let me know in the comments.
Do you want to be able to make good plant-based dishes effortlessly and fit them into your tight schedule? My program Plant-based Flow teaches you just that.