Do you think it takes hours to create a nutritious meal? Think again.
A quick straw poll of the Strong Women team would suggest that meal prep has become a thing of the past. While we were once in the habit of eating out of plastic containers when commuting into the office in order to avoid spending a fortune on an overpriced sandwich, things have gotten more lax now that we’re working from home.
That’s no bother on the days that we can take a lunch break to pace around our kitchen and whip up a delicious meal. But more often than not, we end up on back-to-back Zoom calls with only five minutes spare to shovel something into our mouths.
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When we’re too busy to prepare a thoughtful meal, we often reach for something quick and simple – which are more often than not a bit boring, unsatisfying enough to leave us still hungry, and they don’t particularly help us to recover from the day’s tough workout or power our brain through the rest of our afternoon. It doesn’t have to be this way – well-balanced and nutritious meals can be simple to make, often with a few ingredients and take just ten minutes to prepare.
The foundations of a quick meal that’s packed with the good stuff are pretty simple: choose a source of protein, fat and carbohydrates, and throw them together with veggies, dressings or seasonings to create something delicious in minutes. Need more inspiration? Here’s what some of the Strong Women team and our trusty nutritionists recommend.
Chickpea, grains and avocado
“My favourite go-to when I don’t have time to cook (and can’t be bothered to make a decision about what to eat) is couscous with avocado and a tin of chickpeas,” says Strong Women editor Meriam Ahari. “Even though it only contains three ingredients (which makes it super cheap), it still tastes filling and is delicious, especially if you mix it with a dressing or a dollop of salad cream or yoghurt (there are plenty of vegan options on the market nowadays).”
Not only is this meal a great source of plant-based protein and fibre from the chickpeas, but the avocado also provides heart-healthy monosaturated fats – making it a well-balanced meal. Most importantly, “this takes about 10 minutes to prepare and it’s so easy and mess-free to spoon out of a bowl and eat while working at my desk (yes, I know I shouldn’t eat lunch at my computer!),” says Meriam.
Eggs on toast
Pennie Varvarides, a nutrition coach, opts for a simple veg and egg dish, then adds fibre and carbs with some slices of toast. “Sauté whatever veg is available - for me, it’s usually tomatoes and something green. Throw in a couple of eggs, cover for a few minutes while you toast some bread, then serve with baby leaf spinach and shredded beetroot if it’s in the fridge. It takes about five minutes,” she says.
This is the perfect bare cupboard meal, ensures no food is wasted and also hits all of the essential macronutrients you need to get through the day. Win, win, win we say.
Protein porridge with fruit and nuts
As for me, I’m an early morning exerciser, so by the time I’ve trained, showered and got ready, I’m left with minutes before I need to be at my desk. That’s when this microwave-friendly meal comes in handy. Simply add chia seeds, porridge oats and cinnamon to a bowl, top with almond milk and microwave for two minutes, until it’s quite a thick porridge. Then stir in a scoop of vegan protein powder and top with a spoon of nut butter, and defrosted frozen fruit.
It’s affordable, speedy, and full of the protein and carbs I need post-workout. I also have no shame in having this for an emergency lunch, and sometimes even a smaller portion for a mid-afternoon snack to get me out of an afternoon lull.
Shredded veg and tofu
“I eat this bowl of pan-cooked shredded Brussel sprouts and kale, quinoa, pickled beetroots, and slices of tofu and pickles pretty much every day,” says Strong Women Training Club editor Miranda Larbi. “I love it because it’s so simple. It takes five minutes to cook the sprouts and kale and to boil the quinoa with a stock cube - I then add one tomato, a little bit on onion and lots of lemon juice. Then, I chuck it all in a bowl with the pickles and tofu.”
Not only is this meal three of your five a day, “it’s really colourful with different flavours and textures and I change up bits when I’m bored with them. During the summer, I had raw kale and spinach with kimchi, but now that it’s winter, I cook the greens with garlic powder and sometimes make an almond crust to put on it. I might also swap out the tofu for tempeh, or have sourdough instead of quinoa.”
Roasted vegetable Buddha bowl
“There is nothing tastier and quicker to throw together than a buddha bowl, I like to mix them up by utilising different cuisine and flavours where possible,” says Rhiannon Lambert, registered nutritionist. “After all, eating seasonally and ensuring meals contain all the food groups is the best way to a healthy nutrient-rich diet. This roasted veggie dish is my favourite in the colder months.”
While this may look like it requires a lot of prep, it’s actually very straight forward. Simply chop the veg and leave to roast while you get back to your emails, then serve up with the simplest two-ingredient dressing.
Jacket potato, beans and cheese
Yep, this meal might remind you of childhood comfort food, but it’s actually a nutritious lunch that is sure to keep your energy up through the rest of your working day. Bung a jacket potato in the oven and forget about it for a couple of hours, then top with baked beans for a big hit of fibre and protein. For more of that latter, muscle supporting nutrient, sprinkle with some grated cheese. This is so good it’s even a favourite of Strong Women Collective’s nutritionist Renee McGregor to recover from busy days and intense runs.
If you have extra time, make your own baked beans by stewing some white beans with tomatoes and seasoning. But don’t be afraid of tinned food, either – it’s perfectly good for you.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).