Food prep is one of the most dreaded task for many people, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to get yourself started on a healthy lifestyle. There are also many ways to streamline your food prep time so that you don’t spend hours in a kitchen all day on your days off or after work. Many dishes can also be made without having to cook them at all. For instance, smoothies, overnight oatmeal, salads, and even no-bake snacks or raw energy bars, but all of us crave a little cooked food now and again. So instead of opting for a dinner out because you’re tired, how about just using some easy tips and eat at home instead? You’ll avoid all the added sodium, oil, possible refined flours and sugars, and the expensive costs just by doing so.

Cooking your own meals is truly one of the best ways to transform your health and relationship with food. When you learn to prepare your food, it becomes both fuel and a gift of nourishment at the same time, leading you to embrace the idea of eating healthy much more easily than just a way to diet. Whether you’re looking to improve your heart health, lose weight, or just eat more natural foods, try these tips to cook yourself healthier all with minimal effort or sacrifice:

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1. Sauté With Water and Herbs Instead of Oil

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Cooking our food in oil has become normal, but it’s one of the worst ways to add unnecessary fat and worse, highly heated fats, to our diet. And consider this: One tablespoon of oil contains 14-17 grams of fat depending on the oil, no fiber, and contains little value once heated. Cooking with oils also makes them more rancid, even those with high cooking temperatures. You can actually cook any food with just water and a little herbs to add flavor. If you can’t live without olive oil or other oils, then try using them in just 1 teaspoon amounts either drizzled over the top of cooked vegetables or salads instead. Or, better yet, see these 5 Oil-Free, Dairy-Free Salad Dressings to Try Instead.

2. Pan Roast Instead of Fry

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If you just can’t take another baked or steamed veggie, don’t lose hope on cooking vegetables the healthy way and revert to fried options. The best alternative that tastes much like fried foods without the highly heated oils and trans fats that occur in fried foods, is to simply pan roast your veggies. This is different than baking because you cook at a higher temperature and on a pan versus in a dish that makes items more moist. Pan-roasting makes them crispy on the outside without making them unhealthy, but they’ll still be nice and soft on the inside. They also develop a sweeter, caramelized flavor and are easy to refrigerate for leftovers or to snack on in place of raw vegetables. See How to Pan Roast Root Vegetables for some easy tips!

3. Make Your Own Sauces, Dressings and Condiments

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If you think you don’t have time to make your own condiments, think again. These take just under a minute to prepare for the most part. You can also keep them in the fridge on hand for a long time and they’ll hold up quite nicely. The benefits of doing this is that you have a fresher product, much less sodium, no preservatives, and no oil or sugar. High amounts of sodium contribute to high blood pressure, preservatives can cause an allergic response and other health risks, oil and sugar contribute empty calories and can lead to weight gain, and highly processed foods are overall just not a great idea. Here are some better options: How to Use Salsa to Make 5 Different Spreads, Dips and Dressings, How to Make Your Own Sugar-Free Organic Ketchup, 8 Unique Ways to Make Hummus, Oil-Free Alternatives to Mayo, and Five Ingredients That Make an Amazing Vegan Salad Dressing.

4. Prepare in Batches at Each Meal

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If you’re going to cook healthy foods, why just do it for one meal? Roasting some sweet potatoes or making a salad? Make three or four servings and put into to-go containers for later for easy grab and go eats. If you already have all the ingredients out and are spending time on one meal, why not just use more of the same ingredients and take care of a few other meals why you’re at it? Some dishes can even be frozen, and many don’t require any cooking at all to be prepared ahead of time, such as smoothie prep jars, mason jar meals, overnight oats, salads, chopped veggies as snacks, etc. This is also a great tip to use for making healthy desserts. You can make more than one or two servings and freeze them so you always have something healthy on hand when a craving strikes! Oatmeal cookies, no-bake bites and bars, raw energy balls, and raw desserts are all great ideas that freeze easily.

5. Become a Minimalist

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The best way to keep your meals healthy and efficient are to use minimal ingredient when possible. Many people dread cooking simply due to the long list of ingredients many recipes require. But vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, and beans and legumes don’t need a lot of fancy ingredients to make them delicious. Keep things simple and learn to appreciate the taste that food has with just a few seasonings. This won’t only ensure you don’t spend lots of time preparing them, but it will also likely help you eat healthier at the same time. Along with using less ingredients, skip the meat while you’re at it. This won’t just save calories, but also reduce your risk for many types of cancer, along with heart disease and diabetes. As a bonus, you’ll also save money and cooking time needed to prepare meats safely. Leaving meat off your plate is one of the best health choices you can make and an easy way to minimize cooking steps too.

Here are some great examples of easy to prepare, simple and healthy meals and desserts: Cinnamon Coconut Yogurt, Easy Cheesy Broccoli and Brown Rice Bake, Breakfast Berry Smoothie With Cacao Drizzled and Chia Seed PuddingRoasted Veggies With Buttery Garlic and Spinach Salad, Avocado Zucchini Sushi With Brown Rice, The Perfect Whole Grain Protein Bowl3 Minute Acai Bowl, Pineapple Sorbet.

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Keep experimenting with cooking at home and try to prepare more easy, raw foods when you can, or use your slow-cooker to make a variety of dishes. These foods are much more nourishing than processed or fast food, and a lot less expensive and often healthier than eating out all the time. Anyone can do it, even if you work long hours and have a demanding schedule. Try out these tips and let us know if you have any tips of your own that help you eat healthier!

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Lead Image Source: Fettuccine Alfredo With Zucchini Pasta and Cauliflower Sauce