Some athletes love spending time in the kitchen preparing elaborate meals. But if you’re not a member of this rare breed, it doesn’t mean you’re limited to instant oatmeal and frozen pizza. The key is to use savvy shortcuts that let you eat smart with minimal effort. Here’s how to press the easy button in the kitchen and save mega-time.
Full of great crunch, most athletes know that granola is the real destination for breakfast or post-training deliciousness. But if not using store-bought (which are often sugar bombs), making your own can require plenty of oven time. It turns out that the trusty microwave can be your answer to crispy and nutritious granola in the fast lane.
Get it done: Heat 1 tablespoon honey and 2 teaspoons coconut oil on high in a large mug for 20 seconds, until liquefied. Stir in 1/4 cup rolled oats, 1 tablespoon chopped nuts, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and a small pinch of salt. Heat on medium (50 percent power) for 3 minutes, stirring once halfway, until oats are toasted. Stir in 1 tablespoon dried cranberries.
Give greens a rub-down
The cache of nutrients including vitamins A, C and K in dark leafy greens like kale, collards and Swiss chard are why they should be a dietary staple for the athletic crowd. But not everyone loves their bitter edge. Cooking these greens can tame their flavor, but that takes extra time and can reduce the nutritional value. The solution is to get in there with your hands and massage in a dressing—this causes the release of enzymes that reduce the bitter-tasting compounds in raw greens. Even better, you can work up a big batch at once for ready-to-go salads.
Get it done: In a bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons mayo, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 2 minced garlic cloves and a couple pinches salt and pepper. Place torn leaves of 1 bunch of kale or other sturdy green in a large bowl, pour in dressing and massage until greens are tender.
Pound the bird
Chicken breast is packed with muscle-building protein, and you should know there is a way to get it on your plate much quicker. Pounding chicken into a thinner piece of meat means that heat energy from the pan can travel into it much quicker, thereby slashing cooking time by about half. Less cooking time also means less chance of serving up appetite-killing dry chicken. And hammering the meat breaks up muscle fibers resulting in a more tender bird.
Get it done: Starting at the thicker end of the chicken breast, slice lengthwise into the top two-thirds of the meat, stopping before cutting all the way through. Fold chicken open like a book and place between two pieces of plastic wrap. Pound with the flat side of a heavy object like a skillet until ¼ to ½-inch thick. Cook 2 to 3 minutes per side in an oiled skillet.
Put smoothies on ice
Smoothies can offer up all the nutrition that an active body needs. But gathering up all the necessary ingredients each time you want to whip one up can be a pain and time suck. Instead, divvy up all the solid ingredients for a smoothie among zip-top bags and stash in the freezer. Now when a smoothie craving comes a calling, all you have to do is drop the frozen contents of the bag in a blender container along with some liquid for a drink in a flash.
Get it done: Divide 2 chopped avocados, 2 chopped bananas, 4 cups spinach, 1 cup basil, 1 chopped cucumber and 2-inch piece chopped ginger among 4 zip-top bags. Place in freezer until frozen. For a smoothie, blend together 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup yogurt and contents of one bag.
Shred the spud
Sweet potatoes are a top-notch source of immune-boosting vitamin A and energizing carbohydrates. But when suffering from hunger pangs, who feels like waiting 40 minutes for an orange spud to roast in the oven? That’s why you should shred your sweet potato so it’ll take only a few minutes of being tossed around in the skillet to cook.
Get it done: Grate a peeled sweet potato on the large holes of a box grater or, even better, using the shredding blade of a food processor. Place grated potato, 1 chopped shallot, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and a pinch of chili flakes in a hot oiled skillet and cook for 4 minutes, or until potato is tender. Serve topped with chopped parsley and chopped walnuts.
Send eggs to the sauna
Eggs are a fantastic source of inexpensive nutrition. But harried mornings don’t always allow time to crack one open, and boiling them the traditional way often gives you the gift of rubbery hard-boiled eggs. Instead, steam up several eggs at once so you have perfectly cooked orbs (read: no more green ring around your yolks) that are ready when you are.
Get it done: Bring at least 1 inch water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add a steamer basket and place 6 eggs in basket in a single layer. Steam for 15 minutes and then immediately transfer eggs to a bowl filled with ice water. Let rest 30 minutes. The shells will now effortlessly slip off and the peeled eggs can be stashed in a container in the fridge for up to a week.