This post is written by Matt Jager from Don’t Lose the Cow.
Ever feel totally overwhelmed by the busyness of modern life?
If you’re anything like me, you know what it’s like to go for weeks at a time with hardly a break, from the time you slap the alarm in the morning until your head hits the pillow at night.
Between the responsibilities of work, kids, running errands, shopping, chopping, cleaning, cooking, and commuting, there just isn’t any time left over.
I’d need at least a 72-hour day to get it all done, have time to cook a healthy meal from scratch, and settle in for the recommended eight hours of sleep each night.
A little dramatic for effect yes, but the truth is that modern life can be downright exhausting. And when life is exhausting, what tends to go out the window first?
That’s right. You. Taking care of yourself. And along with that, taking the time to prepare those healthy foods that you know you should be eating.
But how are we supposed to eat healthy when we are so insanely busy?
Of course, there is no replacement for a long, delicious, home-cooked meal shared with family and friends, accompanied with laughter and great conversation.
We should all strive to make space for this ideal in our life. Mindful eating, good company, and a close connection with our food are all things to be nurtured and cherished.
But the reality of the day-to-day doesn’t often make this possible.
When you come home exhausted and starving after a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is spend an hour or more putting a healthy meal on the table.
It’s one thing if you’ve planned a delicious meal in advance and have the recipe and ingredients ready.
But unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. You end up searching the cabinets and fridge, trying to figure out what you can throw together with two carrots, a can of black beans and the last quarter of a bottle of vegan Worcestershire sauce.
And for those of us with a significant other or kids, it gets even more complicated.
What if your dear other half doesn’t like what you make? What if you spend two hours slaving in the kitchen to put a healthy meal on the table and the kids won’t even try it?
Fortunately there is an alternative method that is flexible, stress free, and doesn’t require hours of shopping, washing and chopping veggies, and precisely measuring out spices.
Why quick and easy meals are the key to long-term success
If your kitchen is more madness than method, it takes a special kind of willpower to stay the course. Most of us end up ordering out for pizza thinking, “Ok, I’ll actually get serious about this diet tomorrow.”
Tomorrow you’ll plan ahead. Tomorrow you’ll come home with the energy to cook the meal. Tomorrow you’ll be 100% compliant, no exceptions. Reality check: It’s never gonna happen.
That’s why it’s absolutely imperative to learn how to make quick and easy meals that are delicious and satisfying.
If it isn’t as easy to prepare a healthy meal as it is to hop in the car and head through the drive-through, the likelihood that you’ll follow through long-term goes down dramatically.
Ensuring that you have easy access to the right foods at all times is a huge part of setting yourself up for success.
So today, I’m going to share with you one method for adding simple delicious dishes to your repertoire, so you can get in and out of the kitchen in a zip without sacrificing health or taste.
Let’s dive in.
Introducing the Chipotle Method for Making Plant-Based Meals in 5-Minutes Or Less
As you can see from the infographic above, the Chipotle Method uses everyday ingredients, has just a few basic steps that are impossible to mess up, and relies on fail-proof, “wow factor” items that can turn any meal from mediocre to mouthwatering.
We’ll get into the details in just a moment, but the basic premise is simple: Pre-prep or buy basic ingredients, and create different dishes by combining these ingredients in different ways.
Any salad bar or buffet employs a similar concept, and if you’ve ever eaten at Chipotle you’ll really know where I’m coming from.
You choose your base and then walk down the line, adding the previously prepared ingredients of your choosing. A bowl? A salad? A taco? A burrito? It’s the same ingredients, put into a different package.
Five minutes later your meal is ready, and you are on the way to your table. The truly amazing part? You get a fair amount of variety, there is something for everyone, and it’s always satisfying.
There are literally thousands of permutations of possible meals, and it’s not just for Mexican food. By exploring different ingredients and sauces you can cover a surprising amount of ground.
We can bring these same fast food principles into our own kitchens. If you’re struggling to successfully transition to a plant-based diet, or are having difficulty finding the time to cook meals at home, this approach can make all the difference.
It’s easy, requires minimal planning, and always turns out delicious. And once you get the idea it is infinitely adaptable.
Here is how you can turn your kitchen into a lean, mean, food-prep machine and put together hearty plant-based meals in a flash.
Step 1: Keep the basics on hand
The first step to implementing the Chipotle Method is to make sure you keep the basic ingredients on hand.
These items provide the base for the majority of the Chipotle Method meals, and ensure that you don’t have to make any extra trips to the grocery store.
Before I go to the grocery store, I take a quick inventory and make sure I’m stocked up.
Here are our basic staples:
- Beans (canned)
- Salad mix
- Sweet potatoes
- Tortillas (I like the Ezekiel sprouted tortillas)
Note: Some of these ingredients do require pre-preparation. The quinoa and sweet potatoes need to be cooked in advance. More on that in a minute.
With just these basic ingredients, I can put together a number of different meals. I can make a quinoa salad, a hummus wrap, or an epic salad with a side of sweet potato.
But don’t stop there. The key to making these basic ingredients really shine is to add the meal insurance — those special ingredients that take the meal from good to great.
Step 2: Identify the “wow factor” ingredients you can use to make any meal great
The “wow factor” is the key to making this method work.
Nobody wants to eat lackluster meals, and if you can’t get yourself or your family excited about healthy eating, it’s extremely hard to get the plant-based lifestyle off the ground.
But how can you create a show-stopper without an elaborate recipe?
Sauces, spreads, dips and dressings are the answer. A killer sauce can make any meal shine, and can also be used to introduce other flavors into an otherwise mundane rotation.
For example, a knock-your-socks-off Thai Almond Butter Sauce introduces a whole new flavor that you can play with.
Our favorite “wow factor” ingredients include:
- Baba ganoush
- Hot sauce
- Dijon mustard
- Kalamata olives
- Pine nuts, walnuts and pecans
- Coconut aminos
If additional seasoning is needed, you can bypass the complex herbs and keep things simple. We season most dishes with some combination of these standbys:
- Olive oil
- Lemon Juice
- Garlic powder
Compare a garden variety salad to a big bowl of spring mix topped with avocado, olives, pine nuts and a few dollops of hummus. Suddenly you’ve got yourself a meal!
That is the power of the wow factor. A few, simple, flavor packed ingredients applied to each meal, no chef certification required.
Note that these ingredients are usually more expensive, so if you are on a budget, pick one or two for each meal and use them in moderation.
Step 3. Find your new staples
A successful transition to a plant-based lifestyle requires finding new staple meals that everyone looks forward to.
It may take some experimentation to figure out which meals are home-runs, and what new foods and flavors work best together. If you’ve spent some time in the kitchen, you’ll have a natural sense of what mixes well.
However, if you are like me starting from scratch with no cooking skills whatsoever, it may take a little more time to get comfortable.
For example, a wrap filled with spring mix, pasta sauce and nutritional yeast might appeal to few, but I doubt this combo will be winning any culinary awards anytime soon. (Learned that one the hard way!)
Use the infographic above and understand that this will be a bit of a process. Give yourself permission to play and experiment.
Want some examples to get started? We put together a free, six recipe sampler that you can use as a starting point; you can download it here.
Step 4. Systemize the process
Once you’ve come up with new staples and have a repertoire of quick, easy, and hearty meals, it’s time to systematize things so you’ll always have access to the right foods.
The secret to 5-minute meals lies in a little bit of planning and preparation. But don’t worry, I’m not talking about an 8-hour prep day.
The goal is to set up your fridge like a salad bar, with all the ingredients prepped and ready. That way you can just pick and choose what you need to create your meal.
While it is possible to use this method entirely with pre-made ingredients (like hummus that you buy from the store), it will likely require a little bit of pre-preparation.
Typically we spend just 20-25 minutes on prep, twice a week. Here’s an example of how you could set up your week.
This approach includes eating out once a week, cooking double batches of new meals twice a week for added variety, and using the Chipotle Method to fill in the gaps.
With this minimal preparation you can set yourself up for success and ensure that you’ll have lots of easy options for meals and snacks.
Systematize the process in a way that makes sense for your life.
Get started with the free infographic and example recipes
It’s time to put this method to the test in your own kitchen. Sign up here for a printable pdf of the infographic and six recipes to get you started.
And don’t forget to share your Chipotle Method inspired culinary creations in the comments below!
The Kickstart Plan includes:
- A 7-day meal plan, built around the foods worth eating every single day
- 14 of our favorite recipes that pack in the nutrition, taste great, and are easy to make
- Focused on simplicity and speed, to minimize stress and time commitment