New & NowMeal Plan

An Unconventional Method for Fitting Cooking into a Crazy Schedule

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We're asking real people for the little things they do to stay sane and feel good amidst an overload of often confusing health-related information.

Today, we talk to Sarah Carey, Editorial Director of Food & Entertaining at Martha Stewart Living.

Compared to the pristine world of Instagram food, where every ingredient on a feast board has been manipulated, every mess has been staged, Sarah Carey's page is like a cold shower. While she's at work making the food at Martha Stewart Living taste and look its best, the photos she shares of her personal life are real—albeit curated—glimpses of what she cooks and bakes at home, often before she heads into the test kitchen.

"What was I doing? No one knew," a recent caption read. How many times have I had this same thought halfway through a fridge-dive weeknight dinner?

#2minutecookingschool Let's be honest. I started in one direction and veered off in another, as sometimes happens. It was going to be a curried beef pie. But then my dough wasn't defrosted. So I decided to make rice. And when I added the garam masala at the end it was sweeter than i expected so it kind of clashed with the curry leaves. Plus am I allowed to use curry leaves and beef? I'm not sure. Probably no. So from a technique perspective I'd say this was stew method since I. Sautéed aromatics. Added spices. Browned meat. Added garnish veg (potatoes). Thickener (flour). Broth. Simmered. But the real lesson is don't be attached to what you think you are doing. Sometimes you need to PIVOT. And if you have technique, you can do it. #nowyouknoweverythingiknow brought to you by #sarahbeforesevenproductions and #behindyouwithaknifemedia in association with #youcantevencookfilms, #donttouchthechefpictures and #soigneAFcinema #handsdownfavoritepan

A post shared by Sarah Carey (@sarahcarey1) on

"Everything that you see is an image that’s chosen by someone—how they want people to think about them," Sarah explained to me when I asked her about the healthy-eating trends that can be impossible to escape on Instagram. "You may look at that and think, 'That person’s eating beautiful salads everyday and is so much healthier than me'—but you don’t really know."

In the spirit of realness, I caught up with Sarah over the phone to learn her tips for working nutritious meals into her jam-packed schedule, for eating enough greens when there are cookies on every counter of the test kitchen, and for keeping cool amidst the ever-turning wellness carousel.

Here's what works for her:

1. Cook when you're feeling freshest (even if it makes you untraditional).

For Sarah, that means she turns on the oven in the morning, before she leaves for work. It's a routine she started when her kids were really little—she'd have to feed them by 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., which didn't give her enough time to get home from work and start cooking. "I wanted to make sure they were eating the food that I made, so I started cooking in the morning."

She's continued the reverse schedule, even though her children now eat much later in the evening because mornings are still her most energetic time. "If I get home [at 7:30 p.m.] and cook, I think, 'This. Sucks.' Do I have any enjoyment out of it? I’m not relaxed; I’m just rushing to get it done. Even if I’ve had insomnia, I’m still more fresh in the morning than I am after cooking all day, working for nine hours." (You can check out what Sarah makes as the sun rises by searching the hashtag #sarahbeforeseven.)

Leftovers rock! Thanks for the dough #marthabakes! Bacon, asparagus pizza! #sarahbeforeseven

A post shared by Sarah Carey (@sarahcarey1) on

You'll likely be happiest cooking when you have the most vigor!—not when it's 9 p.m. and you've been running on empty for hours on end. If you value your snooze button, maybe that time is Saturday afternoon, Sunday evening, or even late at night, once you've already washed the dinner dishes.

And if you can't make the meal beginning-to-end in the morning, you can still give it a head start:

25 (Actually Easy) Ways to Prep for Dinner Before You Leave for Work
25 (Actually Easy) Ways to Prep for Dinner Before You Leave for Work

2. If you build it, they will come. If you keep fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins on hand, you'll be more likely to eat them.

Seems obvious, right? When potato chips and cookies are the foods in arm's reach, potato chips and cookies are what you'll eat. Sarah learned that simply by keeping more nutrient-dense options around the Martha Stewart Living test kitchen, the team could avoid sugar highs (and lows).

Sarah estimates that at least half of the food they're testing and photographing at MSL at any given time is sweet—"it doesn't seem like 50 percent of our magazine is sweets," Sarah said, "but it seems like that is what's around all the time." To counter some of that sugar, the team will make a big protein-heavy salad, or another "healthy simple food," like the savory porridge kitchari, so that they have savory, nutritious options to turn to when stomachs grumble.

5 Ways to Add Vegetarian Protein to Lunch Salads

5 Ways to Add Vegetarian Protein to Lunch Salads by Marian Bull

Filling, Lettuce-less Salads for Summer

Filling, Lettuce-less Salads for Summer by Marian Bull


"Once [I] get that disgusting sugar feeling," Sarah said, "the only thing that brings me back is eating something with protein. I’m not someone who thinks I need to eat way more protein, but it’s a way of balancing things out."

3. Find a home-cooked self-care meal that soothes and revives you.

Search for that dish that fills you and lifts you—then riff on it endlessly. This past winter, all Sarah wanted to eat was pho. "I was obsessed with making it." She'd make a pho-inspired soup with a fragrant, warming chicken broth, tons of fresh herbs, and any kind of noodles she wanted.

In the summer, Sarah treks to the farmers market, where she buys the fruits and vegetables that catch her eye and makes a composed salad with lots of stuff. "I eat it on the weekend and it makes me happy. It makes me feel like I'm taking care of myself, even when I don't necessarily do that all week long."

How Pho Genius Andrea Nguyen Makes a Richer Vegan Broth

How Pho Genius Andrea Nguyen Makes a Richer Vegan Broth by Kristen Miglore

Follow This Formula, Make Meal-Worthy Salads with Just This & That

Follow This Formula, Make Meal-Worthy Salads with Just Th... by Ali Slagle


4. Remember that wellness trends come and go.

It's easy to get swept away in the health news of the hour. Apple cider vinegar this. Activated charcoal that. But it's important to keep in mind that wellness trends of some kind have been around for what seems like ever. Sarah remembers the cabbage soup diet and, before that, the watermelon diet.

#2minutecookingschool PESTO. Yeah. I make my pesto in a food processor. I KNOW it's better if you use a mortar and pestle but Come. ON. Last time I checked we lived in the 21st century (plus. I don't have a mortar and pestle at home. But also. Even if I did I still wouldn't use it. Even though it is better. Gentler on the basil or whatever. because, let's be honest. It's annoying). Smash the garlic to a paste with some kosher salt. The tiniest amount. I usually use like 1/2 a small clove. I want a hint of it. But I hate when the garlic lasts with you all day. You can blanch the garlic for a milder flavor, but. I didn't. Add to F.P with the basil, pine nuts, cheese. Process a bit. While machine is on add olive oil (use a good one. It's important that the other flavors not be overpowered by a nasty bitter oil). Season. Boil pasta. Drain saving water (the usual). Toss with pesto, more cheese, and. You guessed it. Some butter. Add pasta water if needed. Toss toss toss. Serve. #nowyouknoweverythingiknow brought to you by #sarahbeforesevenproductions and #behindyouwithaknifemedia in association with #donttouchthechefpictures #youcantevencookfilms and #soigneAFcinema

A post shared by Sarah Carey (@sarahcarey1) on

"We think these wellness trends are exploding, and they have taken on more traction because we’re surrounded by people telling us in so many different arenas—on social media, from celebrities. But [even though] it’s all expanded, it’s not different. It's very cyclical." Just check back in 10 years.

When the team at Martha Stewart Living is deciding what trends to feature in the magazine—should they publish Paleo recipes or cover unicorn food?—she asks herself whether the food will taste good. As Sarah put it, "Is it going to be something that I’d be proud if someone said to me, 'I made your recipe’”?

#2minutecookingschool ROAST MEAT: get your oven hot. Like 450. Convection would be nice. Take your meat out and let it sit for about an hour. Longer if it's really big (like a turkey or a rib roast). I mean. It should really be cool room temp when you put it in the oven. NOT cold. But if you insist on not letting it warm up a bit, just know, it's not gonna roast as evenly or quickly. But ultimately it's your choice. Season it. Salt pepper. stick some garlic in it. Rub it with herbs. Oil it or butter. Or drape it with bacon. Or not. Maybe throw some herbs in the pan. Then put it in the oven. Cook it til it's done (if it's big. Like a turkey or a rib or crown roast you'll eventually turn the heat down to maybe 375 so it doesn't burn or get dry before it's done). 138 for pork, 125 for med rare beef, 130 for lamb, 155 for chicken and turkey (yes I know that's far below the FDA recommendation. But do you Like sawdust chicken? Me neither) let it rest. This allows the juices to redistribute AND finishes the cooking. While it's resting you can make gravy if you want. #nowyouknoweverythingiknow brought to you by #sarahbeforesevenproductions and #behindyouwithaknifemedia in association with #youcantevencookfilms and #soigneAFcinema

A post shared by Sarah Carey (@sarahcarey1) on

"From a professional standpoint, Sarah told me, "we try to be as sort of holistic as possible when it comes to health content and sort of have a macro lens on health in general as opposed to focusing on trends as they come up. We [follow the] understanding that if you’re eating whole foods, if you’re generally drinking water or beverages that are not high in sugar, you’ll be healthier. If you eat lots of vegetables, you’ll be healthier."

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Meet the Woman Who Gave Michael Pollan His "Eat Food" Line by Caroline Lange

Michael Pollan on Why We Should Cook (plus a Giveaway!)

Michael Pollan on Why We Should Cook (plus a Giveaway!) by Marian Bull


5. Boxed options are not necessarily that much easier than cooking from scratch.

While Sarah's goal at MSL is to help people "understand that cooking is easier than they think, and they don't need to use those crutches" like ready-to-eat frozen entrées or canned soup. "You can make an easy mac and cheese on the stovetop in 20 minutes," says Sarah. "Just because people are telling you the box is easier, doesn't necessarily mean it is. And it’s certainly not as delicious. [At Martha Stewart Living], we’re interested in providing people simple ways to feed themselves without resorting to those things."

When Sarah does turn to processed foods—she's got a soft spot for Lipton Onion Dip Mix—she does so consciously: "I’m making a choice to consume it."

Ridiculously Easy Macaroni and Cheese
Ridiculously Easy Macaroni and Cheese

What are your tips for working nutritious meals into a busy schedule? Tell us in the comments below!

We originally ran this in July 2017, but think the new year is as good a time as any to figuring out how to fit cooking into a crazy busy schedule.

Tags: Wellness, Q&A