Nutritionist Kristen Ciuba recommends maximizing your time in the kitchen by grilling meat that can be used in meals all week. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

Restaurant meals, takeout and prepackaged microwaveable dinners feel like unavoidable parts of modern life, oftentimes to the detriment of our waistlines. But D.C. nutritionist Kristen Ciuba says health and convenience can go hand in hand — without dieters having to resort to a frozen low-fat meal or a processed meal-replacement product.

According to Ciuba, a nutritionist at Results Gym who also creates local corporate nutrition programs, the key to taking control of your health is taking charge in the kitchen.

“A meal-replacement shake might be useful for [losing weight] in the short term, but you can’t drink those forever,” she says. “Cooking for yourself is sustainable, and it will have fewer calories and more nutrients than eating out.”

Ciuba’s advice for those interested in taking on the daunting task of cooking healthful meals is twofold:

1. Devise a plan.

2. Implement that plan.

“Preparation and planning is 50 percent” of the equation, Ciuba says.

She recommends starting off by identifying what foods, flavors and textures are appealing and researching recipes online and in cookbooks. Use this information to turn the main components of a meal — lean protein, fruits and vegetables and whole grains — into something you would actually enjoy eating.

Once it’s time to cook, Ciuba recommends maximizing your time in the kitchen by making double and triple batches of food. Freeze soups in plastic or glass containers for easy reheating. Grill extra pieces of meat that can be used in meals all week. As long as the oven is on, roast two baking sheets full of vegetables instead of just one.

Still, Ciuba admits that no amount of prep, planning and kitchen efficiency will overcome a lack of motivation. “You have to make your health a priority,” she says. “That includes making time to cook.”

READ: Confessions of a recovering diet food junkie

— Maggie Fazeli Fard