A common tip for eating healthier is to take cooking into your own hands. In theory it sounds good: when you control the ingredients, you control the nutrients and calories. Less butter and salt, more veggies and spices, etc. But when push comes to shove, we often end up staring at a recipe – and a big pile of spoiling ingredients in the fridge – while calling for take-out. If we only had the time, knowledge, energy and/or desire to cook! Here are three tips to make the process easier:
Cutting, dicing, slicing and chopping can take a lot of time. Save time on a busy weeknight by having all of the chopping done ahead of time: set aside a half-hour or so on a Sunday evening to slice and dice the vegetables you’ll need for the week. Then when you’re ready to snack or make a meal, half of the work will be done for you. Pre-cut, packaged vegetables cost a little more at the store, but you may find it worth the cost if it gets you cooking at home more. Buy a big bag of prewashed and cut lettuce so salad- making is a snap. Frozen veggies can be steamed or microwaved in minutes. Frozen fruit can be blended with yogurt or milk (and spinach!) for a quick five-minute morning smoothie, mixed into a bowl of whole grain cereal or scooped on top of some yogurt. You can pick up already marinated poultry, fish or meat from the supermarket and throw it on the grill or in the oven.
2. Batches are your best friend.
Once you’ve decided to cook, use that momentum to ensure you have healthy meals available, not only that night, but also the rest of the week. Whatever healthy recipe you’re going to cook, double it so you can eat it a few times that week for lunch or dinner. Preparation only takes a few extra minutes, and you’ll save tons of time later in the week when you’re busy. If it takes you one hour to make a four-serving batch of three-bean chili or stir-fry, you’ll get four meals that week at an average time of 15 minutes per meal. Faster than fast food!
3. Make it a habit: Learn to cook faster and better, gradually.
Sometimes we want to become a gourmet chef overnight. This can get overwhelming; start slow so you don’t get disheartened. Cooking cajun pan-seared tilapia with mango salsa and steamed lemon-broccoli as quick as it takes to have the delivery guy get to your doorstep with something a little less healthy.
Shortcut Cajun Pan-Seared Tilapia With Mango Salsa and Steamed Lemon Broccoli
• Buy a cajun-seasoned tilapia filet, a lemon, prepared mango salsa and some fresh or frozen broccoli from the supermarket.
• Steam or microwave the broccoli (some come fresh in microwavable bags, I think the brand is Mann’s).
• While the broccoli is cooking, throw the tilapia into the oven or into a pan with non-stick cooking spray and cook for a couple minutes (length of time depends on cooking method).
• When the broccoli is done cooking, drain and squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top.
• Put the tilapia and broccoli on the plate, scoop on the mango salsa and enjoy.
• If you want a grain, quinoa is one of the fastest cooking whole grains (15 minutes) and is also one of the highest in protein.
Aim to cook one new recipe every week – see which ones are easiest and tastiest for you. Stick with those. In one year, you will have tried 52 recipes and will likely have at least a few go-to dishes that you know will be healthy, tasty, and most importantly, made by you.
Through his book and blog, Death of the Diet, Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS, empowers people to live the life they want by integrating healthy eating and physical activity habits into their daily routines. You can follow him on Twitter @JMachowskyRDFit.