By Rachel Cabose
Let’s face it: Healthful cooking takes work. We all know we should eat fewer processed foods and more fresh produce and whole grains. But it’s so much easier to grab a frozen dinner or a fast-food meal. With a little help from my friends, I’m going to share a few time-saving secrets. If you’re a culinary purist, you might want to skip this article. But if you don’t enjoy time in the kitchen or you’re too exhausted to cook after juggling work, family, and volunteer activities, read on.
1. Create a menu.
Plan meals for a week (or even a month), and you’ll make shopping trips more efficient and reduce the time spent staring into the refrigerator wondering what to make. If you have a plan, you’re less likely to fall for unhealthy temptations at the last minute.
2. Make once—eat multiple times.
That’s the advice from my friend Alyssa, who likes to double or triple a recipe and freeze the extra batches. (Some recipes freeze better than others, so experiment before making a huge quantity!)
You can also whip up your own make-ahead healthy mixes for soups and baked goods, and use them for weeks. (Try the pancake recipe in the sidebar for starters.)
Another idea? My friend Cassandra recommends making a big batch of a staple ingredient and using it in multiple recipes during the week. A pot of black beans, for example, could turn into taco salad, black bean soup, rice and beans, chili, beans with cornbread . . . the list goes on. Similarly, a batch of brown rice could anchor an Asian meal one day and a Mexican meal the next.
3. Cook less
“Fruit and raw veggies are the original fast food,” says Cassandra. Why slave over a hot stove when so many foods are quicker and more nutritious with no cooking at all?
To save extra time, prep your produce all at once. “As soon as I buy my veggies I cut them up and store them in storage bags in the refrigerator,” says my friend Keila. “That way they will be ready for use in any meal.” (For items that turn brown when cut, such as apples and pears, wait to slice those until you’re ready to serve them.)
4. Raid the freezer
If you want cooked vegetables in a hurry, choose frozen over canned. Frozen vegetables can actually contain more nutrients than fresh ones!
5. Remember: appliances are your friend.
My friends Rebecca and Emily swear by their rice cooker/steamer combos. “You can have half of your dinner cooking without having to watch it to make sure it doesn’t boil over,” says Rebecca. Steamed vegetables retain more nutrients than boiled ones, so it’s a good deal nutritiously too. A slow cooker is another asset for lazy cooks. Turn it on and forget it; come back to find delicious home-cooked beans or soup. While canned versions tend to be high in sodium, you’re able to adjust the salt in your own recipes to a more healthful amount.
6. Simplify the salad.
Sometimes I wonder if salad is worth it. All those ingredients to chop—and then I douse it with fat, sugar, and salt in the form of salad dressing to make it edible! So sometimes I ditch the lettuce and just eat plain raw veggies. (Yes, I know I need leafy greens. I said “sometimes.”) If I want a healthy dip, I use hummus—which is easy to make ahead and freeze.
7. Don’t sauté unless you have to.
I have a soup cookbook in which practically every recipe begins: “Sauté onions and garlic in two tablespoons oil.” Often I just toss the onions and garlic in the pot with everything else and leave out the oil. One less step and 240 less calories—and the flavor difference
8. Use parchment paper on baking sheets instead of cooking spray to make cleanup a snap.
Less time doing dishes equals better mental health. Enough said.
Rachel Cabose is a freelance writer and editor in East Lansing, Michigan. Despite working part-time, she still runs out of time to cook.
Reposted with permission from Vibrant Life magazine.