We all know we should eat healthy foods. The problem isn’t lack of knowledge; it’s often lack of time. However, time consuming, complicated recipes aren’t necessary. Children like simple food so unless you’re cooking for company, the simpler the better!
Start with stocking your home with the necessary staples to prepare quick, healthy meals. Keep on hand:
- frozen fruits and vegetables,
- good quality pantry staples such as canned beans, dried peas, cans of green chilies, canned soups to which you can add leftovers such as chicken, beef, and vegetables
- quick easy meats and meat alternates such as eggs, canned beans, hummus, yogurt, varieties of cheese, canned fish, tofu, and peanut butter or other nut butters such as almond butter and sunflower seed butter
- grains like brown rice, couscous, quinoa, a variety of pastas, whole grain breads, tortillas
- sauces such as soy sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa
- fresh fruits and vegetables, although only buy the amount that can be used up before your next shopping trip.
Helpful equipment to own includes a food processor for easy chopping, a mandolin, or grater of some kind, and a dehydrator if you like dehydrating your own fruits. An immersion blender is helpful too for blending veggies in big quantities right in the pot for easy purees or sauces. And a crockpot for meals for the children in the daytime that are ready for your family at night.
Time saving strategies include:
- Take 15 minutes to plan a weekly menu and shopping list. Plan for 3 meals and planned leftovers (make a little extra to use in a different way the next day or later that week). End the week by cleaning out the fridge with “salad bar day” for Fridays.
- Shop once a week, buy produce in season for the lowest cost and freshest items, and shop at farmers markets when you can to help local farmers.
- When you get home wash greens, herbs, and veggies, dry them, and put them away in food storage bags. The herbs will keep up to 2 weeks. You’ll save time every day because your ingredients will be ready for you to use.
- Prepare large meals when you have time, like on a weekend or evening, so you can make components of several meals. For example, cook big pots of beans and then season smaller portions for different meals.
- Cook large quantities of grains like brown rice or quinoa for several meals over the week. Cooking in batches like this makes day to day meal prep easier and quicker. Prepare sliced fruit and veggies and have them readily available for meals and snacks.
- Organize your kitchen. Keep frequently used items such as cooking oils/sprays, spatulas, cutting boards, and spices within easy reach. This will save you from having to search for them later.
- Clear the clutter. Before you start cooking, clear off your counters. This allows more room for preparation space.
- Chop extra. When chopping up veggies for a meal, chop more than you need. Take the extra, place in a reusable container and freeze. Then next time you need it, you can skip a step.
- Have everything in place. Grab all ingredients needed for your meal – chopped vegetables, measured spices, and thawed meats. It will be easier to spot missing items and avoid skipping steps.
- Double your recipe. For your next casserole or stew, try doubling the recipe and freezing the extra. You’ll save time and make cooking next week’s dinner a snap! Use leftovers to create different meals for the rest of the week. For example make a roast chicken and eat it as a main course one day. With the leftover chicken remove the bones and skin and use it as the base of a chili, a salad, wrap sandwiches, or soup.
- Clean as you go. Fill up the sink with soapy water and wash the dishes as you cook. It’ll make clean-up go much smoother!
- Save some for later. Freeze leftover soups, sauces, or gravies in small reusable containers.
- Keep a bowl in the freezer for leftover meat and vegetables and make stew, soup, or stir-fry with them.
Healthful meal themes to pick for each day of the week
- Bean dishes - lentil soup, beans and rice, minestrone soup, chili, burritos, or vegetarian tacos are just a few bean-based dishes that are tasty, easy to make and high in nutrients and fiber.
- Fish - keep it low in fat and sodium by baking or grilling fresh fish instead of using breaded or fried.
- Brown rice - makes a great base for many different meals including stir fry dishes and bowls. Build a bowl using rice, veggies, salad, and a lean protein and call it a poke bowl (poke is Hawaiian for “cut into chunks”).
- Pasta or potatoes - baked potatoes, spaghetti or baked yams make excellent plant-based meals. Top with meat sauce, chili, and/or cheeses such as cottage cheese,
- Lean poultry or meat - there is always room for a favorite meal of poultry or meat during the week. You can roast once and serve more than once - use leftovers in soups, stir fry dishes, salads or chili for one of the other meals.
- Salad - Make a large main dish salad with grilled fish, tuna or leftover chicken.
- Soup and stew - homemade soups that are low in fat and sodium make a hearty meal that’s high in fiber and low in calories. Examples are veggie, split pea, lentil, and minestrone. Add meat and cook slowly for a hearty stew.
Quick easy meals and snacks
- Combine leftover vegetables with scrambled eggs and a little cheese.
- Top a leftover sweet potato with vanilla Greek yogurt, walnuts, and cinnamon.
- Serve cooked eggs over a bed of sautéed greens. Add diced sweet peppers, mushrooms, or onions in with the greens if you like.
- Top an egg and cheese muffin with a slice of tomato and spinach.
- Try sweet potato hash with onions, eggs, and a bit of cheese.
- Make a breakfast casserole with crumbled sausage
- Toss green salad with canned chickpeas, halved grape tomatoes, black olives with a capful of olive oil and a capful of apple cider vinegar.
- Mix hummus with a squeeze of lemon juice and a chopped roasted red pepper and serve with cucumber slices or celery or crackers.
- Mix any leftover cooked vegetables such as chopped green beans, broccoli, corn, peas, with a drained can of black beans. Dress with olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice plus a pinch of cumin and salt.
- Make sandwiches with guacamole or hummus instead of processed meats. They’re just as easy yet aren’t loaded with nitrates and nitrites, preservatives that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Top with greens, tomato, and cucumbers in a whole grain wrap.
- Instead of buying lunch meats, make your own with leftover roast chicken or roast pork. Mix Greek yogurt with leftover chicken or turkey, add diced cucumber and celery, and fresh herbs. Try it in a whole wheat pita.
- Skip the meat and cheese on sandwiches and try marinated tofu and veggies on a whole grain roll; or black beans, onions, peppers, and salsa in a whole wheat wrap; or almond butter or other nut butter and sliced fruit such as pears or bananas on whole wheat bread.
- “Food and Health Communications – Creative Culinary Nutrition Resources for Health Educators.” Food and Health Communications, Food and Health Communications, foodandhealth.com/.
- Jacobsen, Maryann Tomovich. “15 Of the All-Time Best Strategies for Raising Healthy Eaters.” Maryann Jacobsen, 12 Dec. 2018, maryannjacobsen.com/2014/02/15-of-the-all-time-best-strategies-for-raising-healthy-eaters/.
- “Choose MyPlate.” Choose MyPlate, www.choosemyplate.gov/.
- From Asparagus to Zucchini: a Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce. Madison Area CSA Coalition, 2004.