Relying on convenience food has been one of the biggest contributors to poor dietary habits in our culture today – and to the increased risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses. This is because these foods are often low in nutrients and high in energy, fat, salt and sugar.
We’re often searching for an ‘easy’ way to eat well, and we’re now blessed with many new businesses sprouting up that can do most of the leg work when it comes to healthy food prep. All we have to do is reheat.
However, these options are often expensive, and reheating cold or frozen food can quickly get old. It’s worth developing the skills required to feed ourselves well, so that no matter what, healthy eating becomes a seamless part of our lives.
You don’t need to become an obsessive healthy food preparer, but healthy eating does require a small amount of forethought. Vegetables need chopping and proteins need cooking. Healthy food has a shorter shelf life and needs purchasing regularly. It also does require some basic skills in the kitchen.
If you take the time to invest in this area, having some basic food organisation skills can not only help establish long-term healthy eating habits, you’ll save money and time as well.
Shopping for food
Write a weekly meal plan
Most people who’ve been successful in implementing healthy eating habits long-term have not left their food choices up to chance. They’ve planned to eat well, in one way or another, and they’ve created meal plans that set themselves up for success and not failure.
If planning every meal and snack for you and your family feels overwhelming, then just start off with planning one meal or snack each day. Maybe it’s dinner, or maybe it’s work lunches. Whatever it is, make sure you keep it simple. If your meal plan is too complicated, you won’t follow it.
Write a shopping list divided into fruit/veg, pantry items and perishable items
Shopping gets dangerously expensive and full of impulse buys and convenience food when you head into the supermarket without a list. A list separated into fruit/vegetables, pantry items and perishable items is very easy to shop from, and you won’t find yourself wandering all over the whole supermarket. It’ll cut down your shopping time, plus help you stick to your weekly food budget.
Cross-reference your shopping list with your current fridge/pantry supplies
Every day, people waste a lot of food, most of which is perfectly fit for eating. Once you’ve created your shopping list, cross-reference that list with what you’ve already got in your kitchen.
Also make a point of using up any leftover fresh or perishable food in the first one to two days of your meal plan, so it doesn’t go to waste.
Shopping online is convenient and can save you a lot of money – mostly because you’re not exposed to aisle after aisle of promotional displays and potential impulse buys. It’s much easier to stick to buying just what’s on your list without that temptation.
Get fruit and vegetables delivered
There are a number of companies that will deliver seasonal produce straight to your door either weekly, fortnightly or monthly. It’s a great way to stay stocked with fresh, healthy foods.
Buy seasonal produce
Buying seasonal produce is important from both a price and a quality perspective. Seasonal produce is cheaper – as it’s in high supply – and tastes better because it’s often picked, shopped and sold more quickly. Get familiar with what’s in season in your local area and practice incorporating these produce items into your meals.
Herbs keep best in water and a plastic bag
Fresh herbs add flavour and interest to a meal, yet they can be expensive and often wilt quickly in the fridge. Pop the fresh herbs into a small glass of water and cover with a freezer bag. Store in the fridge. They’ll last much longer this way, and you can pick the leaves as you need them.
Freeze portions of cooked fibre-rich carbohydrates
Fibre-rich sources of carbohydrate like brown rice, wholemeal pasta, quinoa and grainy breads can be separated into individual portions and frozen. Then you’ve always got pre-portioned healthy carbohydrates to add to your meals whenever you need them.
Freeze meat/chicken/fish in individual portions
It’s great to buy meat in bulk, but there’s nothing worse than freezing it that way. You’ll get much more use out of it and waste less if you divide it into individual portions before freezing it. Frozen individual portions of salmon, chicken tenderloins and other meats can be used to create an easy lunch or dinner for one.
Stock your fridge/pantry with fail-safe staples
There are lots of healthy, packaged foods that are cheap and easy to incorporate into a healthy eating pattern. Some foods you could keep well-stocked in your kitchen include:
- 4 bean mix
- chick peas
- natural yoghurt
- extra-virgin olive oil
- brown rice
- wholemeal pasta
- dried herbs and spices
- wholemeal couscous
- wholegrain crackers/rice cakes
Cook meals in bulk on the weekend
Meals like spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, soups, stews, curries and casseroles can be packed full of vegetables, wholegrains and lean protein-rich foods, cooked in bulk and separated into containers for the week ahead. If you keep your freezer stocked with a handful of different pre-prepared, portioned meals, you’ll have something ready to go for when things get hectic.
Make your lunch when you’re making dinner
You’re already in the kitchen, so you may as well kill two birds with one stone and make tomorrow’s lunch while you’re there. If you’ve got kids, you’re already accustomed to the daily lunchbox prep. Why not spend a few extra minutes and include yourself in that preparation? Prioritising your healthy habits is just as important as prioritising the family’s.
Boil some extra eggs, cut up some extra salad, steam some extra vegetables or cook some extra brown rice. These can all be used to make lunch the next day.
Cook enough dinner for leftovers on another day
Some nights you might have time for cooking dinner and others you might not. Cook extra on the nights you do have time, then refrigerate or freeze it. Then you don’t have to worry about the nights when you’re too busy. Dinner will already be done – just heat and serve.
Keep quick staples at your work desk
These foods can be great to keep at your desk for snacks:
- nuts and seeds
- wholegrain crackers
- wholegrain or protein-rich muesli bars
- baked beans
- savoury rice kits
Keep a big bowl of fruit on your kitchen bench
Research tells us that you’re more likely to eat foods that are right in front of you. A big fruit bowl at home and at work can be a great reminder to snack on fruit.
Plan your snacks for the day
See your snacks as an opportunity for nourishment and a way to include more nutrition into your day.
It’s important to be intentional with your snacks. If you leave them up to chance, you may find yourself reaching for not-so-healthy choices. If you plan your snacks and have them prepped and ready to go, you’ll find it much easier to stay in control of your appetite and your food choices day to day.
About the author
The Healthy Eating Hub
This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.