Wouldn’t it be a dream, to come home from work to find a delicious, healthy dinner waiting for you on the dinner table? Even better would be someone else hanging around to clean up afterwards!
It’s one of the three major barriers to healthy eating in Australia – a lack of time. The other two are: the perceived high cost of healthy food and a lack of skill in the kitchen.
Let’s face it. We’re ‘busier’ than ever. With commuting, working, extra-curricular activities, household chores and the ability to be constantly ‘connected’ via technology, we’re often not left with much time for cooking and prepping a healthy meal for ourselves and our families. Combine that with the fact that there is highly convenient food at our finger tips; drive through, home delivered or pop in the microwave; we’ve gotten into a bad habit of our food being ‘grab and go’. It’s just too easy.
Now, it’s certainly not a problem if, occasionally, takeaway is the option for dinner. I highly enjoy a steaming hot bowl of laksa from our local Asian noodle house on a Friday night. It’s a nice way to wind down. However, grabbing quick, easy, takeaway food for lots of different meals throughout your week adds up. The accumulation of lots of convenient, nutrient-poor meals is an intake of excess energy, excess salt, excess fat and excess sugar. These four factors increase our risk of developing chronic disease later on in life, particularly heart disease.
So what are we supposed to do? What’s the answer? How do we put a healthy meal on the table despite a hectic lifestyle? Here are my top tips for easy, and healthy, week night meals!
1. Write a meal plan.
You’ve got to set yourself up for success and plan to eat well. If you’re in the habit of grabbing convenient food, you’ll find it difficult to choose something healthy to eat when caught in the thick of your busy week. Write out your meal plan. Stick it on the fridge where you can see it. Come home from work, look at the plan and cook what it says!
2. Grocery shop once per week.
Consumer research shows that those who make frequent (more than 2/week) trips to the supermarket spend more than those who just go once. We’re also more prone to impulse buying and think about it: the end of aisle promotions are not usually broccoli or salads. They’re usually chips, chocolate or soft drink. After writing your meal plan, write a shopping list and only buy what’s on your shopping list. You could also jump online and shop from your couch and have your groceries delivered. This is a good way of knowing how much it costs before you purchase it.
3. Make the most of bulk cooking.
Winter is the perfect time for taking advantage of cooking a big batch of something hot and yummy, separating it into individual containers and storing it in the fridge or freezer for a quick work lunch or easy evening dinner. Soups, stews, slow cooker meals, curries and casseroles can be loaded with nutrient rich vegetables, lean meats and whole grains or legumes for a quick and tasty, but nutritious meal.
4. Love your leftovers.
One of the best ways to pack yourself a healthy lunch for work, is to make it at the same time you’re making dinner. You’re already in the kitchen doing food preparation so you may as well kill two birds with one stone. I do this with salads, stir fries, pasta dishes with a side salad or steamed vegetables, Mexican dishes like tacos or burritos and lots of others.
5. Keep your pantry and freezer stocked with some faithful staples.
That way you always have something healthy to eat on hand:
- Keep bags of different mixed frozen vegetables in your freezer for roasting, stir-frying and steaming.
- Tinned legumes such as 4 bean mix, kidney beans, chick peas and lentils are cheap and easy ways to bulk up salads, curries, soups and stews.
- Brown rice and quinoa are a source of healthy carbohydrate served with curries and stir-fries.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes (keep the skin on for an extra fibre boost) are great for baking, roasting or mashing and will last a few weeks in a dark, dry spot in your kitchen.
- Extra-virgin olive oil is still the best for cooking and making heart healthy dressings and marinades.
- Raw nuts and seeds are a great way to add crunch and texture to lots of different meals not to mention they’re a great source of healthy fats, fibre and other micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
- Tinned tuna and salmon are a great source of protein and heart healthy fats that are an excellent addition to many meals.
- Dried herbs and spices are a must for adding flavour and interest to your meals. Keep a good variety in your pantry and experiment with different combinations.
- High fibre pasta is a healthier option for your favourite pasta dish. Make sure you watch your portion size and add plenty of vegetables to the meal.
And a final word about being ‘busy’
You only live once and this is the only body you’ve got. If you’re finding that your lifestyle is getting to the point where it’s so hectic that healthy eating and regular physical activity isn’t a part of it, then I’d suggest taking some time to stop and re-evaluate. You don’t have to be a super-health-exercise freak to be healthy. Building small habits, that prioritise healthy eating and regular movement, will go a long way for keeping your heart and your body healthy well into old age!
- Kate Freeman
Kate Freeman is HRI's resident nutritionist, providing tips and info to keep our readers healthy. Kate is a Registered Nutritionist and the creator and managing director of Canberra's largest private nutrition practice, The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate Freeman consults, writes, presents and mentors in the field of nutrition and has over 10 years of experience in the industry.