One of the best things we can do to improve our health is take the time to prepare our own meals. But how do we do that when we’re already stretched for time?
For many of us, whether we work full time or are full-time parents, the idea of home cooked meals is a fantasy — far from the reality of our everyday lives. Between long work hours, commuting, and driving to sports practice and events, there’s rarely extra time to buy fresh ingredients and prepare meals. As a result, many of us continue to rely on unhealthful alternatives: highly processed and refined foods.
But there are so many good reasons to cook! Renowned author Michael Pollan believes that, “The decline of everyday home cooking doesn’t only damage the health of our bodies and our land but also our families, our communities, and our sense of how our eating connects us to the world.”
Cooking our own meals helps put our health back on track and into our own hands.
OK this all sounds great but where to start?
Begin with what health experts suggest: follow the 80/20 rule by eating a diet rich in healthful whole foods eighty percent of the time and splurge a little the remaining twenty percent. Think of dining out, take-out and prepared foods as a special treat to be cashed in on those days you absolutely don’t have a second to spare.
Benjamin Franklin said one of the secrets to success is taking the time to plan. Try this: Set aside about 30 minutes each week to plan what you’ll prepare for dinner for the next four or five days. Planning your meals can relieve stress and save you both time and money. Using a chart like this can help. Create a shopping list so you only buy what you need.
Keep This In Mind When Planning Your Meals:
- Eat mostly vegetables and some high quality animal proteins, beans, fruits and nuts.
- Keep it simple: no need to use fancy recipes all the time.
- Find 10-12 recipes that you and your family love.
- Create a theme for each day of the week: Monday-beans, Tuesday-fish, etc.
- Make extra grains (brown rice, quinoa) at the beginning of the week to use later.
- Double your recipe and freeze in glass containers for leftovers and lunches.
Where Do I Find Healthful Recipes?
Use the Internet! Type in “Healthy chicken recipes” for example and you’ll get tons of ideas. Don’t be fooled though. Just because a recipe claims to be healthful doesn’t mean it is. Avoid cream sauces, cheese (except small amounts), and casserole dishes that are mainly pasta and potatoes. Look for recipes that involve vegetables and lean proteins. Don’t be scared of healthy oils like olive and coconut oil and even small amounts of butter. Stay away from margarine and vegetable oils. Allrecipes, Food Network and EatGood4Life are a few websites to get you started.
My favorite chicken recipes are: Whole roasted chicken with roasted vegetables and salad; chicken stir-fry with broccoli, red peppers and carrots; and grilled chicken over big green salad.
Easiest Way To Make A Nutritious Meal: Soup!
Here’s the recipe for the delicious bean soup I made this week:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 small white potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
6 cups Chicken broth (or vegetable if you prefer)
2 Tablespoons tomato paste (buy the tube, it lasts longer)
½ cup linguini broken into 1” pieces
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 can white beans, drained
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1 Teaspoon dried oregano
1- 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt depending on your taste
5-6 grinds of pepper mill
Peel and smash garlic and set aside. Heat the oil in large pot. Add onion, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and celery and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and add beans and pasta. Cook uncovered until pasta is soft, about 15 minutes. Cover and simmer for at least another 15 minutes or longer if you have time. Serve with a big salad. Make ahead if possible — soup always tastes better the next day.
Ginny Wright has been a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor for more than 10 years. She received her Health Coaching certification through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York in 2007. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.