With one smart shopping trip and a few kitchen tools, you can whip up tasty, healthy meals in a hurry.
Work. Family. Friends. Life and its demands have you constantly on the go, with little time to think about cooking healthy meals. But it’s important that you and your family get the nutrients you need to make it through each busy week feeling good and staying healthy.
“You can prepare healthy meals in a hurry with some simple tricks,” says Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a nutritionist in Long Island, N.Y. How? Consider these tips as your recipe for nutritious but quick meals:
- Cook ahead. One of the simplest things you can do to keep healthy food on hand is to prepare larger portions when you cook on the weekends and then freeze the leftovers for use during the week, Brown-Riggs advises. Leftovers don’t have to taste like the same meal, either. You can turn Sunday’s teriyaki chicken into an Asian chicken slaw on Tuesday, and a chicken-salad wrap for Thursday's lunch.
- Use a slow cooker. Although it may sound counterintuitive, a slow cooker can be your ticket to quick, healthy meals. You simply add the ingredients to the pot before leaving for work; when you get home, your healthy meal is ready. A slow cooker allows you to create tasty, healthy meals because you can use leaner cuts of meat — they'll still turn out tender. You can reduce the amounts of salt and fat you use because the slow cooking allows the flavors to meld, providing a more deeply seasoned dish. You can even use the cooker for a time-saving breakfast: Before you go to bed, put 4 cups of water and 2 cups of rolled oats in it, stir, and set on “low.” In the morning, all you have to do is stir and serve.
- Shop your grocer’s freezer. Your supermarket's freezer section contains healthy foods you can easily turn into quick meals. For instance, use precut frozen vegetables for soups and casseroles. “People think if vegetables aren’t fresh, they’re not going to get all of the nutrients, but as long as the vegetables are handled properly, the frozen ones are as nutritious as the fresh,” says Brown-Riggs. Keep veggie burgers and frozen fish (baked, not fried) on hand, too, to make quick meals.
- It’s in the can. If you’re pressed for time, you can make a healthy meal from your grocer's canned-foods aisle, too. Read the labels on canned soups and vegetables and choose brands with the lowest amounts of fat and sodium. Brown-Riggs suggests adding a can of tuna and a can of kidney or white beans to a bagged salad for a tasty meal in a hurry.
- Make your own pizza. Pizza, a favorite in most families, can also be a quick, healthy meal. Start with a store-bought whole-wheat pizza crust. Top it with tomato sauce or sliced whole tomatoes; low-fat mozzarella, Parmesan, cheddar, or feta cheese; and your family’s favorite veggies — try broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. Sprinkle the pizza with oregano and garlic or other favorite spices. Bake according to the pizza crust package directions, usually about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with a packaged salad and you have a quick, healthy meal that’s also a treat.
- Whip up healthy breakfasts in a hurry. Don’t have a lot of time in the morning? You can still start the day with a quick, healthy breakfast by using ideas from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For example, toast a frozen whole-grain waffle and top it with low-fat yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit chunks. Or spread peanut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla, top with banana slices, and roll up. You can also whip up a fruit smoothie, with nonfat or low-fat vanilla yogurt, fresh or frozen strawberries or blueberries, and ice or a banana to thicken.
- Stock up on supplies. Have a week’s worth of ingredients on hand so that when you need to prepare a meal in a hurry, all you have to do is turn to the pantry or freezer. Staples to keep stocked include whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, canned vegetables, salsa, pasta sauces, and low-fat, low-sodium soups. Be sure your freezer is stocked with frozen vegetables, including chopped peppers and onions, whole-grain bread, and cooked meat, chicken, and turkey breast. These foods give you more possibilities for healthy meals. For instance, you can double the nutrients in a jar of light pasta sauce by adding a bag of frozen vegetables or a box of chopped frozen spinach, Brown-Riggs says. Then serve over whole-wheat spaghetti.
- Use convenience foods as needed. You will pay a little extra for the convenience, but you can save time by cooking with presliced or prechopped veggies and bagged salads, and using grated or shredded cheese. As Brown-Riggs says, "It's grab and go.”