Food Fast, Not Fast Food: Eating Healthfully When you are Crazy Busy
June 21, 2010
The last five weeks have been insane for me, working 80+ hours and 7 days a week. It is times like this that good intentions for eating healthfully go out the window. It seems much easier to order fast food. Easier maybe in the short run, but in the long run you will end up with an energy deficit and ill health. Fast food is full of calories, fat, salt, processed carbohydrates, and lots of additives. There are ways to make healthy delicious food fast, often faster than ordering in.
It can seem hard to plan in advance, but think about it just like a project at the office. If you do everything at the last minute you won’t be effective and will work insane hours to get it done. Planning lets you be in control and reduce the level of anxiety and frenzy that goes along with crazy busy periods.
Stock up on essentials
- Plan to make 4-5 meals for the week. Why not seven? Because frankly cooking seven nights a week is just too much and unrealistic, you’ll end up throwing food out. One night you could have leftovers and yes one night you can eat out, healthfully of course, but that is another article.
- Pick recipes for your cooking in advance. I usually pick recipes on a Friday night so I can shop the next day based on the required ingredients. I shop early to beat the crowds and still enjoy my weekend, assuming I have time for enjoyment. You can also shop on your way home from work. Many of the recipe sites let you view a recipe on your smartphone.
- Pick recipes for preparing meals in under 30 minutes. Grilling is a great solution and so easy at this time of the year. You can grill your entire meal (protein, vegetables, potatoes, even dessert.) Tip: If you need to marinate something, throw the fresh or frozen meat in a resealable bag with the marinade the night before and store it in the fridge. It’ll be ready when you walk through the door.
Life is so much easier when you can grab an ingredient from your own supplies rather than having to buy it. Having the essentials close at hand really helps if you need to make a meal without a recipe or to adapt others. Stock up on:
Never cook for one meal when you can cook for more
- Spices your family likes, olive oil, white and red wine vinegar, and pre-made sauces (skip any that have sugar or a long list of additives in them.)
- Quick cooking brown rice, dry whole grain pasta, taco or tostada shells, frozen vegetables, low sodium broth.
- Salsa, pickles (not sweet), mayonnaise, artichoke hearts, etc.
- Canned beans and canned fish. Look for low sodium vegetables and get fish packed in water.
Some people don’t like leftovers, but leftovers are my savior. Leftovers can serve as another meal or at minimum lunch.
Ask for help
- Don’t cook one whole chicken, cook two. The second chicken can be used for another meal, as a source of meat for a salad, tacos, or pasta.
- Cook double or triple the chicken breasts you need for a meal. Don’t make one pork tenderloin, cook two, and double any other type of protein so that you can have it for another meal or in a sandwich or salad.
- Boil 6 or more eggs for egg salad sandwiches or to dice into salads
- Consider doubling any meal you make during the week that can either serve as another meal or be frozen for another crazy week. For example, I often make two pans of lasagna or two casseroles, though these are weekend meals.
- Use the weekend for longer cooking meals, but meals that are still easy to prepare.
You don’t have to do it all yourself. Get everyone in the family involved in making dinner.
- Your significant other can start cooking if you are the last one home, or if you beat them home, have everything prepared so that they can toss it on the grill. Have them help you prepare a meal the night before to go in a slow cooker or be used another night.
- Young children can wash vegetables, make a salad (give them everything already cut up) or set the table. They can also assemble sandwiches or wraps, particularly their own. It is easiest to get kids to help out when you start them young.
- Ask your teenagers(s) to prepare at least one meal a week. Make sure you have a simple recipe, all the ingredients and clear directions on what they are supposed to do. They won’t like it initially, be prepared for resistance, but a lot of teenagers actually discover they like to cook. Start by having them help you with meals then let them cook on their own. And when they go off to college they will have some survival skills!
- Have help stacking the dishwasher. Buy pots that can go in the dishwasher so you don’t have to wash them! Get your teenager a “scrubby brush” a brush with a combination sponge and soft abrasive pad with soap in the handle. This way they don’t have to put their hands in the “yucky” water but they can still clean a few dishes with hot soapy water.
- If you are on your own, consider getting together with a friend on the weekend and making up some meals to split and share.
If you find that you are walking in the door, changing your clothes and making a dash back out the door with kids in tow for baseball, soccer, hockey, dance or whatever make dinner a lunch; sandwiches and wraps are great. Vegetables and dip (see last article for suggestions) and fruit are totally portable. The kids can eat them in the car on the way over and you can eat them when you are waiting for them. If you have tons of work to do and are contemplating working late at the office, don’t. Bring your work home and make it clear to everyone that after dinner you have to work. You’ll feel better working from home than in a dark, empty office and you’ll have a good meal.
Try it, you’ll be surprised at how much more energy you have to survive periods like this.
Here are a few sources for good, fast, healthy recipes:
- EatingWell Magazine is a good resource and they have a terrific website where they feature Quick Healthy Recipes www.eatingwell.com. Subscribe to their newsletters and you’ll get links to great recipes almost daily.
- CookingLight Magazine, originally oriented for low fat cooking, now focuses on healthful cooking. They have lots of recipes on their site www.cookinglight.com.
- The Food Network also has a good site with a number of Quick & Easy recipes www.foodnetwork.com. You can identify what meal you want to make, with what major ingredient and how fast you want it in to narrow down the recipes fast.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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