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One of the biggest challenges to jumpstarting a healthy lifestyle is time. The key to eating a balanced, fresh wholesome diet is cooking but who has time?
Between work, sports, music lessons, volunteer activities, friends, and family, the hours disappear and before you know it, dinner is a plastic package thrown into the microwave or fried food in a paper bag procured at a drive-through window.
These highly processed foods are high in fat, sugar, salt, and calories and low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They fill the tummy temporarily but put on the pounds, clog the arteries, and wreak havoc with blood sugar levels.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to eat healthy home-cooked meals even on crazy schedule days. The key is a bit of planning and stocking up on healthy basics.
Tip 1: Let the slow cooker do the cooking
Slow cookers such as Crockpots are perfect for busy people. You can get it going in the morning before you leave or throw in the ingredients at bedtime and let it cook overnight. Either way, the slow cooker produces a large amount of food with minimal effort.
Unless you have a very large family, a slow cooker full of chili, soup, or stew should be enough for several meals.
Tip 2: Cook grains ahead of time
Rice, quinoa, barley, farro, and other grains can be cooked in large batches for the week. This saves time as you are only cooking once and simply reheating in the microwave as needed through the week.
Tip 3: Roast whole trays of veggies
Roasted veggies are simply delicious and very easy to make. Roast two to three trays at one time for yummy veggies throughout the week.
Cut up root vegetables, brussels sprouts, radishes, celery, potatoes, squash, onions, garlic, and any other veggie you have on hand. Toss everything with a bit olive oil, salt, and pepper. (I like to add dried rosemary as well.) Put the veggies in a single layer on a large jellyroll pan or cookie sheet. Roast at 425 degrees until lightly browned and tender. Cooking time will vary depending on type of vegetable and size of pieces but plan on 15 to 30 minutes.
The roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the veggie and mellows the flavor of radishes, rutabaga, beets, and turnips.
Use roasted veggies as a side dish, in a rice bowl, the base for a fried egg, in pasta sauce, on top of homemade pizza, or in a salad.
Tip 4: Eat leftovers for breakfast and breakfast for dinner
Think outside the cereal box. Who says you have to have cereal with milk for breakfast?
In a hurry, grab last night’s dinner leftovers to start your morning. Nothing ready or planned for dinner, grab the eggs.
Scrambled eggs or omelets combine beautifully with veggies and a bit of cheese for a protein-packed satisfying meal.
Oatmeal with frozen blueberries fills you up fast. Avocado smeared on whole-wheat toast alongside soup or salad is a complete meal.
Don’t forget buckwheat pancakes with chicken or turkey sausage and sautéed cinnamon apples for a New York meal everyone loves!
Tip 5: Cold meals are just fine
Dinner does not have to be a hot meal. When I lived in Germany years ago, the last meal of the day was cold. Cold meats, cheese, brown bread and a salad with marinated veggies was the fare.
Other quick, cold or room temperature options include: cottage cheese or yogurt with berries, canned black beans (drained and rinsed) with salsa, tuna or salmon over spring mix with vinaigrette, whole wheat crackers with veggies and hummus and olives, leftover grilled chicken on salad or as a sandwich, or good old fashioned peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with bananas or apples.
Tip 6: Stock your pantry and refrigerator with tasty, good-for-you snacks
Snacks are important. They fill the gap between meals, take the edge off, and help maintain steady blood glucose levels and energy.
Not all snacks are created equal. Candy, muffins, donuts, chips, and cookies spike blood glucose levels and provide little to no sustainable energy or nutrition.
Fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds on the other hand are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and complex carbohydrates. This perfect combination sustains the body, nourishes the cells, and aids good gut health.
Healthy snacks include: yogurt with dried, fresh, or frozen fruit, nuts like almonds, pistachios, or walnuts, pumpkin, squash, and sunflower seeds, pickles, any kind of fruit with almond, sunflower, or peanut butter, any kind of veggie with hummus, hard-boiled eggs, olives, rice cakes, or simple whole wheat crackers with a bit of cheese or nut butter.
Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville. To discuss this article or suggest topics for the future, contact Lorraine at email@example.com or (585) 335-4327.