With all the nutrition fads out there, sometimes the idea of just eating good food is forgotten, and healthy, delicious eating becomes horrendously overcomplicated, full of mandatory and forbidden foods, challenging recipes, and expensive ingredients. When healthy eating takes a gigantic effort, combined with the exhaustion of grad school, the temptation to just order pizza or have cereal for dinner can win out. But one of the most important and easiest ways to eat healthy is simply to eat more home-cooked and fresh food. By knowing exactly what you’re putting into your meal, you can control the content of salt, and the ratio of grains, greens, and proteins. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen, either. Here are three ways I’ve found to eat healthier even when I’m tired.
(1) Eat more fruit, especially at breakfast
Eating half of a grapefruit* and a pear along with my breakfast to start the day has become a fabulous habit for me. It’s a great way to start my day off healthfully. The sugar hit from the fruit wakes me up and gives me energy to take on the morning. Sugar is often vilified as the root of all disease, but fruit is also loaded with fibre, which is great for your digestive system and helps keep you feeling full longer, and less likely grab a snack out of the vending machine before lunchtime. Giving your body a bit of sugar in the morning is important to kick-start your metabolism for the day and fuel your brain, which, incidentally, requires a continuous supply of sugar in the form of glucose, amounting to around 120g daily. There is also substantial evidence to support the idea that a diet high in fibre can reduce your risk of a number of cancers. And of course, you benefit from all the other vitamins and antioxidants in fruit, which keep you strong and healthy.
Making fruit a morning habit is easy. Simply put the fruit in your fridge next to the milk or on the table next to your cereal bowl, or beside your coffee maker or tea kettle — somewhere where you’ll see it. Before you eat the rest of your breakfast, eat your fruit. If you’re not normally a breakfast person, try eating a bit of applesauce or a small glass of homemade orange juice (include the pulp to get the fibre too).
*Grapefruit can alter the metabolism of some drugs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist.
(2) Meal plan
One of the hardest parts of making homemade meals is coming up with something to eat based on the ingredients you have in the house, especially when you’re exhausted after a long day working. Meal planning in the weekend eliminates the need to come up with something creative to cook during the week, and lets you save time by only needing to go to the grocery store once in the week. While I don’t recommend the Standardized Meal System that the main character in the Rosie Project espouses (a little variety is quite nice), he does make the point that planning your meals saves you money by avoiding buying things you won’t eat before they go off. Consider how many portions the recipe will make. You can schedule in “plan-overs” (planned leftovers) or freeze the leftovers to reheat another day when you have no time for cooking, or to take to campus for lunch.
When planning a meal, make sure you have a nice balance of veggies, starches, and protein. I’m a big fan of frozen veggies. They are harvested at their best and quickly frozen, so you retain a lot of nutrients. They are also usually cheap, and can be quickly boiled or stir-fried. I tend to go for brown rice, couscous, or pasta as starch, because I don’t have the patience for washing and peeling potatoes. Brown rice takes about 20 minutes to cook, while couscous and pasta take only 5-10 minutes. Jamie Oliver, All Recipes, and Canadian Living have great inspiration for simple meals. Choose recipes with fewer ingredients so that you can quickly prepare your food during the week without having to concentrate too hard.
(3) Slow cookers
My slow cooker is my hardest working kitchen appliance. You can make delicious, simmered stews, meats, chilis, or curries in the slow cooker. I like to prep everything the evening before in the slow cooker pot, and in the morning before work, plug it in. Then I come home to a warm, home-cooked meal with no effort required. My slow cooker has a timer that switches it to the “warm setting", so I don’t have to worry about my food overcooking or dropping below the 60° C (140° F) point where bacteria can start to grow. And cleaning the slow cooker is very easy, since the inside is nearly non-stick.
You can find loads of slow cooker recipes online, or adapt your own recipes for the slow cooker. Anything that gets better when cooked longer is fantastic for the slow cooker. Since the lid stays on during the entire cooking (never lift the lid off!), you can usually reduce the amount of liquid, but be sure that you use enough water so your slow cooker doesn’t get dry, otherwise it may burn.
For chili, I don’t really have a recipe. I just put the ingredients together in the slow cooker with some spices (chili, cumin, coriander, black paper…) or a packet of reduced-salt taco seasoning, and cook for 6-8 hours on low.
1 can red kidney beans
1 can baked beans
Corn (frozen or canned)
~1 cup dried lentils
(Ground beef, optional)
1-2 cans diced tomatoes
1-2 diced onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can tomato paste
Any other veggies that need to get eaten
Garnish with plain greek yogurt, avocado, and/or cilantro
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t occasionally toss a frozen pizza in the oven or eat a chocolate bar when I’m in a rush. But, with a bit of planning, my trusty slow cooker, and starting my day off right with some fruit, I’m much less likely to fall into that trap.
How do you make home cooking possible? Do you have favourite go-to recipes?
[Photo by Flickr user Moyan Brenn, and used under Creative Commons License.]