Cooking is considered a chore by most people. Restaurant visits, take-outs, and frozen TV dinners are much more in keeping with our busy lifestyles. The downside to all this is that you have little control over the nutritional quality of food prepared by others. Unless you do it yourself from scratch, including grocery shopping and everything else before sitting down at the dinner table, there is no guarantee that you eat really well.
By eating "really well" I mean getting all the nutrients the body needs to fully function and stay healthy. Learning how to make meals that measure up to that standard is not rocket science, but it requires a bit of knowledge in nutrition science and also in sound cooking techniques.
Even among those who still can be talked to about home cooking, convenience is a top priority. Time-consuming trips to the grocery store or farmers market are for many people out of the question, and so are hours spent on following complex recipes.
Luckily, there is plenty of help. Entire industries have emerged to make things easier for those who are unable or unwilling to toil in their kitchens the way generations before them had to. More than a hundred companies, including Walmart, are now offering so-called "meal kits" that contain exactly measured ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all delivered to your doorstep.
I myself have always been a believer in simple cooking techniques.
Subscribers to meal kits providers like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or Plated can receive weekly mailings of almost any kind of food as well as cooking tutorials and utensils that promise to turn a clueless novice into an avid hobby chef.
So far this fledging industry is showing great promise. Technomic, a food-industry consulting firm, predicts a $3 to $5 billion annual growth over the next decade or so. The comparatively high prices per meal, however, which can rival high-end grocery outlets or even medium-priced restaurants, limit the target audience to the well-to-do.
From a nutritional perspective, many of these meal-in-a-box options are certainly preferable to fast food, pizza, and other typical take-outs. But they are not necessarily superior in quality to fresh produce, meats, fish and other staples from your local supermarket (let alone farmers market). The difference is that preparing the latter may seem a little more cumbersome. But in reality, they really aren't.
I myself have always been a believer in simple cooking techniques. I like my food as unaltered as possible, preferring uncomplicated techniques like steaming fresh vegetables or poaching fish to baking, frying, or whatever else more creative people than I can come up with.
I also try to follow my own motto, "eating lighter is eating smarter." So I usually leave out sauces, dressings and other condiments that may add a bit of flavor but many more unnecessary calories and substances I don't know anything about. This, by the way, I would also recommend to users of meal kits and other partially or wholly prepared products.
And there is one more element that should not be underestimated: Even the making of the simplest dish gives me great pleasure when it is to be shared with people I love. Enjoying a glass of wine while stirring a pot or assembling delicious treats before gathering at the table -- you can't get that from unpacking a box, no matter how well appointed it may be.
So, yes, I think it is worthwhile making the extra effort to learn a few cooking tricks, not just to eat more healthily, but for all the other benefits that come with it, including what it can do for your soul. Bon appétit!
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Buy your vegetables in advance, chop them how you like, and store them in containers in the fridge for the week, says registered dietitian Kiran Bains of edovivo. "You’re more likely to use the healthy food in your fridge when it is convenient and ready to use."
One you get meal prepping down, eating healthy during the day is easy. "When grocery shopping, I choose two proteins that I will enjoy for the week and about five to six different veggies," Bains says. Try making your batches on Sundays and Wednesdays (to keep your menu fresh) and for starches try variations of rice, sweet potatoes, wraps, quinoa and pastas high in fibre.
For some of us this may be a wrap or a stir-fry or a rice bowl. Whatever your favourite meal is, stick to it during the week. "My go-to meals are stir-fries, wraps, soups, and salads when it comes to lunch items and of course, I love using left-overs from my dinner meals whenever possible," she says. If you're having chicken dinner, use leftover pieces for a wrap or salad the next day.
"One of my favourite things to do and easiest ways to get all of your food groups into a meal is to make a soup from leftovers," Bains says. If you're cooking chicken or beef, use the bones to create a broth. To keep things healthy, make sure you add as many vegetables as you can to your pot of soup.
"If you decided to splurge on that sugary baked good that’s been calling your name in the cafeteria, try to find an option that is higher in fibre like a bran cookie or bran muffin," she adds. Not only this, but combine your snack with peanut or almond butter for the added protein.
Keep snacks that are high in healthy fats, fibre and protein at your desk. Try nuts and seeds, fruit and low-sugar granola. And just like snacks, hydration is always important, Bains says. Make sure you keep a water bottle handy.
"Set Outlook reminders to snack throughout the day if you’re one of those people that forgets to eat during the day. Snacking throughout the day and keeping yourself hydrated is a great way to ensure your portions aren’t blown out of the waters when it comes to your main meals," she says. You can also use apps on your phone and set reminders to drink water and eat a healthy snack!
We don't need to tell you which office snacks to avoid. But if you aren't ready to give up your mini doughnuts and chocolate bars just yet, think about portion control. "When I do splurge on sugary items, I like to keep the portion size to just half the size of the palm of my hand in mind," Bains says. "If I’m still hungry, I’ll increase the amount of protein that I’m having with it, to make up for that loss."
Follow Timi Gustafson, R.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD