My friend’s favourite reason for eating less than two home-made meals a week is: no time. No time after coming home from work to sit down and have a leisurely dinner, let alone cooking it.
Plan a weekly menu.This is not as exhaustive as it sounds, trust me. After putting this into practice for four weeks, I have realised that the menus take away the stress of wondering what to cook and the last-minute running around that goes along with it. Weekly menus can take into consideration your family’s likes and dislikes, social commitments, any special diet requirements like low-fat, low-carb etc. At a glance, you can even tell if your meals are balanced with respect to carbohydrates, proteins and fats, or seeming to lean more towards one side.
Select foods for each meal and snack, emphasising on vegetables and fruits, whole grains as against refined and limiting animal products and fatty foods. Add variety to your menu choices like paneer one evening, sprouted salad on the other, and grilled fish the next. This helps ensure that you’ll get all of the nutrients your body needs. Variety also makes your mealtimes fun.
This will also serve as a template for future food planning. Your family doctor or dietician can help you in preparing, or validating, your menu.
Once you are armed with what you’ll be eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner the whole week, it’s time to stock up your kitchen.
Prepare a list from your weekly menu, listing down all the items you’ll need for the week. Separate this into pantry items and refrigerator items. For example:
Pantry: Rajma, yellow lentils, brown rice, spices, flours, onions, etc.
Refrigerator: Greens, fruits, cheese, paneer, tofu, tomatoes, fresh herbs, mushrooms etc.
A weekend trip to the supermarket and the vegetable market would take around three hours, which is a good investment for your whole week. Take your spouse or best friend along, so that the same time can be used to chat up and catch up on the week that was. You could shop for the greens, vegetables and fruits from your supermarket itself, or for a change try out your local vegetable market.
Once you’ve brought in the weekly requirements home, produce like tomatoes, eggplant, fruits can be washed clean, wiped dry and stored away in the fridge. Excess leaves and stems of cauliflower, coriander and such can be trimmed out making for easier use later on. Organise your refrigerator so that you don’t have to hunt for that knob of ginger or the box of mushrooms in the weekday-cooking frenzy.
Cook up a storm
Grill a piece of lean meat or fish with seasoning, toss some greens for a salad and a side of some sauteed veggies, add a piece of whole grain bread, and your dinner is ready. If you have someone to help you with making the roti, the rest of the meal is a breeze, if you use a pressure cooker. Make full use of the pressure cooker by learning to cook with the separators.Keep cut vegetables in one tier, soaked dal in the other and rice in the third tier. This helps you cook three things at a time. All the time-consuming gravies and curries can be saved for the weekend where you have the luxury of time.
Pressure cooking, steaming, grilling, using a microwave are some of the cooking techniques that are simple, yet very healthy. They capture the flavour of food without addition of excess fat.
Conscious eating is also a way to get more satisfaction from eating less. Use meal time to bond with your spouse and kids, each pitching in their bit from the day. Take inputs from family members on what they’d like to eat next week, encouraging your kids to help to shop and prepare meals. Enlist your family members in cleaning up the kitchen counters and putting away things to where they belong.
Use your freezer
Most of us use the freezer only to make ice. There is so much more it has to offer. A freezer can be a life-saver at times when you land home late. Store frozen peas, corn, and cauliflower florets in freezer bags to turn out instant side dishes. On a holiday cooking spree, you can make a dozen extra parathas and pack them into the freezer by placing parchment paper in-between two layers, in a freezer safe bag. In a hurry, these can be thawed in the microwave or hot tava for a hot meal.
Save effort by altering the recipe
By using some of these tips, you can give a healthy makeover to any recipe.
- Cut down the fat, sugar, and salt. If a recipe asks for two tablespoons of butter, use one tablespoon of olive oil instead and cook in a non-stick pan. Cut down salt by half in soups, curries and rice. Use a variety of spices like pepper, chillies, cardamom etc., to give depth to the flavour in the absence of too much salt. Sugar can also be cut down to half in most recipes by adding sweetening spices like cinnamon and cloves
- Delete a step. If you are baking a carrot cake, and it asks for a cream cheese frosting, skip the frosting. You save time and calories, and trust me, the carrot cake tastes good as it is
- If all fails, eat less. Some recipes have to be made in their full-fat avatar to be able to enjoy their real taste. In such cases, just eat less than what you would otherwise. Serve yourself half a cup of the buttery dal makhani, instead of the big bowl.
It is a myth that healthy cooking is time-consuming and back-breaking. All it takes is a bit of planning, working in advance when you have the time on hand and, of course, the good intent to provide better quality food for yourself and your family.