This week, "L.A.Z.Boy" writes:
"Skinny Latte, I love your recipes - but my problem is that I just don't have time to cook! What advice would you give to someone who wants to eat healthy but has a time deficit?!"
First of all, if you don't mind me suggesting so, I would just have a teensy look at where your time is going and why you find it so hard to find time to cook a healthy meal. I personally just feel so much better within myself when I make time to cook a healthy meal (and do my exercise).
When I find myself saying "I'm too tired" or "I'm too busy", it's usually a trigger to me that I'm avoiding something or trying to let myself off the hook in some way. Ironically, it's when I'm feeling tired, stressed or busy that I should be exercising and eating well, to help me cope with everything better. My mental well-being suffers incredibly when I don't get out for my run, and I always feel like crap if I haven't had healthy food or drunk enough water during the day. It's all about your priorities and what is important to you. We all have the same 24 hours in each day.
But fortunately in this day and age, if you are time-poor you can get a lot of food prepared where the most that's required of you is to put it in the oven or open the microwave door. Certainly when I moved to the UK I nearly died when I saw how much is available in the pre-prepared "ready meal" camp! And most of it looks quite appetising!
If you live in the UK, there is a plethora of ready made healthy meals, available from every supermarket. My preference for taste and good use of fresh vegetables would be M&S or Waitrose. You could literally buy every meal of the week there, and not get bored, or suffer from any deprivations, vitamin and nutrient wise. Most of them deliver to your door as well, if you can't get out to the supermarket.
The thing with pre-prepared meals is that they are always going to be just that bit more expensive than the raw ingredients. It's up to you whether you can bear that extra cost or not.
I personally really enjoy cooking and like doing it at the end of the day. It helps me unwind. I love having my kitchen filled with delicious smells. I love checking out supermarkets for new foods to try, and reading food blogs to get ideas. But that's just me and I appreciate not everyone goes wild over their food the way I do!
So, here's a few ideas from me for quick and healthy meals. A lot of these feature regularly on my week day dinner or lunch menu.
Meals you can make quickly from the supermarket:
- Soup: you can buy ready made soups in the chilled section of the supermarket. My favourites are M&S Spicy Red Lentil and Waitrose Fresh Tomato and Basil. What I do is heat this up and add a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves to it as it's heating. I also add a few handfuls of small pasta (like macaroni) to the Tomato and Basil one to make it more substantial.
- Salad: buy a pack of salad that has other vegetables in it (like Waitrose Sweet and Crunchy, which has carrots, peppers and red cabbage in it) and use it to make wholesome wraps. Choose a wrap or pitta bread that is wholemeal or has seeds in it. Spread with low-fat hommus or other low-fat dip, put salad on the top and roll up. In the summer, this is a typical week day lunch for me.
- Felafel and salad: most supermarkets have ready-made felafel. Buy a pack of salad to go with it, and just heat the felafel in the microwave until warm. Drizzle with low fat tzatiki or hommus.
- Baked beans: for a quick and supremely cheap winter lunch, I zap a can in the microwave and add some spinach to it.
- Pasta: get some fresh pasta from the chilled section of the supermarket. Toss with a packet of fresh rocket, some grilled peppers or aubergine (not packed in oil) and a small piece of fetta or goats cheese.
- Spinach and chickpea curry: coat a nonstick pan or wok with cooking spray. Chuck in a diced onion, 1/2 jar of korma curry paste, 1 can of drained chickpeas, 8 discs of frozen spinach (or fresh if you have it), 1 can light coconut milk, stir, bring to the boil. Cook until spinach is defrosted and the sauce is thick. Add milk or stock if you need it thinner. Serve with easy-cook brown rice, any pre-cooked rice, or couscous.
- Tuna pasta: cook pasta as per normal. When it has five minutes to go, throw in a packet of pre-prepared vegetables (carrot, broccoli, cauliflower). Drain everything and put it back in your pan. Put pan back on the hob, with heat low. Add one can of drained tuna in brine, 2 tablespoons of pesto, some olives if you have/like them (not in oil though), some light Philly cream cheese if you have it, and a small handful of grated parmesan.
- Vegetarian wraps: coat a nonstick pan or wok with cooking spray. Chuck in an onion, 1/2 a packet of frozen vegetarian mince, 1 packet fajita seasoning, 4 discs frozen spinach and enough boiling water to stop the mince sticking. Stir, cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until the mince is cooked and spinach has defrosted. Serve with salad, salsa and tortilla wraps.
- Noodle soup: make a packet miso soup or boil some vegetable stock. Once boiling add a packet of udon noodles or dried buckwheat soba noodles and 6 small mini dim-sims (easy to get in the supermarket) or vegetarian dumplings. Boil 5 minutes or so or until the dumplings are cooked through. Add a packet of supermarket Asian vegetables (fresh is best, but frozen is fine) and a dash of sweet chilli and soy sauces to your taste.
- Omelette: when it comes to fast food, you don't get much faster than eggs. Take 2 eggs and beat together in a jug with salt, pepper, any fresh herbs you have handy, and 1/2 a small grated courgette (zucchini). Heat a pan and when it is smoking hot, pour in the egg mixture. Let it sit there for about 10 seconds, or until you can see a “frill” on the outside. Then pick up the pan by the handle and tilt it about 45 degrees. With the aid of a spatula or pancake turner, move the liquid egg in the centre of the pan out to the other area of the pan. Keep tilting the pan and moving the liquid egg into the free space so that the entire base of the pan is covered. Use the spatula to hold the egg that has set in place while you move the liquid egg to a “free” area in the pan. Then turn the heat down to low and leave the omelette to cook until nearly all the liquid egg is gone (about 20 seconds) and then add 2 tablespoons of grated low fat cheese in a line through the centre of the omelette.
With the aid of your spatula or pancake turner, start folding the omelette. Begin from the right and fold it into the middle, and then fold it again on to the remaining portion. Serve with some nutty wholegain toast.
- Red curry vegetable soup: saute an onion and a little minced garlic and ginger in a stockpot with cooking spray. Add 2 tablespoons red curry paste, 1 packet supermarket preppped chopped root vegetables (potato, carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin, etc) and 1.5 cups vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Boil for 5-10 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add 1.5 cups light coconut milk, 1 chopped courgette (zucchini) and 1 cup spinach leaves. Cook for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh coriander just before serving, if you have it.
- Chickpea, tuna and rocket salad: Mix together in a bowl 1 can of sweet chilli or tomato and basil flavoured tuna, 1 can of drained chickpeas, 1 packet of washed rocket leaves and the juice of 1 small lemon. Add low-fat feta cheese if you have it, and any other fresh vegetables.
- Haloumi and couscous salad: Make couscous according to directions on packet (it takes about 5 minutes or so). Cut half a block of haloumi into slices and flash fry until golden brown on each side. Mix a dressing of juice of 1/2 a lemon and sweet chilli sauce to taste. Mix in a bowl (or in the saucepan the couscous has cooked in) couscous, 1 small packet of washed rocket leaves, fresh mint leaves (if you have it), chopped dried apricots or red pepper (if you have them), the dressing and the haloumi slices. Grind a little black pepper over the top.
- Pizza: Spread a supermarket naan bread or a piece of wholemeal Lebanese bread with tomato paste or pasta sauce. Top with your choice of vegetables - I like slices of courgette (zucchini), diced red and yellow peppers, mushrooms and some kalamata olives - and then a handful of low fat cheese to sprinkle over. Top with some dried Herbes de Provence or oregano if you have it in the cupboard. Bake in a hot oven (190C) for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Other fabulous resources for quick, healthy meals you can make in minutes:
- Donna Hay's 10-Minute meals (I think it might be out of print now) and No Time To Cook
- Limes and Lycopene's Quick Meals
- Channel 4 Healthy Recipes
- iVillage Dinners in a Flash
- Quick and Healthy Recipes for Kids
Enjoy! I hope this has been helpful, and you know that it doesn't really matter if you don't have time to cook - it's having time to yourself to relax, rejuvenate and do the things that make you happy that matters. Cooking just happens to be one of mine :)