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Crazy working hours, demanding family commitments, long commutes, delays at the supermarket checkout, conflicting times with fitness programs, distractions, study timetables …
What is your biggest challenge to eating well?
Time poor in the kitchen? Fusspots at the table? Dislike grocery shopping?
Being time poor is a common challenge that confronts many people in their effort to eat well.
Even when time is against you, you can still eat well with a few efficiencies to hand.
Here are a few ideas that have helped others save time and get a healthier meal on the table at night.
Perhaps one of these will help you or you’ve got more time-saving ideas to share here.
1. Stick with tried and trusted, family-happy recipes. Most people have a handful of popular recipes they repeat. If you suspect the family favourites are not ideal to keep your body healthy, a few tweaks to the recipes or ingredients might be all that is needed to improve them.
2. Leave creative new recipe experiments and testing to days when you have time to spare.
3. Don’t feel you have to rise to the false expectations of Instagram recipe images and health bloggers who claim to put gorgeously styled meals on the table every night. Closer to the truth is they spent hours prepping the food for a photography shoot because the blog/Instagram/FaceBook is their job. Food is for your tummy, not for photos.
4. Plan the week's or fortnight's menu based on your usual cycle of meals. This might sound tedious but boy it saves a huge amount of time and cuts down family arguments. A good menu plan is built around family and household commitments such as late shifts, training and sport, study, school runs, staggered dining hours, cook’s night off, entertaining, and sleep overs. Ready-to-eat meals defrosted overnight, slow-cooker meals started before work, extra pre-cut ingredients to save preparation and final cooking on another night, and double-duty meals (last night’s dinner morphs into something else a couple of nights later). A menu means everyone knows what’s for dinner and they can help get it underway.
5. Create a shopping list from the agreed menu and you will save more time at the supermarket. Shopping becomes streamlined and faster; no last minute detours to pick up ingredients for tonight’s dinner from the shops with the inevitable impulse buys, checkout delays and car park tantrums.
6. Include meals that you can freeze and defrost as needed. Deliberately cook in bulk, divide the serves up into either single-serves or family meal volumes and freeze. Single serves make it easier for you to eat well when the others want a less healthy take-away or home-delivered meal. Move frozen meals from freezer into fridge the night before. Home-made wet dishes work well: think Indian curry, casserole, stew, soup, bolognaise, mexican mince and beans but don't be limited to these.
7. Use a slow cooker wisely. A slow cooker is great if someone gets home in time to switch it off or the cooker automatically switches to ‘keep warm’. If not, long working hours may wreck the slow cooker idea because meals overcook and ruin if left too long in a slow cooker. Slow cook in bulk on days off with the plan to freeze into single serves for another night's meal.
8. Use plain frozen vegetables for speed and nutrition because they are pre-cut and cook quickly in the microwave, steamer or stir fry pan.
9. Cut extra raw vegetables and salad for a few nights’ meals. Cut into shapes that suit the planned menu. Refridgerate in a sealed airtight container. Don’t cut and peel potatoes ahead because they will go brown.
10. Leave the skin on carrots, pumpkin, potatoes. Scrub off dirt before cooking. Cook corn in its leaves and silks.
11. Create your own ingredient box. Prepare for tomorrow night’s dinner after you’ve eaten this evening. Gather ingredients. Measure out and cover dry ingredients (e.g. spices, herbs, flours) and sauces ready to add. Put the recipe and necessary pots, pans and utensils onto the bench. Components that need defrosting get put into the fridge the night before. I’ll even make pizza dough that sits in the fridge for a slow overnight rise ready for the next evening’s meal.
12. Pay for pre-cut bagged fresh vegetables and salad if these are available at your supermarket or grocer. For example, raw shredded slaw is versatile as salad or cooked into a stir-fry.
13. Choose dishes that need minimal input from you in the kitchen while you get on with other tasks. Roasts are my set and forget meal: vegetables and meat in one tray means less wash-up as well. Transform leftovers into another night’s quick meal such as stir-fry (taking advantage of pre-cut vegetables or bags of frozen stir-fry vegetable). Another easy quick tasty meal is foil-wrapped or pan-seared salmon. I keep vacuum sealed single-serve salmon portions in the freezer. Serve with salad (bought bagged from the supermarket for speed) mixed with drained rinsed chickpeas/corn niblets/black beans (from a can) or vegetables (frozen or pre-cut).
14. Delegate someone else to shop from your list if you are not keen on shopping or lack time. Specify brands and pack sizes if you suspect they may mis-buy.
15. Pay the butcher to do prep work for you. Ask the butcher to trim fat from meats, bone out if necessary, cube into casserole sized pieces, cut into stir-fry strip or whatever form your recipes require, tie into roasts, thread kebab sticks with skinless chicken pieces, butterfly whole chickens and skin chicken pieces.
16. Run out of time to shop? Explore online weekly or fortnightly shopping to save your time at the supermarket. Keep supermarket staff employed by getting them to shop for you! If you have shopped to a menu plan, save the online shopping cart for future shops to save even more time. You have the power to remove non-essentials and impulse items from the comfort of a chair at a time convenient to you. For a few extra dollars and more spare time, get it delivered to your door.
17. Buy delivered ready-to-eat healthy meals from a catering company whose focus is health and weight management. The upfront dollar cost may seem high but delivered meals take one pressure off you. You don’t have to feel guilty or anxious about not cooking. You don’t have to shop and you won’t have a fridge and pantry filled with wasted food and ingredients. Healthy delivered meals are a good back-up when study and work commitments blow out and consume too much precious time.
18. Consider delivered meal ingredient boxes to save you time shopping and prepping ingredients but expect to spend more time in the kitchen reading unfamiliar recipes and cooking. The time saved shopping and prepping might be all you need if you are an adventurous eater who enjoys new flavours.
How do you feel about these ideas? I have posted a summary of this at FaceBook. My FaceBook page is @foodtalkbites. Please add a comment over there with your time-saving secrets that help you get a healthy meal onto the table.