Are you too busy to cook or unsure of what to make? Are you able to slow down long enough to catch a breath and possibly make a home-cooked meal? Or does healthy cooking seem overwhelming, or unattainable?
As a dietitian, nutrition is my job. But it’s not my life. People tend to think I’m a shining example of perfect eating habits, that I don’t eat processed food or junk food, that I don’t touch alcohol or takeaways, and that I always have my kitchen and meal preparation in order.
The truth is I’m not always prepared and I’m a messy cook. My friends have actually ‘caught me’ going through the drive-through on a couple of occasions… However, what I do have is good long-term eating habits. These habits sail me towards my goals while allowing me to enjoy all food in moderation, which I think a lot of us can forget how to do. However, sailing in this direction does require some organisation and education.
Many of us read magazine articles, social media, nutrition studies or what friends are saying without understanding the topic well enough and we allow it to affect and influence us. Fear of too many calories or grams of carbs, or jumping from diet to diet, can lead us to under-eating and over-hunger, which in turn lead to overeating. Similarly, depriving ourselves of the pleasure of food leads to overindulgence in the very foods we try to avoid. When we are always looking at what we need to eat less of it becomes a very boring and unrealistic way to view food. Trust me, I’ve been there and done that. It took me a Master of Dietetics and years in clinical practice to realise that there's a bigger picture for nutrition and well-being.
In my guidance to clients and friends I don't talk about food in the negative; rather, I talk about the joy and comfort of a good, well-cooked balanced meal. I talk about locally sourced fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, lean dairy products, and sweets as treats, not as a staple. Don't stop eating things you enjoy; just make sure you add more of what you need to hit your bases. I enjoy fresh, tasty wholefoods at every meal. But when we add the stressors of life to the mix and we have a perfect storm of long working hours and less time in the kitchen, eating well and cooking at home can be hard. But here’s how to make it work:
Don't make fancy stuff – at least not during the week.
When you're hungry after a busy day, a complicated meal is not on the cards. You have enough on your mind. Limit your stress by cooking very simply. When I'm tired, the last thing I want to do is overwhelm myself by preparing some complicated new dish. Eggs/omelette with salad, or a quick ‘chop-chop’ salad (chop vegetables up and add a simple dressing along with a pan-fried piece of protein) are really quick and easy as a go to if I’m busy and tired.
Load up on vegetables.
I’m not going to say have celery instead of cake because I’m not that sort of dietitian. But when I have the chance to naturally put more vegetables, herbs and spices into my cooking, I’m there. When I make a stir-fry or soup it's always loaded with vegetables. Or when I’m making eggs, frying some meat or roasting chicken I will always have a big tray of vegetables cooking alongside. Because then I have enough for the next day.
Grocery shop twice a week.
This might not seem like that much of a shortcut, but it's probably the most important tip on this list because if we’re always stocked with basic healthy perishables it saves us the aggravation of not having anything to make. In addition to my big weekly grocery shop, I do at least one other shop a week to replenish salad greens and other vegetables, fruit, milk and whatever else we need. It’s impossible to be organised and eat well if you have zero options in your kitchen, so stocking up really is key.
BYO food everywhere.
Bringing your own food wherever you go – to work, on a plane, in the car – makes it so much easier to eat healthily. You also avoid having to waste time and confusion searching for a healthy choice. Grab some nuts and a few pieces of fruit or bring some leftovers.
Stock up with freezer essentials.
Frozen vegetables, berries, peas, beans, peeled bananas, bacon and chicken/steak separated into portions are just some of the handy items in my freezer. Plus, look into some ready-made wholesome meals, like Plate Up, to make things seamless when life gets busy. And then you're stocked up like a pro.
Healthy eating doesn't mean eating perfectly. In fact, there's no such thing. Putting in some simple preparation (which doesn't mean hours cutting vegetables or complicated recipes) will keep you on track towards your health and well-being goals, especially when you're busy.