Cooking your meals gives you better control of your nutrient intake, but it can be time- consuming. Don’t give up! You can get wholesome, nutritious food on the table with these shortcuts for healthy cooking.
Prep when you return from the store.
As soon as you unpack your groceries, grab the cutting board, knives and storage containers. Half of cooking is preparation, and you can save time on a busy night by having your ingredients ready to go. It is true that some fruits and vegetables may lose nutrients when they are cut, but this approach is better than swinging in the drive-through when you are pressed for time.
Chop up bell peppers and onions to make fajitas. Make cucumber slices, carrot sticks and celery sticks to snack on with hummus or Greek yogurt dip. Chop up mixed greens and store them in a bowl for quick salads throughout the week. Cut broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts so you can quickly season and roast them for an easy side dish.
Rinse away sodium in canned foods.
Canned foods make cooking easier, but excess sodium in beans and vegetables can be a problem. Rinsing canned foods and draining the liquid can drastically cut the sodium levels. Research shows that rinsing canned beans can reduce the sodium content up to 40 percent.
Get a spray bottle for oils.
When heart-healthy oils are turned into a spray, they can be used in many different ways. Spray oils can be used to lightly dress salads, to coat vegetables before roasting, and to grease casserole dishes and muffin pans. Invest in a spray bottle with a pump that allows you to turn your favorite healthy oil into an easy-to-spray mist.
Buy pre-chopped toppings.
Toppings like nuts and dried fruits add flavor without excess calories when they are finely chopped and evenly distributed throughout your salad or side dish. Look for pre-chopped versions of these ingredients to save time during cooking.
Make the sides.
Side dishes provide an opportunity to boost your nutrient intake. If you are pressed for time, consider turning to a pre-made main course. Many delis carry pre-made burgers, veggie patties, and rotisserie chicken. Check ingredient lists to make sure these foods are not loaded with unhealthy ingredients, but otherwise, this little bit of help can save you time in the kitchen. Once the main course is taken care of, you can concentrate on making fresh greens, roasted vegetables and cold grain salads to keep your meals packed with nutrients.
When you need a healthy, filling appetizer or snack these endive bites are the perfect solution. They are low in calories while supplying protein and fiber. It’s a quick and easy recipe to serve for any occasion.
Yield: About 25 bites
Preparation time: 20 minutes
2 (5 oz.) cans solid white Albacore tuna packed in water, drained
1 (15.5 oz.) can low-sodium chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
3 green onions, sliced
¼ cup chopped roasted red peppers
¼ cup chopped pepperoncini rings
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp chopped fresh dill
1/8 tsp fine ground sea salt
1 to 2 heads Belgian endive (25 leaves)
In a medium bowl, stir together the tuna and chickpeas until the tuna is broken into smaller pieces and evenly distributed with the chickpeas.
Reserve about 1 tablespoon of sliced green onions for garnish and place the rest in the bowl with the tuna and chickpeas. Add the red peppers, pepperoncini rings, lemon juice, dill and salt to the bowl. Stir well to combine all ingredients.
Place the endive leaves on a flat serving platter so that they curve up to create a cup. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the tuna and chickpea salad into each of the endive leaves. The amount will vary depending on the size of each leaf.
Sprinkle the reserved green onions over the plate before serving.
Nutrition information for 1 endive bite: Calories 32; Total Fat 0.9 g; Saturated Fat 0 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 5 mg; Sodium 114 mg; Carbohydrate 3.3 g; Fiber 1.2 g; Sugar 0.1 g; Protein 3.1 g
Hydration is important for almost every function in the body from your heart pumping blood to using your muscles for movement. Letting yourself get dehydrated can zap your energy and leave you sluggish and unmotivated. There is more than one way to give your body the fluid it needs. Use a combination of these foods and drinks to stay hydrated.
Water is by far the best way to hydrate. While drinking too much can have a negative impact, sipping water throughout the day and drinking it with your meal is a great way to boost hydration and cut calories.
Sparkling Flavored Water
If you find plain water boring and have a difficult time cutting out sodas, try sparkling flavored waters. Look for calorie-free waters with natural flavors and no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. They can be a great substitute for plain water when you need something with a little flavor and fizz.
100% Fruit Juice
Choose your juices wisely, because many are high in calories. But this doesn’t mean that all juices are bad. Many 100% juices are rich in antioxidants, such as pomegranate juice and tart cherry juice. Tart cherry juice has also been associated with reducing muscle soreness. Keep servings small and use juice as a treat and a healthy way to to satisfy a sweet craving.
Whether it’s a tall glass of unsweetened iced tea or a cup of hot tea, the main ingredient is water. Teas can serve as a source of hydration and make a good alternative when you get tired of plain water. For even more flavor, look for fruit and spice infused decaffeinated teas without added sweeteners.
Fruit and Vegetables
Hydration doesn’t only come from drinks. Many fruits and vegetables are mostly water. Berries, watermelon, citrus, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, radishes, and celery are just a few examples that are high in water content.
Boredom is often the one simple reason many people turn to excess snacking. Without something to occupy your time, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you are truly hungry. Even if you choose nutritious snacks, eating when you aren’t hungry and eating too much are not healthy practices. Go from bored to productive and save on calories with these ideas.
Make a Plan
Grab your notepad or your smartphone, and get busy making lists and planning. Make your grocery list for the week, map out your workouts for the next month, check off what you’ve accomplished today, and update your food diary and exercise log. Not only will these activities keep you away from the snack bag, they will promote organization, which is a big part of a healthy lifestyle.
You don’t need a special spot or an instructor to meditate. You can sit quietly, breathe deeply, and close your eyes at any point throughout the day. Whether it is 5 or 30 minutes, this quiet time will calm you and help you regain the focus you need to make healthy decisions.
Whether you are sitting or standing, a quick stretch will help you feel rejuvenated and get your mind off of snacking. Simple side bends, touching your toes, and flexing your feet can elongate and energize the muscles. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and breathe deeply.
Read Five Pages
We all have a book we’d like to finish, but have little time to sit down and read. Keep your book or tablet nearby for when boredom strikes. Even if you can only get through a few pages, your mind will move away from snacking and you will be that much closer to your reading goal.
Assess Your Progress
Evaluating your progress is an essential part of reaching your health goals, but time can fly by quickly making it easy to skip this step. When you feel boredom coming on, use this time to record your measurements and evaluate your workouts or eating plan. You can even drop down and do a set of push-ups or crunches to assess how much you’ve improved. Not only will your boredom disappear, but seeing your progress will help keep you on track with healthy eating.
Comfort food doesn't have to be loaded with calories, fat, and sodium. These individual vegetarian pot pies are healthier and still satisfying. They are filled with vegetables in a rich gravy and covered with a crunchy polenta topping that is flavored with fresh herbs.
Yield: 4 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 15 minutes
4 cups water
1 cup dry polenta
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp chopped fresh parsley
¼ tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp olive oil
¾ cup chopped onion
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
8 oz. sliced baby crimini mushrooms or white button mushrooms
½ tsp chopped fresh parsley
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup unsalted vegetable, beef or chicken stock
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
To prepare the polenta:
Prepare the polenta by bringing the 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Once the water boils, whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat to low. Continue to stir until it thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Stir the garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of parsley, ¼ teaspoon of rosemary and salt, and the 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper into the polenta. Set aside.
To prepare the filling:
In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the onion and carrot, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook for 5 more minutes until the mushrooms have darkened and the other vegetables are slightly tender.
Stir in the ½ teaspoon of parsley and salt, and the ¼ teaspoon of rosemary and black pepper.
Add the stock to the skillet. In a small dish, stir together the cornstarch and the water. Pour this into the skillet. Increase the heat to high and cook about 2 minutes, stirring often, until the stock thickens into a gravy that coats the vegetables.
To prepare the pot pies:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spray 4, 8-ounce ramekins with non-stick cooking spray and place them on a baking sheet. Divide the mushroom filling evenly between all four. Next, top each with an equal amount of the polenta. If it has thickened as it cooled, use clean hands to crumble and press the polenta over the filling.
Bake for 15 minutes until the filling bubbles and the polenta begins to brown on top. Serve warm.
Nutrition information for 1 serving: Calories 195; Total Fat 2.7 g; Saturated Fat 0.4 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 342 mg; Carbohydrate 36.4 g; Fiber 3.8 g; Sugar 3.5 g; Protein 5.3 g