One hour to a healthy week
At the end of a hectic day, most of us want dinner as soon as we get home so we can sit down and relax! As a result, we often let our good intentions slide in favour of whatever is fast and easy. Creating nourishing, well-balanced meals night after night is no mean feat but a little forward planning can help.
If you spend just an hour in the kitchen at the weekend, you’ll find it easy to eat well all week. In a 2014 study, people who spent more time preparing food at home ate more fruit and veges than people who relied largely on convenience food.
So get the jump on your weeknight cooking with these five simple tips — they’ll save you time, money and kilojoules!
5 Step to prepare a healthy week in one hour
Step 1: Plan to eat well
Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to plan meals for the week ahead. Work out which nights require speedy, hassle-free meals and which nights give you a bit more time in the kitchen. (Work around your families’ extracurricular activities, such as sports and meetings, too.)
Check what you already have in the fridge, freezer and pantry and put the veges into your meal plan. Once you’ve worked out your meals for the week, write a matching shopping list. Then you can hit the shops with purpose and avoid buying unwanted, unnecessary extras.
Step 2: Cook your grains
5 minutes prep
These will cook while you’re prepping other food. Some of the healthier grains, such as high-fibre brown rice, barley and quinoa, can take a little longer to cook than white rice and other refined grains (rice noodles are speedy but they lack the fibre and nutrients of whole grains).
Cook batches of brown rice, barley or quinoa. Seal cooled grains into labelled freezer bags, then freeze or refrigerate. Before you reheat the grains, stir in a little water to restore their fluffy texture, then toss them into warm salads, stir-fries and curries.
Step 3: Prep veges and salad
The last thing most of us want to do after a long day at work is peel and chop veges. Use Sunday to peel and chop your onion, garlic, capsicum, carrot and other veges. They will all keep in the fridge for a few days, as will washed salad leaves and rinsed beans.
Roast a big batch of pumpkin, kumara and beetroot to toss through lunchtime salads or serve them with dinners. You’re over halfway to creating a tasty salad, so why not make your own dressing too? It’s healthier (and cheaper) than store-bought varieties. Mix two parts balsamic vinegar with one part olive oil, shake and drizzle!
Step 4: Get a head start on breakfast
A smoothie is the definition of a fast breakfast! Pop a handful of berries, half a banana and a cup of baby spinach into a zip-lock bag, and freeze overnight. Simply whiz them into milk and yoghurt for an instant brekkie.
Overnight oats are another tasty grab-and-go option. Seal equal measures of rolled oats, yoghurt and milk into an airtight container and refrigerate to soak overnight. In the morning, just top your oats with fruit, nuts or seeds. You can also portion your muesli or cereal into zip-lock bags or containers and splash on some milk when you get to work.
Step 5: Portion out snacks
Supermarkets now stock plenty of individually wrapped snacks, but convenience often sells at a premium.
The low-cost solution is to make your own. Measure out large bags of nuts and dried fruit into 30g portions for your own trail mix. Buy 1kg yoghurt tubs and spoon into single serves, portion out air-popped popcorn and slice a block of cheese into thin slices, ready for snacks and sandwiches.
If you have some extra time whip up healthy muffins or bars. Check out our recipe for sugar-free fruit and nut bars on page 84 — great for kids and adults too.
Free up even more time!
- Boil half a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for fast and filling high-protein snacks. Write ‘cooked’ on their shells so others can spot the difference!
- Cook your favourite meals in double or triple batches and freeze portions for a dinner you can microwave in a hurry.
- Cut carrot, cucumber and celery into sticks and keep them in the fridge alongside healthy dips such as hummus for pre-dinner bites with a crunch.
- Chop, skewer and marinate beef, lamb or chicken so that it’s pre-portioned for cooking.
- Freeze stock and tomato paste into ice-cube trays to stir into soups and pastas.