It sounds too good to be true – in this busy and pressured world, how can you spend both less time and less money by eating healthily? The good news is that it is perfectly possible, with just a little organisation, forward planning and the correct storage.
With the supermarkets full of ready meals, quick sauces and high-speed snacks, and with fast food available on every street corner, we are continually bombarded with temptations for quick meals. The bad news is that ready meals are often loaded with extra fat and sugar, and as most people know, they never look or taste as good as the advertising would have you believe. However, if you can plan ahead a little, and make use of your microwave and freezer, you can have good food in a hurry when you need it, and at a good price.
Being organised with your food shopping is the first step towards healthy eating on a budget. With online shopping now available in many places, there is no need to spend your precious free time in the supermarket. Look for simple staples; rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, tinned beans, spices, sauces and plenty of seasonal vegetables. Don’t forget the wholemeal bread, which freezes well.
The next task is to make sure that your food doesn’t go to waste. Many vegetables keep well if correctly stored, either in the fridge or a cool dark place; for example, a cloth bag with a black interior will stop potatoes and onions from sprouting, and mushrooms keep best in the fridge in a paper bag so they don’t go slimy. Frozen vegetables are also good, and you can stock up on meat and fish too if there is still room in the freezer. In fact, freezers are more efficient when full. Correctly-stored food retains much of the essential vitamins that we all need.
So now that you have the ingredients, what do you do with them to make those quick and healthy meals?
Breakfastis an essential before a busy day, and a portion of slow-release carbohydrates with some fruit and a hot drink is an ideal mix to keep you going to lunch. The best options for this are muesli or porridge, both of which will be filling and give you the energy you need – steer well clear of the sugar-coated cereals in the colourful boxes! For porridge, don’t be tempted by the instant sachets; they are expensive and have lots of added sugar. A big bag of porridge oats costs under a pound, and will provide two weeks’ worth of breakfast for one person. Just add milk, pop in the microwave for a couple of minutes, top with some dried or fresh fruit and eat. There is your healthy, quick, cheap and easy breakfast, with at least one of your ‘five-a-day’.
For lunch, a good sandwich bar can provide you with a great choice of healthy fillings, with plenty of vegetables or salad, some protein and not too much fat. Unfortunately the costs of this can add up to a frightening amount, so if you are watching your budget as well as your health it is time to get creative. If you have access to a microwave and a fridge at work, some leftovers from a previous evening meal will work well, especially if the meal includes pasta with sauce. In the summer, take some salad vegetables and a knife so that you can fill the sandwiches before eating, avoiding the dreaded soggy bread.
The evening meal can be a struggle after a day at work, especially if you are late getting home. A good way round this is to make a small investment in a neglected gadget that is making a comeback; the slow cooker. These are now available in most large supermarkets for £15 or less. The slow cooker allows you to do your food preparation early in the day, rather than in the evening when you are tired and lacking in inspiration – this is a classic situation when most of us will reach for the junk food or phone for that takeaway. So, in the morning when you have energy, take 10 minutes to chop up some veg, quickly fry some meat, and chuck it all in the slow cooker with a tin of tomatoes, some gravy and some herbs and spices. Now forget about it until the end of the day; it is quite safe unattended and uses very little electricity. Most casseroles pair nicely with rice, which doesn’t take long to cook and will provide more of those good carbs to add to the protein and vegetables in the casserole.
The main trick for time-saving with a slow cooker is to cook as much as will fit in the pot –eat what you need and freeze the rest, and then there is your healthy, home-made, economical ready dinner for next time.
You will be surprised how quickly you can build up a repertoire of simple, healthy and tasty meals.
by Kath Webb
by Laura Briggs
by Kath Webb
by Kath Webb
by Jessica Ambrose