Today’s healthy eating tip: Make convenience foods yourself ahead of time, so there’s no excuses!
Right now, I have apple-pomegranate-nut granola bars whipping themselves up in my dehydrator. They took me a grand total of about 2 minutes to mix up, another 30 seconds to spread on the dehydrator sheet, and now I do nothing with them for the next 4 or so hours when I turn them off to cool down. They’ve got very little sugar, tons of fiber, protein, and omega fatty acids, and no additional fat or preservatives. And they cost pennies each. Which makes them pretty much the antithesis of store-bought granola bars, which are loaded with empty calories from sugar, unhealthy fats, and things you can’t pronounce.
What’s this got to do with anything? Well, we’re all busy. Most people these days work at least one job (those lucky enough to have jobs in this economy), usually all adults in the house need to work, kids have school and a bazillion activities, and things sometimes get out of hand. This is when you’re likely to stop by McDonalds to get the kids (or yourself) a quick snack, or grab some mac-and-cheese out of a box. If that’s rare treat, then that’s totally okay. If it happens a few times a week, it’s a problem. So, this has to do with avoiding that problem.
One way I stay on track is to take a few minutes to set up conveniences foods when I have the time. The granola bars happened today both because I need them for my clients and because I had 5 minutes to spare. I keep a list of recipes on-hand, and some basic ingredients, and whip up some easy, healthy food for the pantry of freezer whenever I can squeeze it in, and it means I don’t have to resort to fast or processed foods.
You do have the time. Watching TV for an hour tonight? Take 5 minutes before your show or on a commercial to pop up some stove-top popcorn (don’t use microwave–it’s expensive, and it’s awful for you, even the “low-fat” stuff), toss it with some spritzed olive oil and your choice of spices (favorite combo of our are garlic, salt, and smoked paprika) and let it cook while you watch your show (eat some if you like, of course). Toss it into individual serving bags, and you’ve got a crunchy, low-cal, high-fiber snack for the week. Sitting at the computer playing on Facebook? While you’re waiting for your updates, mix up a healthy meatloaf (black beans, lean ground beef, oats, an egg, spices, red & green pepper, onion, and whatever chopped veggies you want to toss in) and toss it in the oven. If you want, you can divide it up into individual serving sizes in small pyrex dishes to make lunches easier. Some of my favorite conveniences foods to whip up in a jiffy:
-Mini healthy muffins (there are even some decent mixes out there, and I add fruit and nuts if I use them)
-Seasoned popcorn, pumpkin seeds, or nuts in individual packages
-Dehydrator granola bars
-Cheese cubes (way cheaper to make these yourself than buy the pre-cuts)
-Homemade hot pockets (I use leftovers for filling), with a fat-free, whole wheat dough. You can even buy fairly healthy whole wheat pizza dough at some stores, and use that.
-Soup in the crockpot. There’s nothing faster: just throw in some beans, some broth, and a some veggies. If you want fancy soup, throw in some spices and canned tomatoes. Let it cook for a few hours, and you’ve got something easy for the week, or to throw in individual portions in the freezer for those lunches or dinners you just don’t have time to cook.
There’s more, I’m sure, but these are what I can think of off the top of my head. None of them takes more than a few minutes, and those few minutes save me hundreds of calories (and preservatives) every day.
To get started, just get a piece of paper and write down out what you tend to need convenience foods for: breakfasts, snacks, lunches, etc., and what kinds of things you’d like to have on-hand. Make a list and stick it up somewhere you can see it, and next time you have a couple of minutes, use those to help you make good food choices when it would otherwise be inconvenient. There are tons of recipes on the internet for fast convenience foods, including some great whole-grain cookies (these are my current obsession)!
Planning is everything in making healthful choices, but you have to start in small steps. You’ve already started meal planning (right?), and this is just an extension of that, really. We’re all busy, and we all want those few extra minutes to do something else; but, it’s about priorities. “Convenience foods,” many of which aren’t food at all, are one of the biggest culprits behind obesity in this country, especially childhood obesity. You’ll feel better eating better food, and it only take a few times making healthy items for later before you have a nice little stash to choose from. Once that happens, you have to take those few minutes less often to replenish it.