5 life hacks to keep the balance but save time
With busy working lives and jam-packed after-school schedules, the idea of finding the time to meal-prep, cook from scratch and stand over the cooker for the evening can sometimes feel like quite a challenge. Add into this the importance of giving your family a balanced diet and it can suddenly all feel like a challenge too far. But, the good news is that healthy eating doesn’t need to equal loads of time. There are some easy things you can do to get healthy meals incorporated into your family’s diet, without hours of cooking every night!
Cook in bulk
Cooking in bulk, or batch cooking, can really help to save time and can mean you have healthy meals ready to go – it can also save you some money too! Why not make a big dish of quick pasta bake (tuna, chicken or veggie), fish pie or chilli con carne at the weekend, so you’ve got some ready to eat for dinner in the week. You could even bulk cook some pasta (go for wholewheat or added fibre pasta if you can) and pop into the fridge in portions for some quick meal bases during the week.
Easy sauces from scratch!
Having products or ingredients like passata, canned chopped tomatoes, pesto or curry pastes in the cupboard is handy for a speedy home-made sauce. This can then be used for the base of a curry dish with added vegetables, a chilli con carne or even as a sauce to go on top of plain fish or chicken fillets. You can also go for ready-made sauces – try to choose those with mostly green and amber traffic lights on front of pack and add extra vegetables.
Frozen vegetables are a good addition here too as they are normally pre-chopped, so can just be boiled quickly or added straight to the sauce for extra fibre, vitamins and minerals. Don’t believe the myth that frozen isn’t as good as fresh. In some cases, frozen vegetables actually contain more of some nutrients than fresh. Canned fish like tuna, salmon or mackerel are also a quick, easy and nutritious addition to meals.
Embrace the pulse
These foods (beans, chickpeas, lentils) can really help us out when time is tight, as they are quick and easy. You can buy dried lentils, which don’t need to be soaked before cooking – just add them to a pan of stock and vegetables for a quick batch of soup, or to a no-meat bolognaise sauce and leave to bubble until tender.
It’s great to keep stocked up on the canned versions (and try and look out for those without added salt and sugar) for when you are strapped for time. Being incredibly versatile, you could add pulses to meals your kids already like to make them more appealing to eat, such as adding lentils to spaghetti bolognaise, chickpeas to curry or mixed beans to a chilli!
Pulses are a great alternative to meat as they’re naturally low in fat and a source of fibre and plant based protein.
Quick carbs to the rescue!
We should be basing our meals on starchy carbohydrates as party of a healthy balanced diet (preferably higher fibre versions), but what’s more of a win is that most are very quick to cook. Couscous is no-cook– all you have to do is cover with some boiling water and leave until absorbed. Add some peppers, onions, tomatoes, lemon juice and maybe even some chickpeas, and get your 5 a day – no need to cook, you can keep the veggies raw!
You can also try quick cook pasta or Chinese-style noodles, which both cook in about five minutes.
Eggs are a great option if you are tight for time and need a quick meal that can be thrown together in minutes. Nutritionally, eggs are a great component of a meal as they contain high quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other important minerals.
Combine with potatoes and onions for a Spanish tortilla, chopped tomatoes and spinach for baked eggs, or with all of the left-over bits and bobs of vegetable in your fridge to make an omelette. All options that are quick to prepare, whilst still tasting delicious!
Hopefully these simple tips show that by planning ahead and doing a bit of prep at the weekend, it is possible for you and your family to enjoy a balanced diet without creating lots more work for you (and demands on time you just don’t have!).