When life’s busy, something gives – sleep, social life, or, often, eating the nutritious food that we know could help us cope with all that busi-ness!
Here are five tips for making healthy eating easier. Rather than adding to your load of “must do”, this list will hopefully give you some ideas for a starting point. See which one sounds like the easiest thing for you to do and give just that one thing a go.
Boost the nutrition in familiar dishes with a can of beans
Nutritionist Claire Turnbull, who’ll be bringing her down-to-earth advice to Food Network in The Healthy Food Guide TV series throughout July (Mondays 7.30pm from July 2, then on SBS On Demand), says this is one of her top tips for healthy meals – and it saves you money, too.
“I use a lot of lot of legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans in my cooking and they feature regularly in our Healthy Food Guide recipes because they are a great way to add extra protein and fibre to a meal at very little cost. Working more legumes into your week is a great goal to work towards!” she tells us.
Turnbull, who trained as a dietitian in the UK before she moved to New Zealand, knows what it’s like to be busy – she’s the nutritionist for the Healthy Food Guide magazine in New Zealand, owns a private nutrition practice and is a mother of two small children. In Food Network’s The Healthy Food Guide series, she helps a family transform their health, giving them practical advice on healthy eating and working exercise into their lives. Each time she visits, she helps them adopt a new habit to help them on the path to better health (one of the tips she shares is adding lentils and extra vegetables to their usual spaghetti bolognaise).
When we chatted to chef Sam Campbell, who joins Turnbull in the show to whip up a range of healthy dishes each week, he also gave a big thumbs up to beans and lentils. “Sneak a can of lentils or kidney beans into meat-based sauces such as bolognaise or soup so that it breaks down, and you add the nutrition of a plant-based legume with more protein than just with meat,” he says.
Give it a go in a slow-cooked lamb stew (boosted with split peas and dhal); chilli con carne (a bean-and-meat classic); or even a light but luscious chocolate cake (secret ingredient: kidney beans). Or try this recipe from The Heathy Food Guide TV series for chickpea and egg burgers.
Make it tasty
Your interest in cooking or eating healthily is going to be challenged if you’re trying to make yourself eat food you find boring!
Try something simple like adding one new recipe a week, or try swapping one new ingredient into recipes you find easy to cook – black or red rice instead of white rice, for example.
Get ahead on your veg count
“As well as aiming to have at least two servings of veggies at your evening meals (which our recipes at Healthy Food Guide all include), look to include vegetables at breakfast, lunch and as snacks too!” Turnbull suggests.
“Starting the day with a nutrition-packed breakfast is a great way to set yourself up for a busy day ahead.”
“My favourite smoothie at the moment has veggies in it – my ‘carrot cake’ smoothie which you will see in the show.”
Snacks with veg add protein and fibre and help you feel satisfied: try vegetable sticks with this creamy hummus (or put the veg IN the dip with this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for roast root hummus); or see more suggestions from Turnbull on smarter snacking here.
And for dinner, mince with “extras” is an excellent way to up your veg count.
“Adding veggies into mince is a great way to make a quick, easy and healthy meal that the whole family will love. Plus, it is really easy to make a big batch of mince and freeze it,” Turnbull says.
Plan ahead – even just a few meals
“To make healthy eating easy when life is busy, the best thing you can do is plan your meals. Investing 10-15 minutes a week forward planning allows you to buy the right things and have an idea in advance about what you are going to eat each day,” Turnbull tells Food Network when we ask what her number one tool is. “Planning also removes the reliance on willpower when it comes to making healthy food choices - rather than opting for the fast food option! - because you have already decided what you will be having and if you have the food in already, it makes it that little bit easier all round.”
If you don’t have the time of the mental energy to plan a full week, pick a couple of healthy meals that you already love, or new ones that sound low-stress to make and put those on your list for the week, and make sure you’ve got the ingredients. Then at least some of your meal choices will be easier.
Make life easier for future you by freezing small portions of things you use regularly in dishes, like curry paste.
One of the very easiest ways to make life easier for yourself in the kitchen is to cook more than you need. It’s even handier if it’s something you can freeze. Double a stew recipe, cook a big batch of meat balls.
“Bulk cooking also saves time. When I make any meal that can be frozen, I always make double so I have a whole meal ready in the freezer ready to go. This means I only end up having to cook 3-4 times a week which with two little kids is essential as time is very short in my life as it is for many people,” Turnbull says.
Fridge-friendly dishes help too. “The coffee, banana and chia pots from the show are make a great start to the day! You can make enough for two days at a time and enjoy for a snack as well as breakfast, too.”