As it is for many of us, life is go, go, go for Donna Hay. “I’ll admit, I like saying yes. I want to be part of it, get involved, join in… and most of all I don’t want to miss out! Between work trips, the kids’ school commitments or joining a ceramics class… life is fun, but it’s full!”, the food editor, TV host, cookbook author and mother of two says.
Not surprisingly, food is a huge part of how Hay keeps her on-the-go life on track.
Increasingly, she says, “a real-life need for speed and the realisation that healthy and delicious are not mutually exclusive” have influenced how she thinks about eating and cooking.
“If there's one thing I've learned about myself, it's that I'm happiest when life is balanced. Diets have never been my thing – I don't like the idea of anyone being on one! I think it’s much better to live a balanced life with plenty of exercise and a diet that you can sustain long term – one that’s packed with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that make you feel uplifted and nourished; that way you can still treat yourself every now and again as well!.”
So what are Hay’s top tips for people who want to eat well but feel overwhelmed at the thought of fitting a lot of cooking into already busy lives?
“I totally understand that cooking healthy meals from scratch is a commitment. It’s a juggle and we don’t all get it right all the time but it’s about doing the best you can – for you and your family,” Hay says. “Preparation is key, and more veg means more prep, but if you have the right tools in your kitchen you’re ahead of the game. Invest in a quality julienne peeler for shredding carrots and zucchinis; a mandolin for sharp, fuss-free wafer-thin slicing; and a food processor to chop broccoli or cauliflower in a flash.”
Take the smart shortcuts
“Maybe it's because I'm so busy that I'm always trying to find a shortcut around a recipe,” Hay says in Fast, Fresh, Simple, which starts on SBS Food Channel 33 on 7 November. Everything from roast chicken to pasta gets the smart shortcut treatment in the show. Her egg and bacon pie, for example, skips the pastry altogether: “Making the pastry, blind baking it … sometimes… I just run out of time, so my version replaces that beautiful crunch pastry crust with crispy bacon on the outside. Why wrestle with pastry when you can have a crispy bacon shell instead?”
For her favourite easy vegetable soup, the veg get grated, rather than chopped (“When all those vegetables are finely chopped anyway, why not do it in a quarter of the time?); roast chicken and chips is ready in half the time with a couple of Hay shortcuts; a cheat’s caramel ice-cream is as simple as whipping cream, stirring in dulce de leche and freezing; chocolate cake gets the one-bowl treatment.
“I love to take shortcuts!” Hay says.
Embrace fresh veg
Hay recently re-discovered the joy of growing some of her own fresh produce.
“I grew up with an appreciation for fresh vegetables – my grandparents had an amazing vegetable garden and as a young girl I loved to help harvest, cook and eat them. More recently, I have come to love the way a more veg-dense way of eating makes me feel. Don’t get me wrong, I eat meat too, but it’s not always the star of the show at my house anymore. Lately, I’ve been working on putting my special spin on our everyday vegetables, making them tastier, crunchier, brighter and, let’s be honest, a lot more exciting.
“Late last year I looked out the window of my home and I wondered why I was growing grass? Surely, I could squeeze in a little vegie garden in that spot. I reached out to some organic grower friends who were so amazingly supportive, they helped me build the most adorable raised bed and we started planting! I can’t tell you how excited I was when I had my first crop ready to harvest, I was like a kid in a candy store! Now that spring is here I have a fresh batch of seedlings in… rocket, cherry tomatoes, rainbow chard and broccoli to get me started!”
The grower friends are Kurrawong Organics, a family-run farming business that recently joined Hay at the three-day Donna Hay Food + Wellness Festival in Bondi, which featured a Donna Hay pop-up store; fresh fruit, veg and seedlings for sale from Kurrawong; cook-along workshops and more (get some of the recipes from the day on Hay's website here).
The festival dishes were "all about using food to refuel and re-energise,” Hay says. Of course, there were treats too - “I’m all about balance.”
Look for the simple changes
“People are always looking for the next new trick or amazing ingredient to make them skinnier or healthier… the reality is that all these foods that are great for us have been around forever, and it’s so easy to incorporate them into your diet. Add chia seeds to your morning smoothie, or snack on a few blueberries or almonds in the afternoon, and you’re automatically adding so much extra goodness into your diet,” Hay says. “It’s so easy, and if you make a few simple changes, you’ll notice that you feel better from the inside out.”
Watch double episodes of Donna Hay: Fast, Fresh, Simple Thursdays 7.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33 from 7 November.
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