Se­crets of a busy cook

Get the most out of your kitchen

Diabetic Living - - Contents -

We all know the drill: mak­ing more of your meals at home puts you in charge of the in­gre­di­ents that go in and helps you save money by eat­ing out less. But how do you make time for the kitchen when your days are al­ready full? These strate­gies can shave time off your food prep – no Mar­garet Ful­ton skills re­quired.

FIND A FEW GO-TO RECIPES

Home cook­ing needn’t be elab­o­rate. Fo­cus on a handful of recipes you can ro­tate for most of your meals. “Start out small,” says Martha McKit­trick, a New York-based di­eti­tian and au­thor of The Type 2 Di­a­betic Cook­book & Ac­tion Plan. “Find one or two recipes you re­ally like – don’t worry about do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent every night.” She sug­gests a stir-fry that al­lows you to swap the in­gre­di­ents depend­ing on what’s in your fridge. The more you pre­pare the same meal, the more con­fi­dent and ef­fi­cient you’ll get – and soon enough the cook­ing habit will come nat­u­rally to you.

FROM SCRATCH-ISH

Cook­ing from scratch can get healthy meals on the ta­ble, but so can tak­ing short­cuts. Sup­ple­ment home-cooked foods with healthy store­bought sta­ples to save on time, with­out com­pro­mis­ing nutri­tion. Think pasta with a jarred sauce, or soup with canned beans and pre-chopped pump­kin. Ready-to-use veg might be worth the ex­tra cost, says McKit­trick, “if the thought of all that wash­ing and chop­ping de­ters you from eat­ing them”.

Ro­tat­ing a few easy recipes will help keep shop­ping sim­ple, too

CLEANSE, THEN STOCK

McKit­trick rec­om­mends do­ing a pantry and fridge clean-out to “get the tempt­ing, junky con­ve­nience foods out of the house”. Then, stock up on healthy, hard­work­ing sta­ples that make “from scratch-ish” meals easy, such as canned and dried beans (save money with store brands), whole­grains (buy in bulk to save), lean pro­teins such as chicken, fish and tofu, canned toma­toes, low-salt chicken stock, and plenty of fresh and frozen pro­duce, to build meals around.

MAKE A LIST

A well-thought-out shop­ping list helps you avoid fall­ing prey to im­pulse buys. Start with a master list of foods you cook with reg­u­larly and just check off what you want. Need help? You can gen­er­ate your shop­ping list on the Coles or Wool­worths web­site to print out and take along with you or, al­ter­na­tively, down­load their in­ter­ac­tive apps to build your list. There are many other apps you can down­load to your phone to help you gen­er­ate an on-the-go shop­ping list, such as AnyList, Gro­ceryPal and Out Of Milk.

REIMAGINE YOUR MEALS

Think be­yond a “three squares” pat­tern to de­fine your meals – a bowl of hum­mus with cut-up veg­eta­bles and crisp­bread can make a great din­ner in a pinch. Keep in­gre­di­ents for a cou­ple of emer­gency meals on hand for su­per-busy days – say, pasta tossed with sauce, canned tuna and frozen mixed veg­eta­bles, or canned beans and chopped cel­ery (or salad greens) tossed with vi­nai­grette and spooned into a whole­meal pita.

Di­eti­tian Sara Jank rec­om­mends think­ing

“half­way healthy” – fill­ing at least half of every plate with non-starchy veg­eta­bles. “You’ve au­to­mat­i­cally re­duced the por­tion size of what’s on the other side of your plate, with­out hav­ing to think about it,” Jank says. (A sim­i­lar trick is to serve ev­ery­thing on a bed of pre­washed salad greens.)

PREP NOW, AS­SEM­BLE LATER

Get into the habit of reg­u­lar prep­ping, us­ing both big and small win­dows of time.

Set aside an hour or two for batch-cook­ing meals you can freeze and then eat later, such as a pot of soup or stew. Makea­head the parts of meals that take the long­est: beans or pasta sauce. Make a pot of brown rice or quinoa, or roast veg­eta­bles to serve as a side dish, fill an omelette or top a pizza.

Dur­ing the week, grab smaller, 15-minute chunks of time to do quicker meal prep, such as chop­ping veg­eta­bles, mak­ing a vi­nai­grette or hard-boil­ing eggs. All that prep sets the stage for a week of meals that can be made al­most on au­topi­lot – more as­sem­bly than cook­ing.

Make sure you’re choos­ing foods you en­joy, says Jank. “Recipes can be su­per-flex­i­ble – you can use in­gre­di­ents you have on hand and re­ally like,” she says. Even more sat­is­fy­ing is know­ing you’re build­ing your cook­ing mus­cles, sav­ing money and dish­ing up bet­ter health.

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