Guide to Quick and Healthy Cooking

Being pressed for time is no excuse for eating junk. Check out these smart strategies and learn how to produce a wholesome and delicious meal in record time.

Guide to Quick and Healthy Cooking

Invest in a Slow Cooker

Walking into the kitchen on a cold day and sniffing the aroma of a homemade soup or stew is one of life’s simple pleasures-and one you can easily enjoy if you invest in a slow cooker. It is fuel-efficient and turns a few ingredients into a one-pot feast while you’re out and about.

The most successful slow-cooker dishes have a high moisture content, such as soups, stews and casseroles. A slow cooker’s low heat, generally between 70°C and 140°C tenderizes lean cuts of meat or poultry.

Simple Sample Recipe

Use bite-sized chunks of meat. If you have time, brown the meat the night before, then refrigerate. In the morning, add vegetables to the cooker first (they cook more slowly than meat and need to be closer to the heat source), then add the meat and some low-sodium chicken stock, garlic, fresh herbs and a little white or red wine. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for 5. Before serving, stir in a little Dijon mustard for an added tang.

Use Ready-Prepared Produce

Frozen or pre-washed vegetables and fruits are the cure for fast-food dinners that feature no fresh produce because you don’t have the time or energy to buy, clean, prepare and cook it.

Frozen vegetables and fruits have as many, if not more, nutrients than fresh, because they’re usually frozen soon after picking, when nutrient content is highest. Precut is also usually as nutritious as fresh.

The plan is to load your refrigerator with pre-cut, pre-washed and frozen vegetables, as well as frozen berries. These convenient foods can be cooked quickly in the microwave and having a variety on hand could double or triple a meal’s vegetable servings because it’s so easy to open the bag, heat and eat. Wise choices include baby carrots (easy to munch raw or cook in the microwave); sliced carrots, pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower and frozen peppers. Many grocery stores offer miniature, bite-sized vegetables that need no preparation.

Frozen berries don’t even need to be defrosted; just let them thaw while you eat dinner, or mix the contents with other, room-temperature fruits.

Stock Up for Healthy “Magic Meals”

The cure for nights when you’re too tired to even think about what’s for dinner, and you’ve prepared nothing in advance.

The plan is to think like a gourmet cook and plan ahead. You could then sit down to a cheese omelette with a spinach, mandarin orange and pecan salad on the side; or

pasta with clam sauce and mushrooms and a glass of red wine; or bean burritos with guacamole-all made in just 15 minutes.

The key is your imagination and a cupboard stocked with healthy basics and a few high-flavour extras. By keeping quick-cooking items on hand (such as eggs rich in omega-3 fatty acids; whole-wheat pastas; nuts; canned beans; canned seafood; whole-grain breads; and reduced-fat cheese), you’ll be able to whip up something quick and tasty even on nights when you’re tired-when you most need a good meal and are most likely to eat badly.

Magic Meal Sample Menu

Supercharged Soup

Add rinsed canned beans and frozen vegetables to low-sodium canned minestrone or vegetable soup. Serve with whole-grain toast.

Baby Spinach with Chicken

Rinse some ready-prepared spinach, arrange it on a plate and top with nuts, pre-cut carrots and cherry tomatoes. Add strips of pre-cooked chicken breast and dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Make Small Changes

Baby steps are the best cure for a pretty good diet that could be slightly more nutritious. More fruit and vegetables, more fibre, more good fats, more dairy produce-or whatever else applies to your present diet.

Nutritious Cooking Solutions

Garnish fruit salads, green salads and cooked vegetables with chopped nuts for an extra helping of monounsaturated fats. Toss a handful into muffin and pancake recipes or add some to yogourt. For some extra flavour, first toast the nuts under the broiler until golden.

Top salads with avocado slices, rich in monounsaturated fat. Skip the crispy bacon bits and croutons, which are loaded with saturated fat and trans fats.

Instead of ice cream topped with a few strawberries, have a bowl of berries crowned with 2 tablespoons of Greek yogourt, frozen yogourt or sorbet. You’ll triple the anti-oxidants and cut your fat and sugar intake in half.

Think in colour. Serve fruits or vegetables in contrasting colours: red peppers with broccoli, carrots with peas and blueberries with peaches. There is some new scientific research which suggests that the antioxidants in vegetables and fruits are more effective when they’re combined.