Time constraints, boredom or flavor cravings may put healthy cooking on the back burner. But despite the mealtime madness of your busy life, it’s entirely possible to bring good intentions to the table.
A few key strategies are all that’s required for shopping, prepping, cooking and serving healthy dinners that will delight.
1. SHOP SMART
Be inspired by the food you buy. Seek out seasonal produce, join a CSA or shop from the farmers market for the best stuff at the best price. Beautiful produce at its peak helps you want to eat more of it — whether it’s strawberries and asparagus in May or beautiful salad greens and the most amazing tomatoes in June.
2. GET HELP WITH PREP
In a perfect world, we would all have an hour or more to get dinner on the table. But who has that kind of time? Thankfully, most grocery and big box stores feature helpful shortcuts like fresh pre-cut vegetables and cooked rotisserie chicken that can be the start of a stir-fry, tacos or a noodle dish in a jiffy. Stock your fridge with frozen fresh vegetables, low-salt soup stock and canned low-salt beans for a jumpstart on chili and soups in a flash.
Look into local meal delivery kits online and at the grocery store. Many of them offer healthy pre-cut, pre-measured and pre-portioned options for fresh, lower-fat alternatives to takeout at about the same price.
3. COOK WITHOUT THE FAT
While reaching for the oil and skillet may be your first thought toward building flavor, think again. The cooking method has a lot to do with what kind of calories end up on the fork.
Simmered foods don’t have to be boring — think spicy stews and warm, savory bowls. Poaching chicken, fish, tofu or eggs is a great way to lock in moisture and add tons of flavor (and do away with the fat and calories of added oil and the skin).
Ready for a whole new way to cook? Try your hand at cooking en papillote — tightly wrapping food in parchment paper or aluminum foil for roasting into steamy succulence. Layer fish or poultry with big, fresh flavors like herbs, citrus, ginger, garlic or onion, or whatever you like; a drizzle of olive oil or a small pat of butter is optional. Add potatoes, mushrooms or cauliflower, and it’s a whole meal. Wrap it tightly, and then place the packet in a hot oven until its contents steam and flavors meld. While parchment paper presents better, foil is much easier to work with and seal. Added bonus: Clean-up is a snap.
READ MORE > IN THE BAG: HEALTHY COOKING EN PAPILOTTE
How else can you put that parchment paper to use? Pro tip: If you are going to oven roast protein, potatoes or vegetables on a baking sheet, line the pan with parchment paper rather than oil to cut down on calorie-laden fats.
4. PLAN AND PORTION AHEAD
Tonight’s roast chicken could easily be tomorrow’s chicken salad or curry — a much more sane choice than delivery. On the nights you do cook, plan to make more than you need for a second dinner or lunch the next day.
Better yet, schedule a couple of days per month — maybe every other Sunday — as cooking days to stock the fridge and freezer with ready-to-heat-and-eat healthy meals. To control serving size, make sure each portion contains pre-measured pasta and rice and weighed-out servings of meat or cheese.
Get out of your unhealthy cooking rut! With a well-stocked pantry and a bit of forethought, you can cook well at home and feed yourself the delicious, healthy food your body deserves.