We all have to eat, so we might as well eat foods that are good for us—especially if they taste good, too. Sometimes in the day to day grind, it can be difficult to put healthy food on our plates – especially when our figurative plate is so full.
As a caregiver, it is even more important to maintain a healthy diet to keep your body strong and healthy. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup – not that I always heed this advice! The challenge, sadly, is that healthy foods tend to cost more and take more preparation than junk food. It’s easy to run through the drive through on your way home, but it takes a bit more work to grill a chicken breast and clean, chop and cook vegetables to accompany it.
I have been working on incorporating more healthy, fresh foods into our diet and have been using some shortcuts to make it work for us. Here are my favorite timesavers:
Plan ahead: I usually grocery shop on Friday or Saturday and then take an hour or two on Sunday to do as much cooking and prep work as possible. If you don’t have time to shop, check out my shopping shortcuts post.
I peel and roast carrots and potatoes, make a casserole dish that incorporates chicken and vegetables and either roast or poach two large chicken breasts to use later in the week for tacos or a chicken salad. My family rarely eats a freshly cooked meal during the week, but we get a healthy dinner on the table in less than 10 minutes.
Stock your freezer and pantry: If I’m making a time-consuming dish like lasagna or enchiladas, I double the recipe and freeze portions for later use. I used to freeze the entire tray together, but I have begun portioning out one family dinner’s worth in aluminum foil, then in a freezer bag, with the date and what it is written on the outside. I also have several cans of soup, dry pasta, pasta sauce and frozen vegetables on hand for the times where we’ve been so busy that we ate through our freezer stash and never got around to food prep.
Take out: Sure, take out has a bad reputation for being unhealthy, but there are healthy options out there. We sometimes purchase a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store with a bagged salad, or we get dinner from a chicken restaurant and order grilled or roasted chicken and vegetables.
While cooking your own food takes more time, you have more control over what goes into your body, and if you do a big prep over the weekend, you can also portion out meals for your parents so that they don’t have to worry about getting dinner on their table.
So now that we have some shortcuts to make the process easier, here are some foods that will give you more fuel to get through the days and weeks.
Slow your brain’s decline: The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study that found that berries help microglia (cells that repair damaged tissue in the body) restore their normal function in the brain. So, go ahead, enjoy nature’s candy. My husband makes smoothies with frozen berries and Greek yogurt to drink on his way to work. You can also make a yogurt parfait with frozen berries and granola. You can prep several in mason jars and take them as you’re running out the door.
Eat for a good night’s sleep: To get more sleep, try drinking warm milk or eating bananas, toast, cherries or oatmeal before bed.
Stock up on salmon: In addition to being high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and preventive properties against cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. And, bonus, fish cooks quickly so you can have dinner on the table in no time.
Go nuts: Walnuts, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and are one of the first foods that the FDA allowed to make a claim that eating 1.5 oz. of walnuts per day (when part of a low fat, low cholesterol diet) may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. You can add walnuts to your yogurt parfaits, a salad or make little trail mix baggies with walnuts and dried cranberries to keep in your car or at your desk.
Make life a little sweeter: Honey has been revered throughout the ages for its healing powers. It is particularly helpful with digestive health and wound healing. It is also a great homeopathic remedy for a cough, so go ahead, add some to your tea, or, you can add it to your morning oatmeal like I do. I measure a half cup of oatmeal each morning, add enough water to cover it, squirt honey and a few shakes of cinnamon and cook in the microwave for 1 minute, stir, then add another 1.5 minutes. Super quick, health and tasty!
Go meatless: Pick one day a week to go meatless. Beans are the least expensive source of protein and are full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Years ago, I came across a Lentil Soup recipe that has been my go-to. The recipe didn’t have any measurements, so I wing it each time, but basically, I cook about two potatoes and 2-3 carrots in some water in a stock pot. If I have frozen spinach, I throw that in as well. When the vegetables are tender, I add two cups of lentils and about 6 cups of water and salt and pepper. I cook it all together for about an hour. After an hour, I use my grill pan to cook chicken sausage and slice the sausage to add to the soup. If the water is low, I add more water. I then add ¼ balsamic vinegar and a few shakes of thyme and let it all cook for another hour or so, until the lentils are soft. This makes a huge pot that also freezes well. We eat it a few times a month.
Go green: Study after study has supported the many benefits of green tea. From cancer risk-reducing properties to decreasing occurrences of stroke and heart disease, this is one powerful beverage. Add some honey to the tea and you’ve just checked off two boxes.
Do you have any meal shortcuts to maintain a healthy diet?