Make A Quick Meal Healthier
By Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
I love cooking – and I usually find it a relaxing way to unwind after a hard day. But I’m just like everybody else – some days I’m just not up for cooking a meal, but once I’m home and I’ve changed into my sweats, I’m not up for going out either.
So what do you do when life gets hectic and you’ve got a family to feed? Ordering in is always an option, so is scrounging around in the cupboards for something quick. But at the same time, you might be thinking that you should be eating something that’s good for you.
What I’ve found is that if I keep my pantry and freezers well-stocked, I can meet takeout meals and convenience items halfway, and make them much more nutritious with a few simple add-ins.
Here’s an example: I don’t think there’s a kid on the planet who doesn’t like boxed macaroni and cheese, and my kids were no exception. They liked the kind with the packaged cheese sauce, and this quick and easy comfort food was often my “go-to” meal for them when I was tired, and they were hungry. But I used to shudder when I’d look at the label because when it’s prepared according to the package directions, mac and cheese is loaded with fat and salt.
So here’s what I used to do. Since there’s always so much more sauce than you need, I would double (or even triple) the amount of pasta – and I’d use whole grain noodles to add more fiber. Then, just before the noodles were done, I’d toss in some frozen loose leaf spinach, then drain the whole thing, stir in the cheese sauce and add a can of low sodium stewed tomatoes. With these few small changes, I was able to cut the fat and salt by half, and at the same time add a serving of vegetables – all in one dish – and my kids loved it. You can try the same veggie treatment with frozen pasta dishes, like ravioli – it’s delicious; it’s quick; and it’s much healthier for you.
If you like the convenience of packaged rice mixes, you can give them similar handling. The seasoning packets dump a lot of sodium into the finished dish, but you can cut salt in half, again, by doubling up on the grain. The best add-ins to the rice in the package are whole grains like quick cooking brown rice, quinoa or cracked wheat. Zap some frozen mixed veggies in the microwave while the grains are cooking, and stir into the rice when it’s done. You’ll add nutrition and significantly reduce the salt and calories per serving. You can even turn this into a one-dish meal – frozen shrimp cook quickly in the microwave, and you can add them at the last minute.
If takeout is your thing, try adding extra veggies to Chinese food. There’s usually way too much sauce, so I like to steam up some broccoli or asparagus while I’m waiting for the delivery, and then mix into my favorite stir-fry dish. It’s a big nutrition boost, and a big reduction in calories, fat and salt per serving. The same goes for Indian food – there’s usually plenty of sauce with curry dishes, so you can make them healthier by adding some canned garbanzo beans and extra veggies.
You can take a night off from cooking and feed your family something healthy. Nutritionally speaking, these add-ins really add up.
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.