Saturday, June 19, 2010

Clever Time Saving Tricks

When I tell people about my 'little project', to get myself and the fam off processed foods as much as possible, I usually get one of two responses. Sometimes people tell me, "Oh I don't eat processed food." (More about that response later.) The other one I hear is "How are you able to stay away from the junk? How do you possibly have time? That requires so much effort."

I won't lie. It does require alot of effort. But let's face it. It is not rocket science, it is not beyond my capabilities, and I am really passionate about this. And with some proper planning it can be pretty easy. But there are a couple general rules that make it this way:

1. We are home every night. One of us at least. We have kids!! DH and I don't troll the social circuit, so we rarely have to face the 'grab-something-quick-maybe-fast-food' dilemma. We want the kids in bed at a certain time, it helps for behavior for them to be on a schedule. Because we are home so often we have alot more control over what we eat.

2. We cook. We cook every night. Take-Out has become a once or twice a month phenomenon in our house. But overall we are committed to cooking. It has become a habit, but commitment is key.

3. I bring a salad to work virtually every day. While I will go out and get some protein at a local healthy favorite City Bakery (I swear their food talks to me as I walk down the street. If you live in NY and you haven't been, you must go this weekend), I bring a salad to work almost every day. I really love salads, so it is not a terrible thing. I am not doing it to try and become a better person. I would choose a salad over a burger most days. But I have found that being in the routine of bringing a salad helps me to ensure that I get all my veggie servings in a day. Then I don't worry so much if dinner is steak and potatoes. If I don't have a good veg to go with a dinner, at least I know I had over 2 cups of greens with all kinds of raw goodies at lunch. Also salads are really easy to make. I rip up some lettuce and throw it in a tupperware, sprinkle a few croutons, chop up a carrot and an avocado if they are in season. And boom, done. I will make a big batch of dressing on the weekends and leave it in the refrigerator at work all week. You could even prep a head or two of lettuce on Sunday and have a salad mix in a large tupperware just waiting for you all week. That is a two second salad!

4. Cook on the weekends. I usually spend a couple hours each weekend cooking. I try and make a special large Sunday dinner, that we can eat leftovers or use the leftovers to make something else (glorious roast chicken becomes chicken tacos??) Then weeknight cooking is easier because as you know, I only get 10-15 minutes to bring a meal together on a weeknight.

5. Make big batches of freezable things on the weekends and freeze them in single use sizes. I will make a big batch of things I know freeze well, spaghetti sauce, soup, pesto. Then I freeze in one time use sizes so that all I have to do is grab and defrost and go. I am known for making two lasagnas at once, because it is a heck of a lot of work to make lasagna!! Make two at the same time and then freeze a whole tray. I am envious of anyone reading that has room for a separate deep freezer. I am so limited by them amount I can store. I yearn for a day when I can buy 15 pounds of local cherries in season and then freeze them and nibble on them for months down the line. My freezer is small, so I can't store alot.

6. We eat pasta once if not twice a week. I don't have an issue with carbs and I have read that pasta is a low glycemic index carb which does not raise the blood sugar as much as say white bread (does anyone care to comment??). So I don't have issues. But with Pasta you can saute any veggies lying around the house, and leftover meat, it can be a super quick catch-all-get-rid-of-the-random-stuff kind of dish.

7. Find a good grocery store. I do buy a few items premade. Croutons are a good example. But I am careful to buy my supermarket's brand because they bake the bread and they use their loaves to make croutons. I know that I am getting a fairly homemade product. Their ingredient list is short. If I were to buy a name brand, it would come with 40 ingredients and it would be sealed in a silver plastic pouch with all kind of additives to keep it fresh on the shelves for weeks before I maybe bought it. By buying the store brand (and from a local store) it may not truly local fare, but the ingredients are alot cleaner and I can purchase a ready made product without fear of contaminating additives. Grocery store chains are doing this all over the country now. If you can find a good quality chain with a small number of local stores your chances are better. Look for simple packaging. My croutons come in an open ended plastic bag with a twist tie, not packaged for a long stay on a store shelf.

8. When you are cooking on the weekends, make things that take a long time to cook, but not a long time to prep. Broth based soups are a good example. You can throw the items in a pot and walk away. The thing is--COOK ON LOW HEAT! If you cook on low heat, things take a little longer, but if you have kids, you can leave things like soup or pasta sauce or beans or strawberry jam or braised meats (pot roast?? Yum!) cooking on the stove top without fear that they will burn. Your slow cooking fare does not need to be stirred every thirty seconds. Just check on it when you need to. But otherwise, WALK AWAY and do something else.

9. Snack on things that are whole (or mostly whole) that are ready to eat, nuts, dried fruits, yogurt (not really a whole food, but definitely good for you if you are going with a plain variety), whole fruits or raw veggies. These filling snacks are packed with nutrients and require no prep time at all.

I am sure there are others. But this is a good starter list of what we do in our house to make it through a crazy week and still make room for the foods we feel will fuel us best. Does anyone else out there have others?


  1. You covered most of the basics. I would add baking to the list for a weekend "to do." People always get shocked when I say I do my own, I guess it seems hard, but once you start, and get it in your body, it's a no brainer, and a good deal of it is waiting, so allows the walk away.

  2. I love the walk-away. Before I had children I just had to stand over whatever I was making and noodle it. But now, someone is always falling off of something and getting a boo boo. The walk-away is grand.

  3. Great article--tons of good tips here. My friends all think I'm some sort of super mom to cook as much as I do but first off I DO enjoy cooking (which, it seems, most people don't) and I know it doesn't really take that long to prepare a healthy meal--as least not much faster than many of the other overly processed options out there!