*Guest Post* January Resolutions, Year-Round Responsibilities

Wednesday, 23 January 2013
January Resolutions, Year-Round Responsibilities

For most of us, January is full of good intentions: be kinder, spend more time with family, do better at work, eat healthier, exercise more, read a book a month – whatever your own personal resolution, I’d be willing to bet that for many women (dare I say most?) the new year brings with it the same old resolve to eat better. But that’s easier said than done, especially when so many of us lead busy lives and don’t always have time to create beautiful spa-style meals; not to mention the pushback from kids when you try to get them eating steamed veg and baked salmon on a regular basis!

I’m lucky in that I don’t have kids to please, but I do have a full-time job (which precludes me from making involved dinners andhaving time to clean up) and a live-in boyfriend who would still be making pasta or curry with a jarred sauce every night if I hadn’t trained him to expand his repertoire. My usual rule for dinner is that it needs to include some sort of protein (preferably lean, like chicken or fish) and at least one vegetable – and it can’t be too rich or I’ll get sick.* When my boyfriend and I first moved in together and I started taking over the kitchen he was shocked at how much more expensive his food shops got, but through shopping online (it’s easier to see offers that way) and getting a weekly organic veg box, we’ve managed to lower the cost to a pretty normal level over the years. And now that he’s used to a balanced meal most nights, he complains if we have a stodgy curry more than once a month!

Still, time is an issue: I don’t get home from work until 6:30, and often I have writing commitments or just general errands to do in the evenings, so I don’t have a lot of free time for cooking (and the inevitable cleaning that comes after). It can be tricky to eat healthily when you’re pressed for time, but over the years I’ve come up with some solid tips that I’ll share here, in case anybody else is looking for ideas.
1. Don’t dismiss frozen foods. I know we think frozen = easy = unhealthy, but actually a lot of frozen foods are pretty healthy. Vegetables, for example, are frozen at their peak, so they’re often tastier and more nutritious than fresh, out of season veg. And many kinds of fishcakes, although breaded, are surprisingly low in calories – plus, while they bake, so can almost any side vegetable (broccoli is especially good baked; try it with olive oil, salt, a big squeeze of lemon and a few chili flakes). The oven is one of my favorite tools: it doesn’t require standing and stirring so I can get other things done while dinner cooks itself; it’s not nearly as temperamental as our ceramic hob; and if you line baking sheets with aluminum foil cleanup is nearly nil.
2. Don’t tie yourself to hot foods. Often a cold meal is just as satisfying and delicious as a hot one, and can require significantly less time and effort. The Mexican/Peruvian dish ceviche – fish or prawns cured in lime juice and spices – is much easier than you’d think to put together and makes a phenomenal summer dinner, and a salad can easily be a cheap and filling meal with the addition of a couple sliced hard-boiled eggs and some leftover deli meat (The NYTimes has a fantastic homemade mustard vinaigrette recipe: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/health/nutrition/11recipehealth.html).
3. Get creative with leftovers. Some people hate eating the same thing more than once (examples: many kids, my dad, and my boyfriend), but leftovers are a crucial part of saving money and time with meal planning. Last year we hosted our first Thanksgiving as a couple and because of a mix-up at the butcher’s we ended up cooking a 16kg turkey! Even after all 19 of our guests had eaten their fill and taken home leftovers, we still had half a bird’s worth of meat. That monster fed us for months, not just reheated on a plate or layered into sandwiches during the following week, but frozen in individual portions and used as a replacement for chicken in everything from homemade noodle soup to impromptu fajitas. We finished him last week, and he was as delicious as ever. So next time you roast a chicken (or any other kind of meat), make it a big one, and once dinner is over strip the carcass and portion the meat into servings. Freeze some, and use some two nights later (it’s always good to stagger flavors) in a different way: soup, tacos, a casserole, a lasagna, a pasta sauce… the possibilities may not be endless, but there are a lot of them.
4. Think outside the 7pm box. Dinner doesn’t always have to be ‘dinner’. In the States we have a popular tradition of ‘brunner’, which is breakfast for dinner; people will go to an all-night diner and eat pancakes or a fry-up for dinner. Not very healthy, you say? Of course, but breakfast doesn’t always have to be greasy, and when you have breakfast for dinner that doesn’t always mean pancakes. Maybe your fridge is bare but you have eggs on the counter and bread in the freezer – why not make poached or scrambled eggs with whatever random veggie you have lying around (asparagus is particularly good)? Or if you don’t fancy anything too breakfast-looking, why not hide the resemblance by making a frittata and serving it with a nice big salad? Eggs are often overlooked as a cheap and healthy source of protein; I eat them so often I’ve added a regular order of a half-dozen to my weekly organic veg box.

January is a tough month for all of us: it’s cold and dreary and long, especially after Christmas holidays. But it doesn’t have to be bereft of good food too! With a little creativity and dedication, it is entirely possible to eat well and healthily without spending tons of money or all your free time doing dishes. In addition to the general tips above, one-pot meals like soups and stews are perfect for this frigid weather we’ve been having, and they’re also a great way to use up vegetables or meat that are threatening to go off.

So what about you? How do you stay healthy with a busy schedule? Please share any of your tips in the comments below – I could always use more help!

*I had a gastric bypass operation in 2001, which means that rich, creamy, or overly sweet foods make me ill. For more info on that, you can read my memoir: Navel Gazing.
Anne H. Putnam is the author Navel Gazing: One Woman's Quest for a Size Normal, published by Faber and Faber in January 2013. A book for anyone who's ever avoided the mirror, skipped swimming or got stuck in a dress in a changing room... Follow Anne on Twitter @ahputnam or follow Faber @FaberBooks

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