One of the barriers for healthy eating is the time it takes to actually prepare a healthy meal. If you already don't like the idea of cooking, making a well-rounded meal is even more of a daunting task. However, it is possible to make meals without actually working too hard for them and we'll show you how to do it.
Title photo by Gatanass.
Personally, I can't stand cooking. For whatever reason, it always feels like a wasted effort to take hours making something only to completely destroy it within a couple of minutes. But I'm well aware of the health risks that can come about from eating a frozen pizza for every single meal, and that's why I started digging into ways to get the nutrients I needed without always resorting to frozen dinners. First up, here's what I've done, and we'll look at what others suggest a little later.
The Smoothie for Vegetable and Fruit Intake
The smoothie is something like a garbage-disposal of healthy food. If you can't or don't like cooking, it's the easiest, simplest way to ensure you still get the fruits, vegetables and vitamins you need in the day without having to come up with complex recipes that require you to cook several foods at once. All you have to do is toss a few fruits and vegetables into a blender with some water or ice, stand around for a few seconds while it blends, and then you end up with a food that's really a drink and requires a stupidly small amount of effort.
How much do you need to throw in there? Let's look at the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables and see how we can get that into one or two no-cook meals.
- Fruits: For most people over the age of 18, two cups worth of fruit is recommended a day. That's about a single large fruit — as in, one apple or one banana.
- Vegetables: Vegetables are about the same as fruit as far as recommended amount. You need at least one cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or two cups if you're working with leafy greens (like spinach, romaine, lettuce, etc). (Oz ed note — local recommendations are expressed differently, and slightly higher for vegetables.
So that boils down to about two cups of fruits and vegetables a day, which isn't hard to get out of a blender. Thousands of smoothie recipes are out there and it always boils down to preference, but here's a few I use to get my recommended daily allowance.
- The nutritionally complete meal: Monster Chef shows off this simple recipe with some frozen mixed fruits, cranberries, milk, walnuts and chocolate that smashes together an entire meal in six easy steps and about five minutes of your time.
- The kid-friendly approach: Because I have the palate of a five-year-old when it comes to most foods, I typically like things simple. If you hate the idea of cooking, you might too, which is why the simplified kid-friendly smoothie recipes which parenting blog Inhabitots suggests making for kids is also handy for adults who would prefer Soylent Green to an hour in the kitchen.
- The incredibly easy approach: Even though cutting and tossing a few ingredients into a blender isn't hard, an easier way exists. Namely, removing the cutting part. Recipes out there vary from just adding almond milk to some frozen fruit to tossing a frozen banana in with some peanut butter and soy milk.
While that will certainly take care of your fruits and vegetables, a smoothie can't cover your entire nutritional intake. That's why I learned to love the crock pot as a nearly-automated cooking device. Photo by Tim Patterson.
The Crock Pot As Automated Cooking Device
The crock pot is about as close as you can get to set-it-and-forget-it automatic cooking. Throw some food inside in the morning or afternoon and it automatically cooks so it's edible later.
The benefit of the crock pot isn't just in its ability to cook food without you paying any attention to it, it's also the fact you don't need a lot of ingredients. The Simple Dollar's collection of five ingredient crock pot recipes will do most cooking-haters good and provide the protein and vegetables needed in your diet. The benefit? The directions are: dump food in crock pot, turn crock pot on low, walk away for eight hours and return to a cooked meal.
The idea of the crock pot is pretty broad too. I love our own Adam Pash's ludicrously simple three-can chilli because it requires nothing but a can opener and about two minutes of prep time. Similar toss-it-in-a-pot-and-walk-away recipes exists out there and they can provide a goof amount of nutrition without any real effort on your part.Photo by Kurt Nordstrom.
A Few More Ideas
My above options, of course, are not the only ones. When it's winter and chilly, the crockpot provides a nice way to get a hot meal without any effort, but come summer it's not nearly as nice. Here are a few ideas from around the web to keep your diet healthy without the hassle of hours in the kitchen.
- The sandwich and salad approach: These two great meal options come without the aid of cooking utensils and both provide your daily nutrients in a number of ways. If you don't know what to actually make, recipe site Eating Well has a bunch of suggestions for no-cook meals that are dead simple to make and require nothing more than a few minutes and a knife.
- Embrace the microwave: Hardcore foodies will likely guffaw at this suggestion, but the microwave isn't as bad a place to cook food as we've all been lead to believe. The key is knowing how to read the frozen food labels properly and watching for a few key facts on the nutrition label. WebMD suggests you: keep the calories in the 250-300 range, pick meals with less than 4 grams of saturated fat, less than 800 milligrams of sodium, and with at least 3-5 grams of fibre.
- Cook and freeze in bulk: If you happen to fall into the, "I don't despise cooking but still don't want to do" category, then the idea of bulk cooking meals for a month or five days might be appealing. This, of course, requires you to cook, but it boils down to dedicating just one or two days a month to it instead of of every day. You cook all your meals, freeze them up, then simply reheat later on.
- Strategise your restaurant and take-out foods: Of course, the ultimate no-cook method of healthy eating is to do absolutely nothing and have the food delivered to you. As ABC News points out, it's not eating out that's unhealthy, it's where we eat. If you're not sure where to start, Cooking Light has a big list of healthy foods at a variety of restaurants as well as tips for ordering healthy foods. Don't forget the pre-made foods at your local grocery as they're often of the same calibre as what you'd be making at home with the same ingredients.
The above tips are just a few suggestions and a few of the things I've learned over the last couple of months that help me get as much of my daily recommended allowance of food as possible without actually firing up any of the heavy appliances in the kitchen. Share your own tips or recipes in the comments. Photo by Daniel Orth.