Cook It Up Quick!

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

You are trying to eat healthy, but sometimes life can get in the way. However, it is possible to choose and prepare healthy, affordable, delicious meals in a snap. With a few simple tips, you can make sure you are enjoying nutritious food even when life gets hectic.

Stock a Healthy Kitchen
Even if your schedule is jam-packed, you can still whip up a delicious, nourishing meal if your fridge, freezer, and pantry are well-stocked with healthy ingredients. In your pantry – load up on canned beans, canned veggies, oils and vinegars, whole grains, whole-grain pastas, spices, and herbs. For the fridge and freezer – stock it full of fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products.

Plan Meals Ahead of Time
Planning meals ahead of time helps you avoid trips to the drive-through and keeps you from reaching for a microwaveable pile of highly-processed gunk. Whenever you have a spare 20 minutes or so, take an inventory of what you have on hand and then use store fliers and coupons to plan out your meals and snacks for the week, following MyPlate.

Cook Up Ingredients You Can Use Across Several Meals
Think of this as a “cook once, eat twice” idea. Prepare a big batch of brown rice or barley, and use some in a stir-fry one night, some in a soup the next day, and some on top of a crisp, colorful garden salad the next day. Or, roast a whole chicken one evening and use it for chicken noodle soup, chicken salad, chicken quesadillas, or barbeque chicken sandwiches. This ensures you’ll spend less time in the kitchen, and when you cook larger batches of recipes, you can eat them throughout the week or freeze individualized portions of them for future “I need something quick!” moments.

Prep Your Fruits, Veggies, and Whole Grains
On your least busy day of the week, spend a little time chopping up a bunch of fruits and vegetables for a week’s worth of meals and snacks and place them in zip-top bags or Tupperware containers. This way, you’re only dirtying up your cutting board and knife once a week, and having ready-to-use produce front-and-center in your fridge increases the likelihood that you’ll actually get the recommended number of servings.

Keep Healthy Snacks Handy
Even when you plan healthy meals, snacks can be an area where it’s easy to grab something quick and perhaps not-so-nutritious, especially if you have gone many hours between meals or you skipped a meal altogether. However, you can avoid this easy diet pitfall with a little planning.

Try to have healthy, filling, nutritious snacks nearby at all times. Think shelf-stable items, such as granola bars, trail mix, whole pieces of fruit, canned tuna and salmon, nuts and nut butters, and seeds. If you have a fridge at work (and for at home), keep filling snacks on hand, such as reduced-fat string cheese, nonfat yogurt (look for varieties low in sugar), cut-up veggies, turkey sandwiches or hummus.

April is National Volunteer Month! Volunteers are at the heart of Operation Food Search and their support helps us keep overhead low. We are grateful to our beloved volunteers who assist in a wide variety of duties, both individually and team-based, including helping in our food distribution center, sorting and packaging food drive collections, assisting at our food-skills education classes, filling backpacks with food, conducting food and fund drives on our behalf, and helping in our office and at our special events. Individuals may sign up to volunteer online at www.OperationFoodSearch.org, or contact katie.schneider@OperationFoodSearch.org to schedule a volunteer team.