Thursday, January 20, 2011

7 Make Ahead Healthy Staples: How one hour on Sunday can give you a week's worth of cheap, nutritious meals

Most people are simply too busy to prepare three meals a day. But everyone knows that cooking your own meals is both healthier and cheaper than eating out. What many don't realize is that with some planning, organization and an hour on Sunday night, you can fill your refrigerator with a variety of nutritious, convenient options that will last you through even the busiest week.

7 Make Ahead Staples:

1. Hard Boiled Eggs

One hard boiled egg has only 70 calories and 6 grams of high quality protein. They are portable, versatile and can be consumed on the go. Cooked, they last about one week in the fridge.

Cost: The best part about eggs: they are CHEAP. A dozen eggs ranges from $2-5, making it an affordable protein option.

How To:
1. Place eggs in saucepan and fill with enough COLD water to cover by 1 inch
2. Cover and bring to a rolling boil
3. Reduce heat to low and cook eggs for 10 minutes
4. Remove from heat and place eggs in cold water or ice water to chill.
5. Dry cooled eggs and store in a Tupperware container that's lined with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

  • Eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a quick filling snack.
  • Chop and add to salads
  • Slice and add to sandwiches or crackers

Rest after the jump

2. Steel Cut Oats
As documented on my post about my favorite breakfast, steel cut oats are a fantastic and energizing way to start your day. They are also very easy to prepare ahead of time, ensuring that you have a nutritionally complete breakfast ready to eat in minutes. The slow digesting carbs keep you fuller longer and help to stabilize blood sugar. Oatmeal will last 5-6 days in an airtight container in the refridgerator.

Cost: $4-6 lb

How to: Cook according to package directions. Usually this involves bringing one cup oats and four cups water to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Let the oats cool and then transfer to an airtight container and stick in the fridge.

  • Reheat oats in the AM with milk, honey, fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt, granola and anything else you can imagine.
  • Add to pancake batter to boost fiber (recipe coming soon)
  • Eat as a preworkout snack - you will feel the energy boost.

3. Fresh Raw Veggies

Having containers of colorful, ready to eat veggies will ensure that you get your 3-5 servings each day! Additionally, new research suggests that the risk of heart disease drops with each additional serving of fruits and vegetables that you consume each day! Setting aside some time to wash, peel and chop for the week is a great way to make veggies accessable and easy to grab. Additionally, they are ready to be assembled into a variety of meals and snacks. Shelf life varies, but generally 3-5 days is the norm.

Cost: varies seasonally

How to: Wash, peel, slice, chop, ect... Then dry and store.

Suggestions: carrots, celery, bell peppers, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, kale, cucumbers, asparagus, string beans, zucchini, cabbage, and anything else you enjoy.

  • Throw together cut raw veggies for a quick stir fry with chicken and/or quinoa
  • Add veggies to sandwiches
  • Mix with quinoa or pasta
  • Throw some in canned or homemade soup
  • Toss with beans for a vitamin-packed salad

4. Grilled Chicken Breast
Grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast is a fantastic source of lean protein and a versatile ingredient for many dishes. Just four ounces of grilled chicken has 24 grams of protein and only 120 calories. According to the FDA website, cooked chicken will last for four days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

Cost: Anywhere from $3-8 a lb

How to:
You can prepare your chicken in a variety of ways. I like using my George Foreman grill because its quick and easy, but you can also bake the chicken breasts or prepare on a cast iron skillet, grill, or frying pan. I usually season the raw chicken with salt, pepper and some cayenne, but feel free to try different spice rubs or marinades if you like. I would recommend keeping the seasoning simple to ensure maximum versatility.

  • Slice chicken and add veggies, quinoa or beans to make a filling wrap or sandwich. 
  • Add chopped chicken to salads
  • Dice chicken and add to canned or homemade soup
  • Stir fry with veggies and teriyaki sauce and serve over rice or quinoa
  •  Add to pasta

5. Quinoa
My love of quinoa is well documented on this site. In addition to its nutritional benefits, it cooks in only 10 minutes and can last a week in the fridge. Cook up a big batch and use it to whip up versatile meals quickly and easily. 

Cost: $4-10 lb

How to: Cook according to package directions. 

  • Eat hot or cold with hot sauce, lemon juice, or soy sauce
  • Add to a salad for a boost of protein and fiber
  • Add to canned or homemade soup
  • Mix with stir fried veggies, tofu or meat as a nutritious alternative to rice
  • Heat and serve with milk, honey and cinnamon for a tasty breakfast porridge 
6. Dried Beans

Beans are low in fat, high in quality protein and both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood and slows down carbohydrate absorption, fending off spikes in blood glucose. Legumes are also rich in folic acid, copper, iron and magnesium.

Dried beans take longer to prepare than canned beans, but have many advantages:
  • Cheaper and easier to store
  • Sodium free, even low sodium canned beans have significant amounts of salt
  • Greater variety and selection
  • Better taste and texture
  • Creates less waste and is more environmentally friendly
  • Most importantly: No BPA, which is found in the lining of aluminum cans
Cost: Depends on the type of bean and whether you buy organic. Can be as low at $1 per pound.

How to: Dried beans require soaking and there are two methods: Long and Quick

     Long Soak Method:
     1. Rinse and sort beans
     2. Soak beans in cold water overnight or for 8-12 hours
     3. Drain beans
     4. Place beans in a wide pot and cover with cold water. Water should be 1
         inch above beans
     5. Cover and bring to a boil
     6. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-60 minutes, depending on the type of bean
        (follow package instructions)
     7. Cool, pat dry and store

     Quick Soak Method:
     1. Rinse and sort beans
     2. Place beans in a wide pot and add 6 cups of water for every pound of beans
     3. Cover and bring to a boil for 3-4 minutes
     4. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 2-4 hours
     5. Drain excess liquid, pat dry and store

  • Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and eat cold.
  • Mix up a bean salad
  • Add to canned or homemade soup
  • Throw a few on a salad to add protein and fiber
  • Add to pasta dishes
  • Mash and make a dip for veggies, cracker, and chips
  • Puree or mash and season for a healthier alternative to potatoes (recipe for this coming soon)

7. Washed and Cut Fruit

Fruit is the ideal snackfood. Typically, it's not the most convienent thing to grab and go. Washing, slicing and preparing fruit to grab when you're hungry is a great use of 10-15 minutes and can help to ensure that you are grabbing the most nutritious snacks. The shelf life varies, so be aware of what will last (apples) and what needs to be eaten right away (strawberries).

Cost: Varies seasonally

How to: Wash, dry, peel, chop and store for easy access

Suggestions: Strawberries, blueberries, grapes, pineapple, watermelon, honeydew or kiwi.

What do you like to make ahead? Tell me in the comments.

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