Mid-week meals can stray from nutrition into the realms of convenience, speed and the demands of fussy eaters. Here are some easy ways to tick all those boxes at once.
Cut salt, sugar and fat in family favourites
• Instead of lasagne sheets, use sliced eggplants.
• Sweet potatoes have more nutrition than normal white potatoes. They’re delicious baked, roasted or mashed.
• Always grill or bake instead of frying to reduce oil use.
• Choose water over fizzy drinks or juices, which are both packed with sugar.
• Make your own salad dressing, as shop bought ones tend to be very high in sugar. Just pour some olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a jar, season lightly and shake.
• Check labels and compare levels of sugar, fat and salt between brands – you might be surprised by the difference.
• Choose frozen over canned vegetables, as canned products tend to contain more salt.
It’s easy for health concerns to give way to what’s fastest when you’re throwing dinner together at the end of a busy day. Making healthier meals doesn’t have to mean slaving away in the kitchen or buying expensive organic ingredients – unless that’s what you want. Employ simple strategies to minimise those dietary downfalls and you’ll soon have some quick, healthy options on high rotation.
According to Emma Polette, health coach and owner of , the common culprits are highly processed ‘convenience meals’. “Almost anything that you open, heat and eat will contain more salt, sugar and fat than anything you would cook for yourself,” she says. If you must use convenience foods, make them healthier by bulking up the vegies. For example, add legumes to lasagne, tacos or casseroles for extra fibre.
“Making your own is always healthier. During the cooler months a slow cooker can be your best friend – just dump in the ingredients and you’ll come home to a nutritious meal,” says Emma.
Be sure to add a big salad or steamed vegies to increase nutritional value. “I also recommend roasting a big batch of vegies on the weekend. These can be added to omelettes, pizzas or even
a haloumi salad – the options are endless.”
She adds: “Meal planning for the week also makes a huge difference. If you already know what you’re cooking at the end of the day, you’re much more likely to make a healthier choice.”
Make healthy the new normal
Even small tweaks to your regular eating can have big benefits health-wise. Make Healthy Normal, an initiative by the NSW Ministry of Health, is a free 10-week online program of steps towards a healthier lifestyle. Sign up at makehealthynormal. nsw.gov.au. Good tips for families include:
Start small and build
For lasting change, choose realistic improvements you can all stick to, such as having fruit for dessert, switching to wholegrain bread or trying brown rice instead of white. Small changes are easier to implement and do add up.
Put health at arm’s reach
Shop regularly to make healthy food convenient. This doesn’t mean you have to cut out treats, but make them more of an occasional thing rather than a pantry staple.
Eat dinner together
Eating meals together is good for family bonding and home-prepared meals are usually healthier than takeaway and restaurant meals. Healthy family meals need not be complicated, just balanced.
Swap these popular convenience and takeaway meals for healthier, but still fast and easy, alternatives.
- Trade: Chicken nuggets and chips for shop bought BBQ chicken with coleslaw and a wholemeal bread roll
- Trade: Cheese on toast for wholegrain toast with low-salt baked beans and grated cheese
- Trade: Pre-made quiche for omelette made with cheese and mushrooms
- Trade: Butter chicken and rice for tandoor chicken, rice and dahl
- Trade: Delivery pizza for homemade pizza with extra veggies
- Trade: Pies and sausage rolls for baked potato, minced beef, beans and sour cream/natural yoghurt