Cooking Healthy Foods in a Hurry

Updated: Nov 04, 2009, 00:51 AM IST

Sandhya Gugnani

It is difficult after a day’s hard work to sloth in kitchen. The kitchen has been pared down from being the heart of the home to a streamlined functional annexe and our eating habits have changed too. Convenient, packed and processed foods dominate. The majority of meals are made up of take aways, restaurant food and ready to cook meals.

While that might be okay once a month, it is dangerous when it becomes a habit. Fast foods are loaded with saturated fats, sodium, sugar and calories.

Does that mean in order to feed your family a healthy meal you are doomed to spend an hour and a half in the kitchen every night? Nope. Not at all. Some healthy shortcuts can make cooking easy and enjoyable! What you require is labour saving devices and a little smart shopping at your grocery store.

Cook Once, Eat Twice

Plan your meals around key ingredients prepared in larger amounts for use in one recipe the first night and an entirely different recipe within the next two days.

All perishable cooked foods, such as meat, poultry, fish & dairy products should be refrigerated within two hours for the next meal to keep them safe.

Combine Family Bonding & Cooking Time

We are always caught in a situation in between finding time to prepare meals and spending quality time with children, so the best way is to try involving them in cooking with you!

Involve your child in planning and preparing some meals and snacks for the family. Children enjoy helping in the kitchen and often are more willing to eat foods they help prepare.

Healthy Nibbles

Need a quick snack? Nibble on a nut! A handful a day will keep you healthy!

Nuts contain all major macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates & fat. The fat fraction is characterized by a high amount of unsaturated fatty acids & a low content of saturated fatty acids. So making an addition of nuts to your diet prevents cardio vascular diseases.

The good quality fat, protein and fiber in nuts help you feel fuller and induce a feeling of satiety. Nuts may help people feel less deprived and not like they`re "dieting." Just limit your portion.

You may just sprinkle nuts into foods like cereals, salads, pasta, yogurt or even in vegetables & some desserts & muffins.

Colourful Salads

As the famous saying goes….We eat through our eyes…Besides adding the salad greens, enhance the eye appeal and nutrition of a salad by adding colorful fruits and vegetables. Keep them light by adding the low calorie salad dressing.

You can make salads tastier by adding the following:

Nuts- toasted almonds and walnuts

Though almonds are a source of fat and calories, they contain mostly unsaturated fat that may help protect against heart disease. They also provide vitamin E, a nutrient that may be good for your heart. Almonds have about 7 calories apiece.

Likewise, the fat in walnuts is mostly unsaturated. Walnuts also provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A tablespoon or two of walnuts adds just 50 to 100 calories to a meal.

Fresh herbs- basil, chives, parsley

Toss small basil leaves or chopped larger ones in your salads. Try fresh chopped/ minced chives or parsley. Start with about a teaspoon of herbs per person and adjust according to taste preference. Herbs boost flavor without increasing calories. Researchers have found that many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against such diseases as cancer and heart ailments.

Fresh fruits- apples and pears

Slice apples with their skins. The skin adds eye appeal and important dietary fiber, as well. Research shows an apple a day may indeed help keep the doctor away by helping reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. The same goes for pears.

Sliced oranges juice up the flavor of salads and add brightness with their sunny color. Plus, they give you a healthy dose of vitamin C and folate.

Olives- black or green

Add extra oomph with olives. For ease of eating and to distribute their flavor throughout the salad, pit and slice olives before placing them in your plate.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database a tablespoon of canned ripe olives provides about 10 calories.

What if you have a little more time to prepare dinner?

Choose fresh meats that are ready to cook in your oven. Go to the meat department of the grocery store and look for skinless seasoned chicken breasts or healthy salmon fillets. Place them in a baking dish and grill or bake. There is virtually no prep time and little clean up so you have plenty of time to make your side dishes.

Use a vegetable steamer/rice cooker that can prepare two healthy side dishes at once. The steamer does the work while you relax or get your other errands done. Get a steamer with a built-in timer for you to relax!!

What about buying frozen meals?

When you go to the freezer section of your grocery store, you will find lots of frozen meals. Some are small and low in calories, others are huge with lots of calories and fat and high in sodium.

The best frozen meals are ones you make yourself. Make them even healthier by adding some extra vegetables or salad and a slice of whole grain bread. Look for recipes that use lean meats, poultry or fish and lots of vegetables.

Kitchen Short Cuts


Use a garlic peeler to quickly peel garlic.

To mince garlic without having it stick to your knife, add a few drops of water to the garlic and then chop. The garlic sticks to the cutting board and not your knife. The garlic paste can be refrigerated in an air-tight container & reused.


To get more juice, microwave lemons on high for 10 seconds, or roll them on the counter with the palm of your hand. This will help free the juice.


To peel fresh ginger quickly, without wasting, scrape with the back of a spoon. This will remove the peel and leave most of the ginger behind. The ginger paste can also be refrigerated in an air-tight container for reuse.

So, with a little preparation and a healthy grocery list, you can enjoy healthy, delicious and easy-to-make meals at home.

Sandhya Gugnani is a practicing Nutritionist and is attached with Zee Business for television/ cookery show called “THE GREAT CHEFS OF INDIA” as a nutrition expert. She can be contacted on her E-Mail ID

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