These days, if Tom and I want to eat, we usually choose between meals that take time to prepare, frozen foods that can be microwaved, dinner at a restaurant, or going the quick route with not-so-healthy fast foods.
We generally don’t do leftovers because, when I cook, I only make enough for two.
It wasn’t always this way. At first, even though our nest was empty, I was still cooking for a family of four; and the two of us were eating most of the food, leaving just enough for my lunch the next day. Not good. Those mostly-eaten meals-for-four, as well as our frequent dinners out and quick trips for fast food, were causing us to pack on extra pounds we didn’t want or need.
When you’re trying to eat healthy, eating can get complicated. Diets come with restrictions and requirements that are often hard to follow. Counting calories (or points) is easier; but not all restaurants provide the necessary information on their menus, and determining all the nutritional facts on foods prepared at home is not especially practical when you’re in the middle of trying to whip up dinner.
So, we took steps to simplify our eating habits. We are eating pretty much the same food we’ve been eating, only less of it; and we’re taking a greater interest in our meals, doing what we can to make each one an enjoyable experience.
Ways to keep things simple and satisfying
Hooray for home cooking!
On Food Revolution, British chef Jamie Oliver proved the point that it takes less time to prepare a healthy meal at home than it takes to get in your car, drive to a fast food restaurant, place your order, pay for it, and return home.
- Eat in. Try to eat at home as much as possible. Dining out is great, but restaurants can be noisy, crowded, expensive . . . and things get even more complicated when you’re trying to determine what on the menu is healthy. At home you have better control over your environment and the food you eat. Meals can be simple fare or culinary masterpieces, depending on how much time and effort you want to put into them. If you do choose take-out, take it home. Set the table. Use your good china. Make dining a real treat.
- Keep it simple. Daily meals should be quick and easy to prepare. You don’t need a million ingredients to make something delicious, and you don’t want to be slaving over the stove every day. Unless it’s a special occasion or you’re honing your culinary skills, prep and cook time should be 10-20 minutes tops.
- Choose nutritious. We love junk food as much as the next guy—who doesn’t?—but junk food lacks essential nutrients and is unhealthy. Period. If you want to simplify what you eat, choose items from the food groups and balance your meals. Think fiber, vitamins and minerals, protein, and good fats. Read labels and use common sense.
- Nothing processed. Try to get stuff in its natural state, without all the added gravies, sauces, cheeses, and calories.
- Make it tasty. Fact of life—certain foods may be good for you, but if they taste like cardboard or are bland as the day is long, who enjoys eating them? You deserve a delicious meal. Use the food groups for inspiration. Plan for different flavors, textures, colors on your plate. Your meals will thrill your taste buds and be visually satisfying, too.
- Stock the essentials. If you stock up on essentials, you’ll be able to readily create simple meals that are tasty and easy to prepare . . . and you’ll save on groceries as well. What’s essential? Fish, chicken or turkey, fresh fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, whole grain cereals and bread, brown rice, potatoes, flour, eggs, milk, margarine, olive and canola oil, vinegar, spices, salt, and pepper.
- Establish a routine. Eat three meals—and possibly one or two snacks in between meals to ward off any hunger pangs—at the same time every day. Eating at the same time each day regulates digestion better, keeps blood glucose levels more consistent, and simplifies life in the long run by promoting healthier living on all levels.
- Don’t starve, don’t stuff yourself. Eat what you want, when you want, but eat less. You don’t need to eat like a bird, but do stick to sensible portions and only have one serving. Counting calories works for Tom and me; it keeps us mindful of just how much food we are eating every day. It’s surprising how fast the calories add up if you’re not careful.
A while ago, I went to see Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speak. He travels the world sharing wisdom and insight. At one point during our session he was talking about food and how much a person should eat at each meal. He cupped his hands, held them out in front of himself, and said: Eat only what you can hold.
- Snack sensibly. If you get hungry between meals, choose healthy snacks—fruits, cut-up veggies, nuts, blue corn chips with Newman’s salsa. Every now and then, if you’ve been good, splurge on some crazy fattening dessert . . . or treat yourself to a small piece of dark chocolate or berries.
- Eat in peace. Stop what you’re doing to eat. Look forward to it and be ready to enjoy your meal. Except for quiet conversation, there should be no distractions. Eating slowly and lingering over your meals, savoring every bite, is good for digestion and will help you eat less. If you’re out and about, find a quiet place to eat—a corner table in the restaurant or take yourself to the park for a leisurely picnic.