Wow, that really doesn’t sound pleasant does it – “Poor and out of time.” Yuck. But, I find myself feeling that way pretty often lately. Anyone who knows me well knows that I absolutely love spending time in the kitchen, cooking and eating. I would rather go grocery shopping than to the shopping mall. I have always home-cooked all of my meals, and I often like to make them pretty extravagant. (I LOVE putting a healthy twist on “unhealthy” recipes; but that’s for future posts). Recently though, with medical school in full swing, I haven’t had much time to put extra effort into my meals. Let me share with you some of my favorite quick (and cheap) ways to keep eating a tasty, nutrient-dense diet.
Buy produce when it’s in season (and freeze it).
Fresh produce is wonderful, but the cost can add up fast. In-season produce is usually cheaper, much more flavorful, and higher in nutrients. I do this more with fruit than I do with vegetables. If I find a really cheap deal on grapes or berries, I’ll buy a bunch and freeze the extra. You can blend them in smoothies or heat them up to make a juicy topping for your morning oatmeal. Frozen grapes are also just an amazing snack by themselves; or they’re fun to use instead of ice cubes in sparkling water.
Or just buy it frozen already.
I buy frozen vegetables all the time. And all you have to do for preparation is pop them in the microwave, on the stove top, or in the oven. You can get a 5-serving bag of frozen vegetables from almost any grocery store for less than a dollar. I’m talking 0.99 cents for a bag of vegetables the size of your head. How about that for cheap? I love to season my vegetables with a little coconut oil, a dash of Himalayan pink salt, and some Chipotle Tabasco sauce!
Side note: While most canned produce tend to lose a good chunk of their nutrients during the preservation process, frozen produce actually contain more nutrients than fresh produce found in a standard grocery store. Because they are frozen directly after harvest, farmers allow the produce to fully ripen before picking. On the other hand, fruit and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh-produce aisles around the country are picked far before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully mature on the vine. In addition, during the long journey from farm to table, fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to heat and light that can degrade nutrients. Of course, if you’re buying local produce or growing your own, you’re getting the best of both worlds – fresh and full of nutrients!
Find a good protein powder.
Protein powder is not just for the buff dudes at the gym! When you’re running late and just need to grab something, protein powder can be such a great supplement to a healthy diet. I use a vegan/plant-based protein powder by Garden of Life and shake it up with a cup of almond milk. I look for protein powders with simple, natural ingredients and minimal-to-none added sugar or sweeteners. Protein powder looks expensive, but think about it this way: if you buy a $30 tub containing 28 servings, you’re paying $1.07 per serving. That’s way less than any meal or snack you could be eating from a convenient store or restaurant. Plus, it is way better for you than most of those sugar-packed protein bars.
Embrace seeds, grains, and lentils.
Beans, quinoa, teff, brown rice, and amaranth are some of my favorite ways to bulk up a meal. I order food items like these online and in higher quantities to make them cheap. Amazon and iHerb.com often have good deals like this. Also, never pay for shipping. You can get free shipping with Amazon prime or sites like iHerb.com that give free shipping with orders over $20.
Play with seasonings.
Bring out the flavor in your food with spices and herbs. One of my favorite ways to season my vegetables is actually with salt-free steak seasoning! I also love squeezing some lemon juice over just about anything – vegetables, poultry, fish, etc. Seasonings make eating so much more enjoyable.
Whether it’s tomorrow’s lunch or your entire week of veggies, prepping food in advance is the key to the whole “poor and out of time” thing. You don’t necessarily have to meal-prep by portioning out each serving, but if you cook a pot of quinoa that lasts you the whole week, you’ve saved a ton of time. Simply having a few food items pre-cooked and stocked in your fridge for the week will allow you to quickly mix and match as the days go on.