18 tips for healthy meals in a hurry

Healthy meals in food containers Looking for comfort food, but no time to cook? Senior BHF Dietitian Victoria Taylor and dietitian Nadine Richards present top tips for healthy meals in a hurry.

Preparation

1. Stock up your store cupboard

Good store cupboard staples include reduced-sugar-and-salt baked beans, tinned tomatoes and dried pulses, which all count towards your 5-a-day. One third of your food should be a starchy carbohydrate, preferably a high fibre as wholegrain variety, so stock up on brown rice, wholewheat pasta and wholewheat couscous. Keep a full herb and spice rack to add flavour to meals too.

2. Freeze healthy meals

Ready meals are quick, but can be high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. Homemade pizza bases, stored in the freezer, are a good alternative. Control the amount of extra salt and fat by topping with fresh vegetables, reduced-fat cheeses and lean meats.

Healthy stew, chilli and pasta can also be cooked in big batches and frozen. Defrost when you’re pushed for time or too tired to cook.

3. Save your energy

A microwave is the most energy-efficient way to cook, but there are other ways to save. Match your pan size to your hob ring. Boil only as much water as you need using a kettle, not the hob. Par-boil starchy vegetables before roasting to reduce oven time and cut food into smaller chunks. Bulk cooking then freezing is energy-efficient too.

4. Healthy sauces

Tomato sauce and a healthier version of white sauce (mix plain flour and unsaturated spread then whisk in low-fat milk, or use cornflour and leave out the spread) can be made in batches and frozen in sealable bags. Add dill, parsley or mushrooms to make sauces that form the basis of many meals.

Once defrosted and reheated, tomato sauce can help you make quick meals such as spaghetti bolognese.

5. Homemade healthy stock 

Freeze leftover stock in ice-cube trays. Simply pop a cube or two into the pan when you’re next cooking. Homemade stock has less salt than many shop-bought varieties; some stock cubes are about 50 per cent salt, so always check the label.

6. Plain gains

Cook portions of plain meat or fish, then freeze. This provides a base for dishes including curries, salads or pies topped with vegetable mash.

7. A healthy mash-up

Save energy by pre-cooking a batch of jacket potatoes in the oven. Reheat in the microwave later or use as mash to top a fish or cottage pie. This works for sweet potatoes too, and they count as one of your 5-a-day.

Transforming leftovers

8. Chicken tonight

Leftover baked or roast chicken makes great sandwiches, but you could do so much more with it. Cut chicken into strips, add spices and stir-fry with vegetables. Mix with shredded salad leaves, peppers, grated carrots and an olive oil and vinegar dressing. Add to pasta and tomato sauce. Or, simmer veg and add low-salt stock for a quick soup.

9. Fishy ideas

Stop leftover cooked fish drying out by adding it to dishes right at the end to warm it through. Or, cook rice in low-salt stock, with onion, sweetcorn, chopped tomatoes, beans and spices, then flake in the fish. You could also chop fish and combine with raw egg, breadcrumbs and herbs to make fishcakes.

10. Leftover veg

Extra vegetables are the ideal base for a ratatouille or a stew. Chop peppers, onions and courgettes, add tinned tomatoes and simmer. Cooked vegetables, cut into chunks, are perfect for a frittata. Add them to a frying pan, whisk eggs with a little milk, pour over and allow to set.

11. Add flavour with wine 

A cup of wine added to stew, bolognese or chilli makes the flavour richer. Pour wine into plastic boxes or sealable bags and freeze. It doesn’t freeze completely, so it’s easy to scoop out of the freezer when you need it.

12. Make use of mince 

Fajitas are an easy way to use up cooked mince. Reheat extra-lean beef or turkey mince with spices and place in a tortilla wrap with veg, salad and low-fat yoghurt (rather than sour cream). Combine raw mince with eggs and breadcrumbs and oven cook to make burgers or meatballs, or fill crisp lettuce leaves with cooked mince and vegetable chunks to make lettuce parcels.

13. Get fruity

Blended fruit makes delicious smoothies. Freeze puréed fruit in ice-cube trays (or freeze chunks of lemon, orange or berries in water) and add to drinks. Overripe bananas can be blended with milk for a naturally sweet milkshake with no need to add sugar. Puréed berries are great on top of porridge, low-fat yoghurt or rice pudding.

Quick meals from scratch

14. Chicken

Cut chicken portions into chunks and then add to stir-fry or pasta, for a satisfying meal in 30 minutes.

15. Eggs

A quick foundation of many filling dishes. Mix spring onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers into scrambled eggs and serve on wholemeal toast. Or boil new potatoes in a saucepan and halfway through cooking, add an egg to boil too.

Chop them both up into a green salad. Or make an easy egg-fried rice.

16. Baked beans

Spruce up baked beans for a fast, fun meal. Choose reduced-sugar-and-salt varieties and add your favourite spice, such as paprika, mustard powder or curry powder. Chop in onions, garlic and mushrooms to help towards your 5-a-day.

17. Fish fillets

Steam fillets in the microwave. Make sure steam doesn’t escape by placing the fish in a covered microwaveable container (or cover with cling film). While it cooks, make a salad and couscous. In 10 minutes, you’ll have a meal.

18. Tinned fish

If you don’t have time for our microwave tip (above), you can still make yourself a fish supper. Try tinned fish in spring water. It’s already cooked, so you can quickly drain it, then scoop it straight into salads, potato salads or onto wholemeal bread with cucumber and tomato. Add to omelettes, jacket potatoes or tortilla wraps, too. Use reduced-fat mayonnaise and dressings to avoid extra calories.

Make friends with your microwave

Cooking healthy meals in the microwave

Microwaves have a bad reputation. If you only use yours to reheat leftovers and coffee, you’re missing out. Foods cooked in a microwave can be tasty, as well as time- and energy-efficient.

For a quick breakfast, scramble eggs in the microwave, add spinach and fresh chopped tomatoes and put in a warm tortilla wrap (which can also be heated in the microwave).

To steam vegetables, chop and place them in a bowl with a little water, cover and microwave for two to four minutes.

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