It's easy to fit all your nutritional needs into a busy lifestyle when you know how. Picture: THINKSTOCK
It's easy to fit all your nutritional needs into a busy lifestyle when you know how. Picture: THINKSTOCK

YOU know how important it is to eat healthily, but you don’t always have time to prepare a wholesome meal. All too often it seems so much simpler to grab a burger or toasted sandwich from the nearest fast-food outlet. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

With just a little planning, you can whip up delicious and nutritious meals in less than 10 minutes — guaranteed.

Step 1: Plan ahead

• Start off by planning one week of dinners for you and your family. Need inspiration? Browse through healthy-eating recipe books and websites.

• Dry groceries can be bought monthly but fresh food needs to be purchased twice a week. Plan two short shopping trips weekly, even if you pop into the shops on your way home from work. Ordering online is another convenient option.

• Try using similar ingredients, for instance: mince in a pita pocket on Monday and mince in a curry on Thursday. This way you can cook in bulk and save time.

• Plan a few weekly menus and keep them in a file. Once you have eight meal plans, rotate back to the first week’s plan — no one but you will ever know.

• If you have access to a fridge at work, start each week by taking along a container with lunch basics. Include salad vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, small cucumbers, sweet peppers and other crudités. Add cottage cheese, cheese wedges, hard-boiled eggs, tuna in brine, small tins of baked beans, high-fibre crackers and yoghurt. Making your own lunch from your supply of basics will be faster than fighting the canteen queues or walking across the road to a local takeaway. Your assembled lunch will also be healthier and sustain your energy throughout the afternoon.

Step 2: Stock up

Vegetables, salad and fruit

• When roasting vegetables, make a few extra portions and pop them in the fridge. They can stay there for a few days and can be used chilled in salads or reheated as part of a meal.

• Stock up on fresh, ready-to-eat veggies such as cherry tomatoes, baby corn, baby carrots and sugar snap peas. These are great in lunchboxes and make for healthy snacks.

• Make sure you have a selection of frozen veggies in your freezer — when packaged and kept correctly they can actually be more nutritious than fresh veggies.

• Some salads can be kept in the fridge for a few days, including grated carrot and pineapple, coleslaw and beetroot. Make extra for the week ahead.

• Homemade vegetable soup is always a winner during the winter months. Cook up a large pot, freeze in smaller portions (either individual or per family meal), and reheat when needed.

• Buy fruit at the start of the week and alternate your choice each week to ensure variety.

• Fruit smoothies make for a quick breakfast on the go.

• Add fruit to salads such as the Waldorf salad recipe below, which will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Starch

• Cook starches such as rice, pasta, barley and mealies and store them in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

• You can also keep roasted or mashed sweet potato (yes, it counts as a starch, not a vegetable) in the fridge for a few days.

• Make sure you have a few tins of legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas) in your cupboard. What is easier (or quicker) than opening a can?

• If you prefer to use fresh legumes then set aside time on a weekend afternoon and soak and cook beans in larger quantities. You can always freeze them in single portions for easy use.

Protein

• Cooked chicken fillets and hard-boiled eggs keep very well in the fridge for a few days. Make extra for the week ahead.

• When cooking savoury mince, make more than is needed. You can freeze the extra mince in smaller portions to use in future meals.

Tip: Make sure you correctly label all the food you store in the fridge or freezer. Precooked food that remains in the fridge or freezer for too long may be hazardous to your health.

Condiments

• Ready-made sauces such as curry, korma, mushroom, tomato-basil, lemon and herb, sweet and sour, olive and sun-dried tomato, relish and so on, should have a fat content of 3g or less per 100g to ensure you do not add appreciable quantities of fat to the meal.

• Ready-made higher-fat ingredients such as low-oil mayonnaise, curry pastes, atchar, pesto, olive tapenade and hummus should be added with discretion and in very small quantities to avoid adding too much fat to your meal.

• Sweet-chilli sauce, chutney, relishes, fruit preserves such as green fig preserve, onion marmalade and so on may be fat-free but have a very high sugar content. Use no more than two tablespoons per person, to keep within the sugar recommendation of no more than 10g sugar per meal.

Step 3: Meal balance

Just because the food you eat is healthy it doesn’t mean you can overindulge. When dishing up, always make sure you follow these guidelines:

• Fruit, salad and vegetables — fill your plate with these, the more colourful, the better!

• Starch — one fistful.

• Protein — one portion. This is generally as large as the palm of your hand.