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How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jules Clancy of Stonesoup.

Are you eating real, whole food as much as you’d like?

If you’ve been following Zen Habits for any length of time, you’ve probably been inspired by Leo’s story. My favorite part is how he went from being an overweight junk food eater to a lean, plant-food-loving machine.

Like Leo, I’m a big believer that for optimum health it’s best to eat real, whole food as much as possible. Preferably prepared at home.

The good news is, it doesn’t need to take as much time as you’d think.

When I was writing my book ‘5 Ingredients 10 Minutes’, one of the things that kept surprising me was how I could make healthy, home cooked meals in not very much time.

So today I wanted to share with you 7 tips for eating real food without spending hours in the kitchen.

1. Start small.

When I was learning to meditate as part of Leo’s Sea Change program, one of the biggest lessons for me was to set small, achievable goals.

It’s all about making it as easy as possible for yourself to take the first step.

The same applies to cooking for yourself. Its so much easier to start with one night a week and build from there.

Making it achievable also means you’re less likely to end up with a fridge full of vegetables that make you feel guilty when they go bad and you throw them out.

2. Learn some quick and easy recipes.

Having a little collection of easy recipes that focus on speedy cooking techniques is half the battle. Especially when you’re just getting into cooking real food.

If a recipe has an ingredients list as long as your arm, or has instructions like ‘simmer for 30 minutes’ it’s best to save them for weekend cooking when you have loads of time.

Look for simple stir frys, hearty salads or one pot meals. If you’re stuck for inspiration there’s a collection of ‘50 healthy 10 minute meals‘ over on my blog to get you started.

3. Experiment with different ingredients.

Avoid getting stuck in a food rut by swapping different ingredients into your favourite speedy meals.

For example, if you normally make a stir fry with tofu and kale, try it instead with bok choy or broccoli. Same goes for flavourings. If you normally use garlic, try ginger or a new spice.

4. Skip the peeling.

I’ve never been a big fan of peeling vegetables. It takes ages and you lose the nutrients close to the skin. These days I just rinse or scrub and move on to the next step.

You won’t notice the difference for veg with thin skins like carrots or sweet potatoes. For things like butternut squash or beets, I roast with the skins on. It’s easy to slip the cooked skins off but often I leave them on because they’re delicious.

5. Try it raw.

I’m far from being a raw food purist, but I do try to include some raw vegetables in my diet every day. Not only is this beneficial for getting extra enzymes and heat-sensitive vitamins, it’s also much quicker than cooking.

For example, it takes a fraction of the time to finely slice a bunch of broccoli and toss it in a dressing than it takes to steam it. (see recipe below)

Think about finely slicing or grating veg and serving them raw. Some of my favorites are shaved raw broccoli or grated raw cauliflower to serve in place of steamed rice with curries or stir frys. I also love shaved fennel or cabbage in salads and finely sliced kale or raw bok choy – which has a surprisingly moreish crunchy texture.

6. Use convenient ingredients.

The ‘real food police’ aren’t going to arrest you because you haven’t prepared everything yourself from scratch. So don’t be afraid to cheat and use pre-prepared veg when it makes sense for you.

I’m a big fan of things like pre-washed salad leaves and scrubbed potatoes. I usually don’t like paying extra for pre-chopped veg, but if it works for you, go for it. I do use grilled veg from the deli from time to time.

Also try convenient ingredients as a flavor highlight or sauce. Think about commercial hummus, pesto, salsa, soy sauce, curry pastes or olive tapenade.

7. Don’t forget about frozen veg.

I once asked a nutritionist friend her thoughts about frozen veg. She said that freezing is probably the best method for preserving veg without losing much of the nutrition. In fact, frozen veg picked at its best will often have more nutrients than old ‘fresh’ vegetables that are past their prime.

Frozen veg are especially beneficial if your schedule is variable because they will sit in the freezer waiting for you to be ready for them. They also save you loads of prep time. Compare sitting down to shell a giant bowl of peas with the time it takes to open the packet and pour them into a pot.

Frozen peas are a pantry essential in our house but also consider things like frozen spinach, collard greens, broad beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or even frozen veg ready to stir fry in your wok.

broccoli & feta salad

Raw Broccoli & Feta Salad

Raw broccoli salads are very popular in my house. At least once a week or so, some sort of raw broccoli dish turns up for lunch. If you do prefer your broccoli cooked, however, this salad is just as delicious with steamed broccoli.

enough for 2:
1 tablespoon seeded mustard
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 head broccoli
100g (3.5oz) feta
handful pine nuts

  1. Combine mustard, vinegar and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a medium bowl. Taste. Season.

  2. Finely slice the broccoli stems and chop the florettes into tiny bite sized trees. Toss in the dressing.

  3. Crumble feta and sprinkle over the salad with the pine nuts.

vegan / dairy-free – replace the feta with an avocado, flesh scooped into chunks.

nut-free – replace the pine nuts with sesame seeds or finely diced red capsicum (bell pepper) or red onion.

herby – serve sprinkled with fresh herbs such as coriander (cilantro), parsley, mint or basil.

more substantial – increase the amount of feta and/or toss in a drained can of chickpeas or white beans.

Jules Clancy blogs about meals in minutes over at Her new book ‘5 Ingredients 10 Minutes’ is now available.


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