America faces an obesity epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35 percent of Americans are obese. Everyone should take an active role in managing their health. One of the best ways to start is by eating better foods. This includes selecting whole foods that have been minimally processed. It can be difficult to avoid processed foods when you lead a busy life, but planning ahead is the key to success.
Plan meals in advance for maximum efficiency. Set aside some time to plan your weekly, bi-weekly or monthly menus. You can draw on your favorite recipes, visit a website specializing in menu planning or buy menu-planning software.
Use your menu plan to make a grocery list and stick to it while shopping. Do the bulk of your shopping around the outside perimeter of the store and avoid boxed and convenience foods as much as possible. You can’t eat processed foods if they aren’t readily available.
Do as much food preparation as possible when you have free time. For example, brown several pounds of meat, such as sausage or ground beef, at a time. Then freeze the meat in half- to 1-pound portions for use in recipes. Chop up several pounds of onions in a food processor and freeze them in half-cup portions. Cut up healthy snacks — apples, celery or carrots — in bulk and store them in snack bags that are convenient to grab from the refrigerator and go.
Use a strategy, such as once-a-month cooking, or OAMC. The Once-a-Month Cooking website advocates preparing all your dinner entrees for the month on a selected cooking day, then freezing them to eat later. Do this with a partner to reduce the workload.
Make your own baking mixes in advance. You can find recipes online for a versatile baking mix that you can turn into pancakes, biscuits or breads. You also can premix the powdered ingredients for a favorite cake, cookie or brownie recipe and store them in a plastic bag; attach the recipe so you quickly can see what other items to add and the baking temperature. Homemade spice and drink mixes are easy, too. Making your own mixes allows you to save time while controlling what ingredients you add or omit, notes Nellie Hedstrom, extension nutrition specialist at the University of Maine. This helps you avoid unwanted preservatives or allergens.
Tips & Warnings
Find or start a weekly meal-sharing co-op. Typically, five people each make five, family-size servings a week and keep one for themselves. At meetings, co-op members swap meals with one another. They wind up with five meals to serve that week at home — but cook only one time.
Frozen vegetables are fine for recipes that require cooking, but the freezing process tends to make them soggy, so avoid using them in recipes calling for fresh varieties.