America is on the go–a home-cooked meal, every night, is out of the question. Unfortunately, processed foods have made Americans among the unhealthiest nations in the world. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, more than ⅓ of children and more than ⅔ of adults are overweight or obese. Eating healthily doesn't have to mean breaking the bank or spending every day in the kitchen. There are simple secrets and tips to get you in and out of the kitchen in no time, and will put affordable and healthy meals on your plate.
Make a Commitment
Set aside two days every month for planning, shopping, and preparing. Generally, one day for planning and shopping and one day for preparing makes a difference to your wallet and your health. Set a target grocery budget at the beginning of each month. Plan your shopping list and meals according to budget as close as possible. Allow wiggle room for unexpected changes throughout the month. When creating your shopping list, check the pantry for any items necessary for meal preparation or in need of restocking. Do research before leaving the house–compare prices, clip coupons, look for deals on family-sized packages of meats and poultry. When possible, buy bulk items used most frequently, such as rice, dried beans and peas, flour, pasta, sugar and cereal. Recycle leftover cooked meats, vegetables, and gravies for soups, sauces, stews etc. Invest in one or two well-rounded cookbooks to help inspire variations in meal planning.
In a Pinch
Careful planning could still find you without a needed ingredient. There are secret substitutions to pull it together in a pinch. To substitute 1 tsp. baking powder, mix ½ tsp. cream of tartar plus ¼ tsp. baking soda, use as directed. To make buttermilk biscuits or pancakes, add 1 tbsp. lemon juice or white vinegar to 1-cup whole milk (let stand for at least 10 minutes), use in place of buttermilk. Toast regular oats on a lightly greased baking sheet to golden brown to substitute 1 cup chopped pecans (baked products only). When thickening soups, sauces, or gravies, cornstarch and flour are interchangeable. Rule of thumb–twice, the amount of flour to cornstarch equals ½ the amount of cornstarch to flour. Substitute corn syrup by mixing 1-cup sugar and ¼-cup water, heat over medium heat until bubbling, let cool completely before using as directed. Replace whipped cream with one can (13 ounces) chilled, evaporated milk and 1 tsp. lemon juice, whip until stiff. A healthy substitution for sour cream is 1tbsp cornstarch plus 1-cup plain yogurt.
Batch it Up
Double or triple a recipe, separate into meal-sized portions and freeze. Casseroles, stews and soups freeze well and will thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Double-up roast beef, chicken, or pork by preparing an entire family pack, portion, label, and freeze. For quick meals during the month, reheat in a 350-degree oven; add steamed vegetables and rice for a healthful meal in less than 20 minutes.
To save time and money, buy fresh vegetables in season, blanch (boil) 3 to 5 minutes, drain into glass or metal bowl, submerge in ice water to stop cooking, separate portions into boil-in freezer bags. Use as needed throughout the year. Lower fat and double quantity by mixing equal parts mayonnaise and plain yogurt (use as a spread or in dressings). Make homemade ketchup to cut sodium and fat. Over medium-low heat, add 2 cups sodium-free tomato sauce, ½-cup sugar, and ¼ cup vinegar, stir until sugar is dissolved and sauce is bubbling (about 10 minutes). Let cool, store in an airtight container in refrigerator (2 to 3 months). Place stale whole-grain bread and crackers in food processor with low-fat grated cheese to make seasoned breadcrumbs. When breading meat or vegetables use plain yogurt instead of egg, bake in oven instead of deep-frying.