Healthy cooking – it really doesn’t take that much time

So I signed up for this online nutrition and exercise thing – 360XBT.

Very sceptical I was, indeed. I had handed over my money and, quite accustomed to being disappointed with products and services, I expected this to be no different. When the first documents arrived, I remained sceptical … at first glance the pantry list seemed to contain all sorts of expensive health shop foods, and my first thought was ‘gimmick’ and ‘fad’ and ‘evangelical’. Of course, the items are expensive and restricted to health shops only in South Africa, probably, where supermarket food options can sometimes be limited. Many items, especially organic foods, should really be more freely available. But the general public want convenience and cheap, so …

But then I sat myself down and started reading through all the documentation. I found it was less evangelical and more passionately convinced that this is the way to go. It made sense, and much of it was what I already applied to my diet. It wasn’t a great leap to incorporate some of the new ‘rules’.

I never eat microwaved food, and don’t buy convenience foods. I keep my sugar intake to a minimum, don’t drink carbonated drinks, especially not diet drinks, or milkshakes, I seldom drink fruit juice, very rarely eat crisps, chocolates, sweets and cakes, and I avoid cream and cream-based sauces. I’m a vegetarian, so burgers and hot dogs don’t feature at all.

The main flaw in my diet is pasta. I love pasta. I have pasta almost every night. The sauces are healthy vegetarian creations, with herbs from the garden and with no cream or any ready-made, packaged ingredients – but the dish is still a pasta dish. And I love cheese. And wine. So most nights I would sit down to a pasta dish, with some grated gruyere on top and a glass of wine. Heaven!

And just like that, overnight, my (and my family’s) eating habits changed. Carbs are no longer potatoes, pasta and bread. Carbs are now sweet potato, butternut and udon noodles. I have not tasted cheese or cake or rusks or biscuits since August. I have had a bit of wine, limited to less than a full glass at a time, and haven’t felt great the next morning. If the hangover was caused by half a glass wine that was of poor quality, I would be particularly miffed!

But the benefits of the change in diet have been pretty impressive. My skin looks good, I sleep better (most nights) and I shed 1.5 kg in the first two weeks. The weight loss probably has to do with not only the nutrition but the combination of my new eating habits and the long distances i have been walking. That said, I have always exercised regularly, even had a personal trainer two to three times a week for two years, and never have I lost weight this quickly. The other morning I looked in the mirror and allowed the words ‘bikini’ and ‘this summer’ to form in my head. I quickly banished the words … but I thought them, nonetheless. (If I had stuck to the 360XBT exercise programme, I would probably not have had to banish the words once they were thought!)

People have told me that they ‘don’t have time’ to eat healthily, as they ‘don’t have time’ for all that cooking. I don’t understand this thing of never having time to cook. What are you doing instead? I work, I have kids, I exercise, I have many interests, I go out, I socialise, I’m even lazy sometimes … and I cook. You have to feed yourself, and it doesn’t take that long to prepare a meal.

I really believe that you should cook your own food. The food you make and serve is invested with your energy, your emotions, your love, and that is part of the nourishment that goes into the food. Jewish mothers know what they’re doing when they serve a bowl of chicken soup to a sick child – part of the soup’s healing properties come from the energy they put into creating that dish.

One quick way of being prepared for one or two meals in advance is to put a tray of butternut and sweet potato in the oven and let it roast while you’re cooking the meal you’re about to serve.

It’s so easy. Chop the butternut and sweet potato into chunks, and put it in the roasting tray. Cut up an onion and add it to the tray. I like to add some whole chillies and whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic. This way the chillies and garlic can be eaten with the butternut and sweet potato, without making the dish too hot or too garlicky, or they can be used in other recipes. If you are eating bread, for example, you can squeeze the garlic from the peel and spread it on some toast. Add some brie cheese, or chopped tomato, or use it in any other way you can think of.

Chop butternut, sweet potato and onion, add whole chilli, and put in a roasting tray

Chop butternut, sweet potato and onion, add whole chilli, and put in a roasting tray

Add some whole, unpeeled garlic, to eat either with the butternut dish or in another recipe

Add some whole, unpeeled garlic, to eat either with the butternut dish or in another recipe

Scrape some lemon rind over the mixture

Scrape some lemon rind over the mixture

Sprinkle some cinnamon and all spice over the veg – I love stick cinnamon, but have started using ground cinnamon instead, as it’s more cost effective, and the flavour is spread over the whole roasting tray – grind a bit or salt and pepper over it, and add a few scrapings of lemon rind. Drizzle olive oil over it all and put it in the oven, on high, to roast until almost tender, turning once during cooking. Just before the vegetables are ready to eat, add a handful of pine nuts, and roast until they are golden brown.

Sprinkle ground cinnamon and all spice over the veg an roast

Sprinkle ground cinnamon and all spice over the veg and roast

Add a handful of pine nuts to the tray just before the vegetables are cooked through. Roast until the veg and pine nuts are ready.

Add a handful of pine nuts to the tray just before the vegetables are cooked through. Roast until the veg and pine nuts are ready.

I used some of the butternut and sweet potato in a herb and lettuce salad for lunch the next day. I added some sliced cherry tomatoes, avocado and nasturtium flowers, and drizzled some olive oil and balsamic over it. Add some micro leaves for extra flavour.

The roasted butternut and sweet potato were added to a herb salad, with avocado and tomatoes for lunch.

The roasted butternut and sweet potato were added to a herb salad, with avocado and tomatoes for lunch. Some edible nasturtium flowers add colour.

The day after I used the vegetables in an egg frittata, which I served with a salad.

The butternut and onion were used to make a frittata the following day, which was served with a salad

The butternut and onion were used to make a frittata the following day, which was served with a salad

Two tasty lunches that took no time at all to prepare.

Another quick meal is a stir-fry. As long as you chop all the vegetables beforehand, and don’t try to add one item to the pan, then chop the next thing, it is the easiest healthy meal to make. You could chop some extra veg while you’re preparing another meal. Sure, it’s better to cut vegetables just before you cook them, but cutting them in advance is better than not having the time to cut them, and so not eating them at all.

You can add anything to a stir-fry, as long as the vegetables are really fresh and crunchy (don’t use it as a vehicle to empty the fridge of limp, sorry-looking vegetables), but basically, add onion, leeks, mushrooms, broccoli, beans and sugarsnap peas to a bit of olive oil or coconut oil, along with a little bit of sesame oil. Add a handful of roughly chopped cashews, some sesame seeds and some flax seeds. Stir in a splash or two of good quality soy sauce and as many chillies as you enjoy. Add some baby spinach leaves and udon noodles once the rest of the veg have cooked through (you want the spinach to wilt, not overcook), and ten minutes later you have a huge pan of food, ready to serve to the hungry masses – and it’s pretty to look at, tasty, healthy and non-fattening. Oh – and seaweed! Add finely cut, roasted seaweed to the pan for a whole new flavour. Drop some fresh coriander leaves on top of the plated food, just before serving.

A vegetable stir-fry puts a new spin on fast food - it must be the quickest healthy meal to prepare.

A vegetable stir-fry puts a new spin on fast food – it must be the quickest healthy meal to prepare.

You can add some bean sprouts, such as mung bean or alfalfa, and/or tofu for extra protein, if you like. (I’m supposed to have tempeh, not tofu.) The tofu can also be prepared in advance, so that it doesn’t add to your cooking time. The trick is to get the tofu crispy and golden.

Start by making sure the tofu is very dry. Remove it from its packaging, cut it into cubes, and put it on a tea towel. Press down on it lightly to squeeze the water out of it.

Make sure the tofu is dry.

Make sure the tofu is dry.

I like to start off by putting just one cube in the pan so that I can test if the oil is hot enough. You need only a little bit of oil and a very hot pan. When the oil (olive oil or coconut oil) starts making little bubbles around the base of the tofu, it has reached the right temperature. Fry the tofu cubes on each side and set aside until you need to add them to your stir-fry, soup or stew.

When the oil bubbles around the base of the tofu, it is at the right temperature.

When the oil bubbles around the base of the tofu, it is at the right temperature.

Fry each side of the tofu cube until it is golden brown.

Fry each side of the tofu cube until it is golden brown.

Set the crispy cubes of tofu aside until you are ready to add them to a stir-fry, soup or stew.

Set the crispy cubes of tofu aside until you are ready to add them to a stir-fry, soup or stew.

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One thought on “Healthy cooking – it really doesn’t take that much time

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article! Thank you..for the candor, the transparency, for the conviction and passion that you expressed. And I love the message of simplicity. So many miss the opportunity because of that fear of expensive in finances and time. I was a bit worried when I read the word evangelical 🙂 so was glad to see that shift :-)!

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