By Hilary Meyer, EatingWell.com
If you’re trying to give your eating habits a mini-makeover this year, try cutting back on some of the less-than-healthy ingredients in your diet: saturated fat, refined grains, processed foods, sugar and salt. Eating “clean” doesn’t have to mean spending tons of time in the kitchen or eliminating whole food groups from your diet. Instead, focus on convenient, fresh meals that are quick to prepare so you don’t feel tempted by highly processed convenience foods. Here’s a guide to getting “clean” meals on your table in 30 minutes or less – a perfect strategy for a weeknight dinner.
Rely on quick-cooking whole grains
Trying to eat clean means avoiding refined grains like white pasta, white bread and white rice in favor of whole grains. Unfortunately, a lot of whole grains take close to an hour to cook, which isn’t ideal when you’re in a rush. You have two options: a) cook a big batch of grains like barley, brown rice or wheat berries ahead to use throughout the week; or b) familiarize yourself with some quick-cooking varieties like quinoa, bulgur or farro.
Choose your veggies wisely
Eating clean is easy when you cram as many vegetables as possible into your meal. On weeknights, try to focus on a few vegetables that cook quickly and that take very little time to prep. Snap peas, snow peas, asparagus, broccoli florets and cauliflower require little to no prep and all cook quickly (be sure to cut broccoli and cauliflower into small florets to speed up cooking). And they all taste good if they’re tender-crisp – a texture that’s achieved with only a few minutes of cooking time.
Add flavor with herbs and citrus instead of salt
To make your food really flavorful when you cut back on salt, you need to rely on healthy flavor-packed ingredients, such as herbs or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice. For rushed weeknight dinners, choose fresh herbs that are easy to work with, such as basil and chives. And when you’re really pressed for time, dried herbs are an easy solution. If your recipe calls for fresh herbs and you want to use dried, cut the amount by one-third.
Use fruit instead of sugar to sweeten dishes
When it comes to dessert, choose foods that are naturally sweet, such as fruit. Whirl up berries in a blender and stir together with nonfat plain yogurt and a splash of vanilla extract.
Make a simple salad
To keep your salad quick and “clean,” stick to fresh, whole foods, keep toppings to a minimum and make your own salad dressing. It sounds time-consuming, but DIY salad dressing needs only three components: vinegar, oil and a pinch of salt. Start with a recipe of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. If it’s too tart for you, don’t add more oil: try whisking in water to mellow the flavor.
Know what you’re getting with “convenience” products
The good news is that not everything in a box or a can should be off-limits if you’re trying to clean up your diet. Read ingredients and choose products with short lists. Check sodium numbers and buy products that have little or no added salt.
Cut back on saturated fat
Cut back on saturated fat by opting for low-fat dairy products and cooking with extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter. Replace some of the meat in your diet with seafood. Shrimp and wild salmon are both good choices for weeknights. They cook quickly, and salmon offers omega-3s, which are good for your heart and may help improve your mood.
EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.