While diet-triggered diseases have increased, the amount of people eating unhealthily has not. Everyone wants to take care of their bodies, but not everyone knows how. The first step for many is learning how to cook. If you are at this stage and really want to make dietary improvements, don’t be discouraged. As you are transitioning and learning how to cook, you can still eat healthily if you implement these techniques.
Eat more raw food
Nothing is more nutritious, fiber rich and water dense than raw fruits and veggies. If you are looking for a quick breakfast, add some fresh berries to yogurt or nut butter, or grab a punnet of fruits and an apple, and you’re out the door in no time. For lunch, cut up some fresh veggies and dip them in hummus, salsa, peanut butter or a dip of your choice. However, read the labels on store-bought dips, since they can be high in calories and full of hydrolyzed oils and sodium.
Dehydrate your food
A dehydrator can cost anywhere from 30 to 100 dollars, but you can easily use your oven. Just turn it on to the lowest setting, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and throw slices of vegetables and potatoes to make an assortment of dried veggie chips. Make apple chips or fruit leather by puréeing fruit and dehydrating the liquid mixture. Do the same thing with chia seeds, flax seeds and water to make healthy seed crackers. You can even make your own organic beef jerky! If you buy a cheaper dehydrator, there will only be one setting, so there’s no confusion. All you have to do is throw food into it and check on it every few hours until the food is fully dehydrated.
Create freezer treats
Freeze bananas and blend them for a healthy ice-cream dessert or even for breakfast. Freeze herbal teas and fresh fruit for healthy popsicles. For breakfast, blend half a cup of dates with half a cup of nuts and spread onto a muffin pan. Pop it in the freezer until firm. Then blend your favorite fruits together (roughly 1 cup) with a quarter cup of almond or coconut milk until creamy. Blend a quarter cup of oats into your fruit mixture for added bulk if you like. Layer that over your date and nut crust and freeze once more until hard. Ta-dah, you’ve got yourself a no-bake frozen pie that is healthy enough to eat for breakfast! A simpler version would be to form your date and nut mixture into balls and roll them in cacao, seeds, nuts, or coconut. Let them freeze overnight and you’ll have energy breakfast balls to go!
In a bowl or jar, add half a cup of rolled oats with 1 cup of water or a milk of your choice, 2 teaspoons of coconut sugar or honey, and whatever fruit you like. Stir and place the bowl or jar in the fridge overnight. When you wake up, you can just grab it and go. You can also do this with steel-cut oats, but the serving size is a quarter cup of steel-cut oats instead of half a cup of rolled oats. You can also add flax or chia seeds, cacao nibs, cacao powder, cinnamon, real vanilla extract or whatever you like to mix it up.
A quick meal that is light and super healthy is a large fruit water. It sounds like it couldn’t possibly be a meal, but if you use a large mason jar or two smaller jars or canisters, this is definitely a hydrating, fiber-rich breakfast. All you do is cut up a lot of fruit and place it in your jar. Then fill it up with water, lemon water or coconut water, and refrigerate it overnight. When you wake up, you will have this ready-made fruity water to hydrate you and start your day off on the right track. What makes it a meal is the fruit. Don’t waste it, eat it. It’s perfect after a morning run or if you are feeling run down and need a light, detoxing meal to refresh you in the morning.
Salads in a jar
Salads are so quick to make and can be a breakfast, lunch or supper. It may sound strange to eat a salad for breakfast, but if you combine fresh and dried fruits, fruit juice, honey, nuts and seeds, you’ll have a hearty breakfast. You can even add some organic gluten-free granola or quinoa for some healthy complex carbohydrates. To make a salad for lunch, you can buy a container that has a side container for your dressing, or you can stack everything together in a mason jar for easy storage and clean up. The bottom layer should always be the dressing. Then stack juicy veggies and fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. Top it all off with your leaves so they don’t get moist from the dressing. Because of the way it’s layered, this prep technique keeps your salad fresh enough that you can safely make it the night before.
Instead of eating a parfait at McDonald’s or another fast-food restaurant, make a healthier one yourself. Parfaits from fast-food joints are littered with artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. If you use organic dairy or nondairy yogurt, you can have your probiotics without the hormones. You can also use coconut cream or cashew cream instead. Just grab your cream or yogurt of choice, some berries, granola, nuts and seeds and layer them however you like. Place in the fridge and you have a ready-made breakfast treat.
Creativity with sandwiches
Eating a sandwich for lunch each day can get boring if you do it often. If you’re bored with your lunch options, don’t go to a drive-thru window. Instead, mix it up. There are plenty of recipes online to spice up your sandwiches and keep them interesting. Instead of adding sandwich meat, processed cheese and condiments to your sandwich, make a hummus sandwich and top it off with peppers, olives and leafy greens. For another day, try adding pesto, arugula, artichokes and organic, seasoned chicken cut into strips on toasted gluten-free bread. You can even make healthy pizza sandwiches by layering healthy pizza toppings into your sandwich and toasting it! What a lunch!
Wrap it up
If you’re still sick of sandwiches, try a different sort of bread: the wrap. You can use a variety of wraps for your lunch. There’s non-GMO corn tortillas, gluten-free pita breads, rice paper, nori sheets and many more! If you want a lower carbohydrate wrap, use leafy greens such as collard greens, romaine lettuce or cabbage to store your nutritious fillings. As with the sandwiches, you can be as creative as you like in mixing ingredients. The more variety, the more vitamins and minerals you’ll get from your lunch.
Embrace the processor
Many dips and sauces contain artificial ingredients, monosodium glutamate, high fructose corn syrup and gluten. Instead of scanning each sauce to see which one is the least processed, make one yourself. Discover recipes online to find the ingredients you’ll need and just hit pulse on your food processor. It’s that easy! Make your own marinara, salsa, hummus, pesto, mayo, ranch and honey mustard without the questionable ingredients. You’ll be eating whole foods and you won’t even need to cook!
Blend it up
If you don’t have a food processor, you can also use a high-speed blender. Blenders are so handy if you don’t have a lot of time. They’re also great tools for efficiently adding maximum nutrition into smoothies. High-speed blenders can withstand seeds, oats, leafy greens, carrots, beets and large chunks of fruit. Just add it all and pulse until smooth.
Shred your vegetables
Shredding your veggies is a creative way to eat more vegetables without having to cook. With a potato peeler or grater, make strips of carrots, summer squash, and red and green cabbage, and you’ve got a base for coleslaw. Add a whole-food homemade mayo, ranch, or some honey mustard dressing. Then just stir and refrigerate. If you want it to be sweet, use coconut cream or an organic yogurt and top it with nuts, seeds and dried fruit. You can also use a potato peeler or spiralizer to make zucchini, squash or carrot noodles. Top with pesto, hummus, marinara, or whatever you like, and let the noodles soak those juices overnight to soften them.
Plan meals ahead of time
If you are in the habit of wanting something as soon as you wake up or as soon as you come home from work, planning your meals ahead of time can help you stay on track and keep unhealthy temptations at bay. If you chart out each meal and prepare them ahead of time, you can just store them in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to eat. This works with cooked and non-cooked meals.
Prepare before you go out
If you do go out to eat, choose a place that offers high-quality food that isn’t as processed or greasy as a fast-food place. Look at the menu before you get there using apps, websites and even Facebook pages of local restaurants. If you have food allergies or are trying to avoid certain substances like artificial colors and flavors, call the restaurant and ask them if those things are in the meals you are considering. This will help you eat smarter without taking a lot of time to make a decision when you arrive.
Although you can continue to eat this way if you want to, this is meant to be a stepping stone towards better health. I know it can be difficult to learn how to cook healthy food — it’s a learning process that takes time. These techniques can at least help you to cleanse your body from processed foods while you learn new cooking skills and gain an appreciation for healthy eating. What are some of your favorite no-cook meals? Share your recipes and techniques with us below.
Nicole Manuel, CPC is a certified life coach with a degree in economics and over five years of professional writing experience. Her goal is to help others discover ways to incorporate sustainable solutions that can improve their health and well-being on a budget.