The Time-saving Vegetables Rule

4 Rules to reduce the time spent on healthy meal preparation, with no "take-away" or "ready meals" shortcuts!

The vegetable rule

 

Have you ever calculated how much time you spend to plan, organize and prepare 3 meals per day? It can really add up, especially if you have a family.
And if you are not one of the lucky ones that can benefit from a good school canteen you don’t even get the “school break”.
So what are the alternatives?

• Take-away?
It can work every once in a while but they are not really a healthy solution. Restaurant meals can be very rich and heavy, not suitable for the everyday consumption.

• Prepared meals?
Do you remember the scandal of horse meat in frozen food? Horse meat is at least horse meat, but who knows what else is hiding behind the labels. Also the amount of meat or fish in the portions is usually quite small to save on costs, limiting the amount of proteins intake vs carbs and fats.

• Planned weekly menus?
It seems to me that a planned weekly menu adds to the workload. Yes you will save on going back and forth to the Supermarket, but you will have the inconvenience of sitting down with your family to plan the menus, negotiating with the children, then writing down the ingredients ... just to discover that when you are at the supermarket several ingredients are actually not available!

So how can you still have a life while ensuring your family is properly feed?

Most importantly, I try to be organised and make a complete shopping list of all the products I need to buy for the week (see post on Apps), allowing me to make just 1 trip per week to the Supermarket.

However, once at the Supermarket, I apply the Vegetable Rule: rather than going with a fixed list of vegetables, I buy the vegetables according to what looks fresh and most appealing. I also make sure I buy some vegetables that will last until the end of the week.

 

Then, I follow 4 simple steps:

1. Organize the food supply
2. Eat what is in season, reduce waste and be creative
3. Use the right tools at the right time and optimize (wo)man-hours
4. And last but not least: “This is not a restaurant!”

The vegetable rule

1. Organize the food supply

Once I am back from my weekly Supermarket shopping I immediately store the food accordingly.

For a balanced meal you need proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits, and if they are stored as indicated in the chart, they will not lose their flavour and nutritional benefits.

  • Freezer: Proteins
  • Cupboard: Carbs
  • Fresh: Fruits and Vegetables

 

While I can store proteins and carbs supplies for weeks and months, I cannot with fruits and vegetables, so when they run out I have to go shopping. The vegetable rules!

This is why it is so important to buy fruits and vegetables that are fresh and will last as long as possible. Not so much with meat, fish, eggs, cheese and carbs, as they can be stored in the cupboard or freezer and used anytime.

For the first 3 to 4 days I use the fresh vegetables, while for the last 3 days of the week I plan meals with vegetables that are long lasting like carrots and cabbages.

I also use preserved vegetables (e. g. tomato sauce can make a great lasagna), vegetables growing in the garden, or frozen friendly vegetables like peas or spinach. I plan to write plenty of posts in this blog to give ideas, tips and methodologies on how to store vegetables to last longer.

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2. Eat what is in season, reduce waste and be creative

To apply the Vegetable Rule with perfection I buy seasonal ingredients. Not only will they last longer in the fridge, they will also have more flavour and be more reasonably priced. When vegetables are out of season they usually come from far away countries, so their costs are inflated by the cost of transportation.

Also, as fruits and vegetables have to stay fresh for the entire time of delivery, they will be harvested before reaching their maturity; and if they do not mature under the sun, they will lose their flavour and some of their nutritional benefits.

Even worse, if the supermarket is selling "out of season fruits and vegetables" at a reasonable price: be wary! They are probably grown in glass houses and are completely tasteless and full of growth hormones.

I look in my fridge before planning the meal for the day, as my fridge is full of vegetables from my weekly shopping. I check which vegetables are mature and use them before they go bad. I keep for later in the week the vegetables that are long lasting like cabbages or carrots. Keeping an eye on my vegatebles each day helps reduce waste and has a positive impact on my weekly family vegetables intake.

I am creative with the ingredients I have in the kitchen, and will write lots of recipes and ideas in this blog.

Baked Salmon with steamed zucchini and potatoes_1_1
3. Use the right tools at the right time and optimize (wo)man-hours

Using the right tools at the right time really optimizes my cooking time while improving food flavour, a win-win for all!

The microwave for example is a great time saver and perfect for low calorie meals. Courgettes, broccoli, carrots and cauliflowers can be steamed in the microwave with a tbsp of olive oil, salt and a tbsp of water. It only takes 5 minutes, they remain crunchy and I don’t have any pots to wash afterward.

Potatoes are the big winner in microwave cooking. No pealing, I just pierce them with a knife and cover them with kitchen paper, they are ready in 5 to 8 minutes depending on size.

If I have filets of salmon to broil in the oven with salt and pepper, I can make a healthy low calories meal in 15 minutes, vegetables preparation included. Much healthier than any takeaway, and they have more flavour than any ready meal.

Baked salmon with steamed zucchini and potatoes (384 Cal per portion)

The pressure pan is another big time saver; it reduces my cooking time to 1/3, and the flavour of the meal is all captured inside.

I can have a Bolognese sauce done in 30 minutes and with that I make lasagna with an additional 30 minutes. I make stocks and cook legumes in 30 minutes, maintaining a wonderful flavour and developing a creamy texture.

These are only some ideas, I have lots more to share with you.

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4. And last but not least: “This is not a restaurant!”

I try to Keep it simple and make the same balanced meal for everyone, changing every day. I do not prepare a different meal for every picky taste.

One day I make a favourite meal for one member of the family, the next day for a different member of the family, and so on.

French and Italian children are often healthier eaters because they are exposed to healthy food at home and school every day, on a regular basis.

Children need time to build their taste, and they will eventually do so if they continually try different foods. It works with mine.

Even if they don’t like something that is served that day, they have the option of "one bite only" plus a “bland” alternative like ham.

A small bite each time builds their taste range for the long run.

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