Time is money, and in today’s world, so is your health. With more and more hours of work each week on top of soccer games, dance recitals and just keeping up with everyday household chores, healthful food choices and well-balanced meals are difficult to achieve. With the right tools, even the busiest person can eat low-calorie meals without the need for extra hours in the day.
Your microwave may just be the most valuable player on your team of essentials for providing quick, healthful meals. For breakfast – mix up two eggs, four thin slices of deli turkey torn into bite-sized pieces, 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat shredded cheese and frozen diced green peppers and onions in a small microwave-safe container. Microwave in 30-second intervals until the eggs are cooked all the way through for a 250-calorie high-protein breakfast. When lunch time rolls around, use the office microwave to heat up a steamable bag of minute brown rice and a steamable bag of broccoli. Toss half of the bag of brown rice with half the bag of broccoli and one pouch of salmon packed in water. Drizzle 2 tablespoons light sesame-ginger dressing over the top for a lunch of 415 calories. After work put a medium-sized sweet potato in a zip-top plastic sandwich bag, and poke holes in the potato with a fork through the bag. Seal the bag and zap it in the microwave for five minutes or until the potato feels soft. Cut the potato open and fill it with one-half cup black beans from a can, 2 tablespoons reduced-fat shredded cheese, salsa and light sour cream. Serve a side salad from a bag with 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat dressing for an easy 455-calorie dinner.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, leftovers are indispensable to low-calorie eating for busy people. When you do have time to cook, make double the amount you would normally prepare and save the leftovers for another meal later in the week. You could also freeze leftovers from some meals like soups or casseroles and eat them over a three-month time period. An example of a perfect leftover meal is 2 ounces leftover grilled chicken breast chopped up and wrapped in a low-calorie whole-grain tortilla with lettuce, tomato, 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat shredded cheese and 1 tablespoon of barbecue sauce with one serving of baked chips and raw baby carrots with 2 tablespoons of reduced-fat ranch dip -- a 435-calorie meal.
Perhaps the most precious small appliance you can own is a slow-cooker. Combine steel-cut oats, water, dried fruit and low-fat milk in your slow-cooker for a warming, low-calorie breakfast ready for the whole family when you wake up. Rinse out the pot and toss in a bottom-round roast with baby carrots, fingerling potatoes, frozen chopped onions, a little salt and pepper, minced garlic, a couple bay leaves and water for dinner ready and waiting as soon as you walk back in the door at night. If you don’t want leftover roast for dinner all week, freeze the leftover meat for two to six months.
Although fresh is best, sometimes life calls for the use of frozen meals. A study published in "Obesity Research" found the use of pre-portioned entrees combined with fresh fruits and vegetables to be helpful with weight loss. The key is choosing products with appropriate portion sizes, lots of veggies and the least amount of preservatives like sodium and trans fats. Aim for meals that have less than 500 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat and 600 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Other Useful Tools
Blenders work well to whip up a fruit and yogurt smoothie for a quick breakfast – use Greek yogurt for the extra protein to give lasting energy through the morning. Tap in to Mother Nature’s very own convenience items like fresh fruit and nuts for a combination of healthy carbohydrate and protein to make up a low-calorie mini-meal. Finally, when you do have a few spare moments, prep ahead. Taking some time to chop up fresh vegetables and pre-make salads, or making up sandwiches for the week on your day off makes healthful eating during the busy days less stressful.
- FoodSafety.gov: Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer
- Obesity Research: Use of Portion-Controlled Entrees Enhances Weight Loss in Women.
- Obesity: One-Year Weight Losses in the Look AHEAD Study: Factors Associated with Success
- American Diabetes Association: On-The-Go: A Guide to Frozen Meals
Ashley Ritzo is a registered/licensed dietitian with a B.S. in dietetics from the University of Missouri. She also holds a certificate of training in adult weight management from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ritzo has worked in inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, with community organizations and as a health and wellness coach.