Director of Nutrition and Dietary Services at Nutrisystem
I happened to review the meal plan recently with a new member and was intrigued when he stated that he was still going to fast food restaurants three times a day to supplement the Nutrisystem entrees. He made separate trips to get a scrambled egg to add to breakfast, a sliced apple for an afternoon snack, and a green salad to have with dinner. Likely it was a social thing for him, as he lived alone and was in his 70’s. But his fast food lifestyle probably was a contributing factor in his weight gain, when he was not making such healthy selections as he is now.
Most of us are looking for economical ways to put together fast meals for ourselves and our family. After a long day at work we are tired and stressed, and don’t feel like spending much time in food preparation. The drive-thru is an easy answer, but what are the long-term effects of this short-term solution? Yes, there are a few healthy choices but overall the calorie, fat and sodium content of these menus is higher than recommended for good nutrition.
With a little planning and a few basic cooking skills, I feel that we can avoid the fast food trap and instead have a healthy, low calorie meal on the table in only a few additional minutes. (The Nutrisystem entrees, of course, make this easy.) Certain quick-cooking methods retain nutrients, flavor and texture while limiting the amount of added fat and calories. Learn to master these essential techniques:
1. Steaming: Suspend vegetables over simmering water in a steamer basket to retain water-soluble vitamins, rather than boiling them submerged. Limit cooking time to retain more color. Or steam in the microwave which reduces cooking time. (Most fast food restaurants have few vegetables on the menu, unless you consider French fries.)
2. Broiling or pan-grilling: The goal is to eliminate fried foods to reduce calories and trans fat. Thinner cuts of meat, poultry and fish cook quickly. Season with spices and herb blends instead of salt.
3. Stir-frying: Use a non-stick pan or just enough oil to lightly coat the pan and stir constantly to keep food from sticking. Combine a colorful blend of evenly-sized vegetables; shrimp, chicken strips or tofu can be added for a protein source.
On weekends when you have more time, try cooking dried beans or a few servings of brown or wild rice and freeze small portions.
Save money and calories with a few basic cooking techniques, and the drive-thru need not be on your route home.