If you’re one of the many people who have resolved to eat healthfully in 2016, you may be craving some naughty takeout food right about now. Eating healthfully can feel like a lot of work, since cooking at home — where you can control the ingredients that go into your meals — is one of the best ways to ensure you’re staying on track. And it can seem pricey when you’re cooking for just one person, because whole, fresh foods can be more expensive than their less-healthy processed counterparts.
But it doesn’t have to be so hard or expensive. Here are three simple, inexpensive and fun ways to help make healthful eating easy in the new year.
Doctor up canned foods
Many healthy foods come in cans — tuna, beans and vegetables, to name some of the most popular. Unfortunately, canned food is sometimes unappealing because of the acidic funk and/or metallic off-taste it can take on. Fortunately, it’s easy to get rid of that. Here’s how:
1. Drain. Canned foods that come packed in liquid should almost always be drained. (One notable exception: fish packed in olive oil, since the oil is often flavorful and keeps the fish moist.) There are a few reasons for this: First, the liquid is often loaded with sodium and preservatives. Second, it tastes terrible. Have you ever accidentally swallowed a little tuna water or bean liquid? It’s basically a dishwater and metal waste cocktail. Get rid of it.
2. Rinse. If you’re working with beans or vegetables, it’s usually necessary to rinse them in addition to draining. Get all that nasty liquid off.
3. Add fresh flavor. The easiest way to make non-fresh foods taste fresh is to add fresh foods to them. I use a splash of fresh lemon juice, some minced fresh garlic and fresh chopped herbs. Suddenly your beans, fish or vegetable is alive, awake and ready to party. (Here’s the recipe for the Italian tuna salad, pictured above.)
Split a CSA box with a friend or two
A great way to try new vegetables while supporting the local economy is to participate in a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box delivery program, but it can be daunting for one person. Many boxes cost $30 to $50 per week and usually contain produce and, occasionally, eggs. If you also have to shop for meat, dairy and other goods, that can add up to a steep weekly grocery bill. In addition, the boxes typically come with more produce than one person, or even two people, can eat. The solution is simple: Split your weekly CSA box with a friend or two, preferably someone you live near.
When the CSA is delivered, meet your produce box buddy with canvas bags and divvy it up to your liking. To find a CSA in your area, check out Local Harvest.
Cook chicken breasts that actually taste good
With almost no fat and a ton of protein, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the ultimate lean protein (not to mention an affordable one, too). But when it comes to taste, delicious, juicy chicken breasts can be hard to come by, because their lack of fat means they can dry out very easily while cooking.
While I prefer chicken legs for roasting, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be good when cooked correctly. Follow these steps:
1. Pound the chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap to make the breasts the same thickness throughout.
Chicken breasts are inconveniently shaped, in that they are very thick at the top and then taper to a thin point. This makes it challenging to cook the thick part all the way through without completely drying out the thin part. To handle this, use a meat cleaver (or even a jar or bottle) to pound the meat out so it’s all about the same thickness.
2. Season well.
Salt and pepper, at the very least. Chicken breasts don’t have a ton of flavor, so you have to build it. My preference is generally salt, pepper and fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil. Red chili flakes are excellent too, if you like spice.
3. Cook over direct heat at first.
Sear the chicken, either in a little oil in a hot pan or on the grill over direct heat. Cook for a minute or two without disturbing (this will help the meat form a crust).
4. Move to indirect heat (or lower the flame).
If you are pan-frying, lower the heat and cover the pan or move the (oven-safe) pan into the oven (at 375 degrees). If you’re grilling, move the chicken to the outer (less-hot) part of the grill. Let cook for 7 to 8 minutes, flipping halfway through.
5. After cooking, let the chicken rest before cutting into it.
You want to retain all the meat’s juices, and resting is a critical part of this. Let it sit for about 2 to 3 minutes, then slice and serve.
How are you eating healthfully in 2016? Let me know in the comments!