Friday, May 18, 2007

One Hour A Week To Better Health

In order to facilitate healthy eating, you’ve got to do a little prep work. This is the point where most of us give up and cave in to the path of least resistance. We think we don’t have time to wash and chop all that produce, especially when it’s so much easier and cheaper to grab a prepackaged snack and call it good. Or maybe you start out with good intentions and buy a cart full of healthy produce, only to have it turn into a science experiment at the bottom of your crisper.

Precut fruits and vegetables can be expensive, and if this is the only way you think you’ll eat them and can afford to buy them this way, then stick with that plan. But the next time you’re in the grocery store, look at how much you can save if you buy an equal amount of unprepared produce. That five pound bag of regular carrots is usually the same or less than the two pound bag of the peeled baby carrots. Yes, it takes a little longer to process, but all it really takes is one hour each week.

I do my prep on Monday afternoon, but you can do it any day or night of the week that suits your schedule. To get started, I fill a pot with water and put on 8-10 eggs. In warmer months, I’ll also boil water so I can make a pitcher of iced tea. While that’s going, I get out all of my produce, zipper bags or plastic containers, a large stainless steel bowl, a vegetable peeler, a colander, a cutting board and my favorite knife. I might even put on some music to keep me moving. And then I go to work. As the eggs are boiling and my tea is brewing, I rinse anything that needs to be cleaned and let it drain in the colander. Next I peel my carrots and cucumbers, dropping the scraps into my stainless steel bowl. Then I start chopping.

As the hour passes, it is quite a sense of accomplishment to see all those produce bags on the counter transform into a stack of containers full of healthy snacks for the week. This is your fuel, your foolproof arsenal of tools for staying on track. Hungry between meals? No problem. Just look at what you can reach in and grab. On a good week, I’ll have an assortment of carrots sticks, celery sticks, red, yellow and orange bell pepper slices, cucumber slices, cubed watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew, rinsed red or green grapes, sliced strawberries or kiwis, or maybe even a fruit salad. Plus I’ve got a pitcher of iced tea to keep me from reaching for sodas all day long, and a bowl of hard-boiled eggs, which can be used as a quick dose of protein between meals on their own, or chopped and added to tuna salad, etc. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, it’s pretty easy to use only the egg white and not the yolk once they’re hard-boiled.

As an added bonus, you now have a stockpile of healthy foods to add to your kids’ lunches, instead of having to rely on individual bags of unhealthy chips, cookies and crackers loaded with trans fat, and sugary gummy snacks.

A few common sense tips:
* It might be wise to clean out your fridge before you start.
* Chop the messiest foods (like tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, kiwi, etc.) last and you’ll have less of a mess to clean on your cutting board.
* Some people like their carrots or celery stored in water to keep them extra crisp. Some don’t. Do what works best for you.
* Once your produce is prepared, put the containers back in the crisper and you’ll save some room on your refrigerator shelves.
* Don’t have an hour? Do what you can for a half hour while dinner is cooking. You’re already in the kitchen anyway. If you have to chop produce for the meal you’re preparing, it’s no big deal to chop some more for later in the week.

Depending on the size and needs of your family, you may choose to do this process twice a week to ensure freshness of your produce. Again, experiment and see what works best for you. Once you get into a rhythm, you’ll be so glad you took a little time to make such a big impact on the health and nutrition of your family.

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