How to eat well when you can’t be bothered

When we’re busy or stressed, healthy eating often slips to the bottom of the list. As a busy year draws to a close, we asked some experts for their advice on eating well when you cannot be bothered.

It has been a big year. Food prices keep inching up, and as we creep towards Christmas, many people may be losing the will to cook. It can seem impossible to make a healthy-ish meal when your energy is at an all-time low and Uber Eats is calling, but there are a few ways you can set yourself up to keep eating well.

Mafi Funaki-TahifoteAs a registered dietitian and one of the heads of MAS Foundation, Mafi Funaki-Tahifote knows healthy eating often slips to the bottom of the list when we are busy.

“It’s a great idea to adopt healthy eating habits when we’re not too busy so that it becomes a habit and we don’t have to really think about it when the pressure is on. Eating healthily just becomes a part of our day-to-day life,” she says.

Tips from a dietitian

Mafi has a few practical tips for setting yourself up to eat well.

“You should have some breakfast within two hours of waking up to kickstart your metabolism. Something is better than nothing – a slice of toast, a piece of fruit or a glass of milk can be a start.”

Vegetables are also key, and Mafi suggests filling half your plate with colourful vegetables and building a meal from there. While “fresh is best”, especially with summer produce becoming more readily available, frozen and canned vegetables are just as healthy. She recommends basing your snacks around fruit and vegetables too.

Freeze, batch-cook and outsource

When you do have the energy to cook, make the most of it and cook a bit extra to see you through the next few days. It’s also smart to get friendly with your freezer. Try batch-cooking meals that freeze well like soups or lasagne or making pasta sauce and freezing portions that can be quickly defrosted for a near-instant meal.

With food prices continuing to rise, bulking out meals with extra vegetables, beans or legumes can help cut down costs and make meals go further – think tinned lentils in curries, frozen spinach in sauces and tinned chickpeas in pastas.

Meal delivery kits are an increasingly popular way of outsourcing the mental energy that it takes to come up with healthy meals. These are likely to save you time but may cost more than buying the ingredients and preparing it yourself, Mafi says.

Go-to meals from busy chefs

We asked a few of our favourite Kiwi chefs to share their top meals to cook when they are short on time but still want to make something that is big on flavour.

Alexandra Tylee Owner and Chef of Pipi Cafe and Truck

Alexandra Tylee is the owner and chef of Pipi Café and Truck in Havelock North, a mother of four and the author of three cookbooks. It is no wonder she says she is “always in a hurry when I am cooking, rushing to get a meal for my sons before I race back to our restaurant.”

“I love steamed vegetables – they are very quick to cook and taste delicious with some salt and pepper and olive oil. So often my sons will get a bowl of these – sometimes with a sausage and sometimes not.

“If I am going to be home for a while, I sometimes just layer whatever vegetables I have in the fridge in a roasting dish with olive oil, salt and pepper and some water (or you could use chicken stock and skip the salt). Then I cover and put them in a slow oven until they all sort of melt together and caramelise. This would also be great as a side dish for an egg, a chop or a bowl of rice,” says Alexandra.

Sarah Bullock husband and three sons outside The Larder

Sarah Bullock, who owns Wellington institution The Larder and bakery and café Myrtle with husband Jacob Brown, believes “if you have a tub of pesto in the fridge, you have dinner”. The busy mother of three teenage boys says, “If I need to do something really quick, I throw pesto over pasta. Often I add some cooked chicken, baby spinach, pine nuts, lemon and a touch of chilli.” Pesto also freezes well – portion it out before you store in the freezer to ensure there is no waste.

Jackson Mehlhopt Head chef at Tussock Hill Cellar Door Restaurant

Jackson Mehlhopt, head chef at Tussock Hill Cellar Door Restaurant in Christchurch, is a big fan of fresh fish in summer. “I love cooking a whole flounder, either cooked over the barbecue outside or roasted in the oven,” he says.

“I top the fish with some fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon. If you add some fresh salads and a loaf of bread, you're onto a winner. For me, summer is all about being social and eating a meal with friends and family. This healthy, easy and time-saving meal should do the trick.”