Three time-saving and healthy meals to prepare
These meals are a healthier alternative to the ones you can grab when dining out.
Growing up, I have always been a picky eater and never quite liked healthy dishes. I am guilty of indulging in food that is rich in oil, salt and sugar.
I didn’t pay much attention to these eating habits until a recent health check up revealed that I have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also commonly known as “bad cholesterol”. LDL makes up most of our body’s cholesterol and high levels of it can potentially raise one’s risk for heart diseases and stroke.
It was then I realised that I should start making little changes to my diet.
I decided to take on the challenge of tweaking my favourite recipes in a bid to make them healthier, while keeping to a low-budget as best as I can.
Here are three time-saving and healthy meals that I prepared for the week:
Japanese apple salad
Two Fuji apples ($1.31)
Two stalks of celery ($1.71)
Two tablespoons of lime juice
One cup of plain yoghurt ($2.03)
A pinch of sugar
One and a half tablespoons of low-fat milk
Three tablespoons of mayonnaise
Two teaspoons of white vinegar
Total Cost: Approximately $5.05
While I am not a fan of salads, this dish contains two of my favourite fruits and vegetables – Fuji apples and celery – so I thought why not give it a try?
The salad dressing requires white vinegar, mayonnaise, low-fat milk, plain yoghurt, lime juice and sugar. The recipe that I sourced online recommended two tablespoons of sugar. This loosely translates to 25g of sugar.
But wanting the salad to be healthier and nutritious, I decided to add only a pinch of sugar.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends limiting sugar consumption to no more than 10 per cent of our daily energy intake. This is about 10 teaspoons of sugar for most adults.
It is tough to gauge the amount of sugar that goes into my salads when I get them from stalls, but tossing a salad at home allows me to tweak the recipe and limit the amount of sugar I put in it.
Within a span of 15 minutes, I was able to cut the apples and celery and whisk the rest of the ingredients to make my salad dressing. All I had to do next was to add my sliced apples and celery to the dressing and toss them together.
The verdict? Using less sugar didn’t leave me feeling disappointed.
If you are extra conscious of your intake, you can also opt for low-fat mayonnaise. However, if you are unable to find it, you can consider reducing the amount of mayonnaise that goes into your salads.
While I added three tablespoons of mayonnaise to my salad, it can be further reduced to two.
This Japanese apple salad is only 226 calories per serving and I managed to have the leftovers for two days.
Scrambled eggs on wholemeal bread
Two eggs (0.66 cents)
One tablespoon of low-fat milk
One teaspoon of ground white pepper
Two slices of wholemeal bread (0.52 cents)
Lettuce (0.20 cents)
Total Cost: Approximately $1.38
Scrambled eggs have always been my go-to breakfast on days I am home as it takes me no more than five minutes to whip them up. I usually use a lot of butter to make my scrambled eggs creamy, but I soon learnt that it contains high sources of saturated fats that can potentially increase my LDL cholesterol.
In an attempt to adopt healthier cooking methods, I ditched the butter that I often use to make my scrambled eggs. Instead, I used only low fat milk and ground white pepper and whisked them together with the eggs before pouring it into a pan.
HPB suggests healthier eating habits through its visual guide called “My Healthy Plate”. The visual allows one to remember the right portions of each food group in a well balanced meal – Fill a quarter of your plate with wholegrains, another quarter of your plate with good sources of protein and half your plate with fruit and vegetables.
I tried my hand at coming up with my own “My Healthy Plate” portion at home, where I added a Fuji apple to my breakfast plate. A quarter of my plate had wholemeal bread with lettuce, the other quarter had a good source of protein and half of my plate had fruits.
However, one should note that it is not a hard-and-fast rule to include a fruit to your healthy plate for breakfast — Half your plate can still be substituted with vegetables.
Having wholemeal bread can keep you full for a longer period of time as it is filled with minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, phytochemicals and dietary fibre.
The scrambled eggs tasted not far from those that I used to make using butter. Those who are not a fan of egg yolks can also make their scrambled eggs healthier by using just egg whites.
HPB also advises individuals to consume no more than four egg yolks per week as it contains high levels of cholesterol.
Pesto chicken and broccoli pasta
One chicken breast ($2.60)
One broccoli floret ($1.30)
Two tablespoons of olive oil
One cup of light cream ($1.27)
Two tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
A pinch of salt
One cup of al dente pasta ($1.08)
Two cloves of garlic minced (0.099 cents)
Half onion minced (0.29 cents)
A pinch of pepper to taste
A quarter cup of Pesto (0.60 cents)
Total Cost: Approximately $7.20
Broccoli is one of the few vegetables that I enjoy as it is delicious when steamed.
As such, I decided to add it to my lunch time meal — Pesto chicken pasta. The meal comes together in no more than 30 minutes using the ingredients listed above.
I also opted for extra virgin olive oil to make my pasta more flavourful. Additionally, olive oil is a healthier alternative as opposed to sunflower oil.
Then, I stir-fried my chicken breast with garlic and onions using olive oil before adding the al dente spaghetti and other ingredients to the pan.
I also adhered to a simple rule when making my pasta: I only added a pinch of salt to it.
I have had carbonara pasta on multiple occasions when I dined out and every single time, I felt that the sauce was a tad bit overwhelming for me. Just a couple of bites in and I would be full. That is probably because I was unaware of how much cream, salt, or cheese was present in my pasta — something I have no control over.
Now that I have done something similar for lunch at home, I noticed how tasty my pasta was even though I had significantly reduced the amount of salt and oil and cheese that went to my dish. The recommended daily limit is only 1 teaspoon of salt, and mine did not exceed that.
To make the dish more nutritious, one can also consider substituting regular pasta with whole-grain ones as it is rich in fibre.
Contrary to popular belief, light cream is also not a healthier alternative to heavy cream as it still has a high milk fat content which isn’t ideal for someone who is trying to restrict their fat intake. Instead, you can opt for a plain pesto pasta without the parmesan cheese or light cream.
Overall, tweaking all three recipes to turn them into healthier meals made me realise that my dishes still taste the same and I can have them without feeling guilty or exceeding my daily recommended limits.
While there certainly is room for improvement, cooking these meals first-hand has made me believe that I am now a step closer to having healthier meals on a regular basis.
These meals are affordable, easy to prepare and have high nutritional value. I’m excited to try out more of such recipes to dine at home or even pack to go.