It's worth spending five minutes extra when you're preparing one meal to chop the veges for another, writes Niki Bezzant.
Americans are going crazy for something called the Instant Pot right now. It's a kind of multi-function cooker; a bit like a slow cooker on steroids. It can do the slow cooking, but can also be a pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yoghurt maker, cake baker, warmer and steriliser.
There are tons of cookbooks in the top 50 on Amazon featuring Instant Pot recipes, and websites abound with tips and tricks for making fabulous meals with no time and effort involved.
Devices like this tend to come and go; Kiwis are pretty fond of our slow cookers, despite most things cooked in them tasting vaguely similar.
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We don't love these devices because they create amazing food. We love them because they take the effort of cooking away from us. We have lives so full of other activities — work included — that, often, getting a meal on the table takes a back seat.
It's easy to resort to takeaways or less-healthy convenience foods when a meal solution isn't obvious when we step into the kitchen. So something that offers to solve this problem is appealing. But I don't think we need to spend money on appliances to help us eat better.
It may surprise you to know that, despite being a professional food writer, I own few kitchen devices. I don't have a slow cooker; I don't have a food processor; I don't even have a microwave. My minimal kitchen setup is proof you don't need a lot of fancy stuff to create good, healthy meals, and that it doesn't have to take ages, either.
I regularly cook dinner in under half an hour using my less-than-glamorous stove and oven.
There are a few healthy hacks that help me that you may find useful, too.
Cook once and upcycle
Yes, you can cook up a big dish and have it a couple of times during the week. But that can get boring, and leftovers can be casualties and end up being thrown away. I quite like deconstructing that idea, and taking just one component of a meal — roast veges, say, or grilled meat — and cooking extra of that, then setting aside the extra for use in a new dish another day, with different flavours.
So, for example, pork mince for a Chinese-style stir-fry can be cooked before you add spices, then half of it set aside and made into a ragout for pasta another night. Your pasta meal feels easier to throw together when you already have one cooked component. Alternatively, colourful roast vegetables can accompany a chicken breast one night, and be tossed in with teriyaki tofu the next.
It's much easier to assemble dinner rather than make it from scratch, right? And research has shown humans are basically lazy; we eat more vegetables, for example, if they're accessible and easy to deal with.
So it's worth spending five minutes extra when you're preparing one meal to chop the veges for another – then just pop them into the fridge so they're ready to go on a busier night. The joy of having pre-chopped onions, carrot and capsicum on hand so you can simply throw them into a pan is not to be underestimated.
Go old-school and steam
Remember the days before microwaves? Everyone used the steamer pots that came with a saucepan set to cook veges and other things. Steaming is a brilliantly fast and healthy way of cooking; try steaming potatoes for a beautifully-textured mash; or a piece of fish for perfect, moist and flaky seafood every time.
All you need — apart from the steamer itself — is a teeny bit of baking paper and a pot of water. You can add fresh herbs, ginger or garlic to infuse food with flavour. And you'll never again experience the microwave issue of food that's boiling on the edges and icy in the middle. If you don't have a steamer, you can pick them up in op shops easily, or buy a bamboo one from an Asian grocery store (they're really cheap and easy to use).
Choose convenience foods judiciously
I don't want to give the impression that I eat nothing but steamed fish and broccoli. When I get home after a long day and I'm starving, I need dinner quickly, which is where a few well-chosen frozen and otherwise-packaged foods can be life-savers that prevent unnecessary Uber Eats orders or desperation meals of peanut butter on toast.
A frozen fish fillet, for example, with a bit of fried brown rice (either pre-cooked by me or one of the excellent pre-steamed packet options) and some of my pre-chopped veges means I can be eating inside 20 minutes without having to get out a chopping board.
It's simple food, but good, especially if you tart it up with a well-chosen condiment. And it might mean you'll find yourself saying "I don't have time to cook", a little less.