By LAVINIA RODRIGUEZ
Special to the Times
Many people complain that they can't eat well because they don't have time to cook.
Most of us know that eating at fast-food establishments isn't a healthy habit. But did you know that eating well does not have to take much time? There are fast ways to get what the body needs while respecting weight-management goals.
Cooking vitamin- and mineral-rich foods from scratch every day will guarantee quality intake, but there are faster ways to get there.
• When you cook, always prepare extra food that can be frozen in individual containers. These meals can be easily heated in a microwave at work, when returning home too tired to cook, or in any other situation where time is limited.
• Buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts that come individually frozen. Microwave several at a time. Put the cooked chicken breasts in individual containers. Add frozen vegetables of your choice (still frozen) to the serving dish and freeze. Microwave the frozen meal for approximately five minutes, and you've got your own "TV dinner,'' at lower cost and better nutrition.
• Create nutritious meals that require no cooking. For example, you can take your plate and fill it with raw veggies such as carrots, celery, tomatoes or zucchini. Add some fresh fruit, whole-grain crackers or whole-grain bread, a couple of slices of cheese or a yogurt, some slices of high-quality lunch meat and you've included all the major food groups. You can even add some nuts. There's no cooking required, but you'll still get lots of vitamins and minerals.
• It's perfectly acceptable periodically to eat cereal as your lunch or dinner as long as it's a highly nutritious cereal. Add fresh fruit or nuts for even more nutrition.
• Make a "perpetual salad." In a large bowl, mix bagged, prewashed lettuce and spinach (prepared greens are more expensive initially, but if you tend to let heads of lettuce go bad in the fridge, they're a bargain for you). Add whatever you have in the house that would make an interesting salad, such as seeds, peppers, pasta, onions, fruit, raisins, beans, nuts, eggs and squash. It becomes a perpetual salad when you keep adding more nutritious foods as you consume it. When adding fresh ingredients, just make sure that the newest additions are on the bottom so that the salad stays fresh.
• When you must grab a fast meal at a restaurant, don't rely on the same old places. Sure, you can get salads at burger joints, but you might feel deprived if you have to forgo an old favorite. Try restaurants like Panera, Boston Market and Sweet Tomatoes for fast, nutrition-packed meals.
If you put your mind to it, you can come up with your own ideas for eating well with little cooking. It's just a matter of wanting to find solutions.
It's easy to think in a negative, self-defeating way, but negativity destroys creativity and prevents problem-solving. When a person says, "I can't," the brain will go no further in trying to find a way around any obstacles.
So, instead of thinking, "I can't eat well because I have no time," think, "How can I eat better despite my busy schedule?" Don't seek perfection. Instead, look for improvement.
In real life, it's better to think, "Practice makes better," rather than, "Practice makes perfect."
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or drrod@ fatmatters.com. Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.