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Published: Friday April 12, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday April 25, 2013 MYT 11:45:50 PM

Balancing meals and work

IN THE prehistoric age, cavemen hunted as their women stayed back to cook and carry out other ‘cavehold’ chores. In this millennium, however, many women have office jobs.

In a marriage where both spouses work, they do not have time to cook proper meals due to long hours working and commuting.

So these couples eat out and sometimes skip meals, resulting in an imbalanced diet, which can lead to illness.

Which meal is most important?

The adage “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” is as simple as it is famous. We know it, but it is easier said than done.

Breakfast is the most important meal to start our day but many of us are guilty of skipping it, whilst others opt to buy nasi lemak bungkus or fried noodles near our homes or places of work.

In the morning, fresh from sleep, our bodies need to get started with water, fruits, proteins and simple carbohydrates.

Filling our body with nutritious food is the key to good health.

For example, a healthy breakfast may consist of water, fruits, juices, soymilk or milk for calcium, cornflakes, half-boiled or hard-boiled eggs, leafy vegetables, nuts and sunflower seeds.

Alternate choices are sandwiches of eggs, chicken or tuna, with lettuce, cucumber, tomato slices, onion and a touch of mayonnaise.

Our family friend, Datuk Lam, a multi-millionaire, has been eating one papaya and several boiled sweet potatoes every morning for the past 40 years.

Now, at age 81, he walks faster than I can and tends to his fruit orchards five days a week. He attributes his excellent health to proper nutrition.

Of course, we can occasionally indulge in street food like roti canai and teh tarik or a full American breakfast.

But on a daily basis, it is healthy and cost-saving to pack our own meals to work.

Unhygienic food outlets

Surprisingly, few people pay attention to the cleanliness of food outlets and the personal hygiene of food handlers and nutrition.

Some people favour air-conditioned restaurants and cafes as they are more comfortable and appear cleaner.

But that is not cost-effective — a drink and a slice of cake or a plate of spaghetti can cost around RM30 per person.

A salaried couple spending about RM60 on a simple lunch for the comforts of air-conditioning on a daily basis is rather costly.

Alternatively, with just a little effort, couples can prepare food the night before. They can opt for a vegetable or fruit salad with olive oil for lunch or even carrot, boiled sweet potato, corn and a banana.

Again, the occasional outing to indulge in something delicious is acceptable.

It is understandable that couples will be tired after work, arriving home only at 7pm at the earliest. Many couples resort to catering or dining out.

But after sometime, they will run out of places to eat and the novelty of dining in varied restaurants will lose its appeal.

Compounding their problem is the fact that food served in restaurants is oily and laden with MSG. Also, it’s an unfortunate price to pay for not-so-local-tasting local dishes that are these days prepared by foreign workers.

Quick meals

To overcome this problem, I suggest preparing dinner in the morning or the night before, using a slow cooker.

A few examples of preparing quick meals for four persons —

• Stew two chicken thighs/beef ribs, with potatoes, carrots, onions and lentils. If you wish, cut some broccoli and spread it over the stew for additional flavor and nutrition. Put all the above and some water, spices and sauces into a slow cooker in the morning and a delicious dish of stew will be ready by evening. It costs less than RM20.

• Over the weekend, marinate for a few hours and roast two or three whole chickens (they each cost RM10) and then freeze them. When thawed, they can be served anytime as cold meats (in sandwiches or with salads) or heated up in an oven for a hot meal.

• Mix meat and rice in slow cooker — toss in your meats of choice, sausages, dried oysters, carrots, mushrooms and potatoes (RM10–15 per pot).

• Fish porridge in slow cooker — a sliced promfret, ginger, dried scallops, dried oysters and ginger (RM25 per pot).

• Chicken fillet, beef, lamb porridge, with dried cuttlefish, salted egg yolk, ginger and soaked peanuts. Serve with spring onion and Chinese parsley (RM12 per pot).

• Soups — with miso paste (RM25 for 1 kg), you only need one tablespoon for a large bowl of soup. Toss in chopped spring onion, two mashed eggs, seaweed and a pack of Japanese tofu (total RM3) — bring to boil. It takes just 10 minutes to prepare.

• Vegetable soup with anchovies. Without meat, this costs about RM5 per pot.

• A vegetable dish (RM5), immersed briefly in boiling water, topped with several dollops of olive oil and oyster sauce can make a quick snack. This can do with or without a topping of chicken fillet that’s boiled or grilled.

• Rice (RM3). Steam just enough for four as steaming is more aromatic and tender than having it cooked the conventional way.

• Four cuts of steak (beef or lamb). Marinate with salt, black pepper, cloves of garlic and herb such as rosemary or parsley (RM30 for four cuts of meat).

Expand the menu as you go along. Always pay attention to variety and a balanced diet by having combinations of dishes as desired.

I reckon that a working couple with two children will save at least RM1,000 every month while enjoying better health following this programme. That does not include petrol and parking fees. With the savings, they can reward themselves with a holiday every six months or buy gifts every now and then.

I recommend investing in reliable cooking equipment like the slow cooker (RM100), oven (RM1,000), turbo oven (RM300), electric air fryer (RM1,000), induction cooker (RM300), juicer (RM1,000), grill pan (RM150) and ozoniser (RM500) for washing raw foods and meats.

With some planning and simple cooking, dining at home will save us time and money. Plus it offers better nutrition for working couples and their children. Plus, it’s a luxury to eat in the comfort of our own homes and dress casually.

As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

And by the way, cleaning the crockery is easy as my recommended menu is not oily. Enjoy these quick meals!

n Chermaine Poo, winner of The Emerging Entrepreneur Women of The Year, is a chartered accountant turned actress, TV host and professional emcee who helps organisations and individuals in formulating financial decisions. Join her at www.facebook.com/ChermainePoo and www.twitter.com/ChermainePoo.

Tags / Keywords: Community, News, Lifestyle, Mind Your Money, Eating Healthy to save money, Chermaine Poo

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