Tips to help make cooking at home a simpler task

Cooking at home is the best way to ensure that you and your family are eating healthily. — LOW LAY PHON/The Star

Healthy nutrition is the key to building a happy and healthy family.

One way to be in charge of your nutrition and health is by cooking at home.

Apart from honing your cooking skills, it enables you to have full control over what you and your family eat.

Plus, when you plan it well, cooking at home is actually cheaper than eating out!

It is not all that hard or as time-consuming as you may think. Here are some tips to help you out:

> Plan your weekly menu ahead of time

Planning your menu ensures variety in your meals and avoids repetitive dishes on consecutive days.

It also helps you to keep track of what ingredients you have and to plan your weekly grocery trips.

Not only will you be able to plan within your budget, but you will also never run out of ingredients for cooking again!

Here is how you can start: Plan for three main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and snacks between meals for each day.

Be sure to refer to the Malaysian Food Pyramid to ensure that you and your family get your recommended daily servings for each of the the five food groups.

Do slot in everyone's favourite dishes, especially the kids', in the weekly menu and come up with a special menu for weekends.

> Shop smart for groceries

Having a shopping list helps you save both time and money.

You will be less distracted from unnecessary items with a list in hand.

It also helps if you are already familiar with the layout of the store or supermarket and know exactly where to get certain items.

It is also important to read the labels on food packaging and check both the list of ingredients and nutrition information of the products.

Use this information to compare with similar products to choose the best one.

Also, try to go early to the market to get the freshest and best quality produce – you can also avoid the crowds and finish faster.

Do not overstock too much, if at all.

Plan how much you want to buy based on your budget, storage space and estimated household consumption.

Stock up on enough food items until the next planned grocery run.

Making a grocery list based on your planned weekly menu will help you control your budget. — FilepicMaking a grocery list based on your planned weekly menu will help you control your budget. — Filepic

> Meal prep time-saving tips

Ingredient preparation usually takes up a significant amount of time when cooking.

To save time, you can pre-chop onions, ginger, garlic and other basic ingredients, and store them in airtight plastic containers in the fridge.

You can also cut or peel vegetables in advance and store them in the same way.

For poultry, meat and fish, allocate the portion for every meal and store them separately in the freezer for easier thawing.

You can also get pre-cut ones in the market.

Get your partner and kids to help with the food preparation and cleaning up – this is a good way for family bonding too!

> Be a smart chef

Make wise picks when planning your weekly menu.

Choose recipes that you can handle with the time you have.

Weekdays are more suited for quick and convenient recipes such as one-pot meals that contain a balance of grains, meat, beans and veggies.

You can try more complicated and time-consuming recipes on the weekends.

Reduce deep-frying and other cooking methods that use a lot of oil.

Experiment with different ways of healthier cooking methods, so your family will eagerly await every wholesome meal prepared. These include:

  • Baking

    Uses little to no oil.

    You can bake with an oven or air-fryer, but be sure to include veggies, spices and natural seasoning.

  • Steaming

    Seals in nutrients and flavours.

    You can quickly steam a bowl of chicken in your rice cooker.

  • Stewing

    Great for tougher cuts of meat and veggies.

    The long cooking time helps to soften them, making them easier to eat.

  • Soup

    Excellent for boosting one’s water and mineral intake.

    Add veggies and beans for a simple soup that can be taken with rice or noodles.

  • Stir-frying

    Uses less oil and is a great way to quickly cook veggies while minimising nutrient loss.

  • Grilling

    Seals in flavours and reduces excess fat.

    Grill meat or veggies directly, or use aluminium foil, baking paper or banana leaves to help seal in the flavour.

Sauces and seasonings are convenient, but may contain high amount of salt, sugar and oil.

Go natural instead to enhance the flavour of your food by using:

  • Herbs and spices e.g. cinnamon, lemon grass, coriander leaves, kaffir leaves, turmeric, ginger, black pepper
  • Fruits e.g. lime, lemon, orange, asam jawa
  • Low-fat milk or yoghurt to replace full cream milk or coconut milk in recipes.
  • Your own stock by preparing your own chicken, beef or vegetable stocks ahead of time, but go easy on salt, sugar and oil.
You can also utilise the extra time on weekends to cook extra portions that are sufficient for several meals.

Freeze the cooked food in batches for easy thawing throughout the week.

For parents, you can try presenting food in a creative way using fruits and vegetables with different colours and shapes to stimulate your child’s appetite.

Home-cooked meals should be the mainstay of good nutrition.

As parents, you are responsible for your family’s health and happiness, and as individuals, you are in charge of your own well-being and future.

Investing your time, money and effort to cook more often at home is the key to securing all that.

Ng Kar Foo and Lee Zheng Yii are members of the Malaysian Dietitians’ Association (MDA). This article is contributed by Nutrition Month Malaysia (NMM) 2020, an annual community nutrition education initiative jointly organised by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, MDA and the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity. NMM’s first Virtual Nutrition Fair is currently on now until Dec 14. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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