8 Healthy Meal Hacks to Steal from Dietitians
I love a nutritious meal, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m all about the shortcuts that make healthy cooking easy and fast! I was curious about what hacks my dietitian colleagues use in the kitchen, so I asked them for their best:
- Turn your rice cooker into a workhorse. “Like steel-cut oatmeal, but don't like waiting 40 minutes?” asks Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, author of The MIND Diet. “Add oats and water according to package directions, and use the porridge setting on your rice cooker. Do it at night, and you'll have perfect steel-cut oats in the morning. Rice cookers can also steam vegetables, cook fish in 15 minutes, or even slow-cook chicken or pork—just add broth and aromatics.”
- Cook extra portions. “Make extra servings of food that you can repurpose,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It.
“Tonight’s grilled salmon for dinner can become tomorrow’s salmon over salad for lunch. Or just mash the salmon along with chopped veggies, egg, spices, and breadcrumbs. Then shape into salmon patties, and you’ll have a great dish for Sunday brunch!”
- Stash prewashed veggies. “I always keep a bag of prewashed spinach in the fridge to add to breakfast wraps or muffin-tin omelets,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, owner of com. “For lunch, spinach makes a perfect bed for any protein like tuna or salmon salad—or it works as a nutrient-rich sandwich topper. And, it sautés in about a minute for a perfect add-in to any pasta dish or to bulk up a microwavable frozen entree.”
- Refrigerate extra veggies. “Chop and sauté a large batch of onions, peppers, mushrooms, and fresh spinach,” says Hope Warshaw, RD, CDE, author of Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. “Refrigerate it, and use it in a pasta sauce, on a pizza, in an omelet—or in couscous, quinoa, or other healthy grains. You’ll have a jumpstart on dinner.
- Make smoothie packs. “Save time at breakfast by making smoothie packs,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CSCS, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Fill multiple quart-size plastic bags each with a cup of leafy greens, a cup of cut-up fresh or frozen fruit, a Tablespoon of chia or flax seeds, and two Tablespoons of nuts. You can also freeze plain Greek yogurt in ice cube trays, and toss the frozen yogurt cubes in the bag. Stick the smoothie pack in the freezer, and pull one out when you want to make a quick smoothie.”
- Stock your freezer with frozen veggies. “I love to keep a few bags of frozen veggies on hand to throw together dinner in a flash,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, owner of com. “Frozen peas and any sort of frozen greens are my veggies of choices, because you can heat them up in minutes and throw them into a tortilla with a little cheese and canned beans to make a quesadilla. They also go great in an omelet. Just be careful of trying to eat frozen veggies alone because they can be slightly mushy after reheating.”
- Prep your greens. “We blend three cups of tightly packed spinach or kale with one-half cup water and then pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it,” say Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT, co- authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. “We simply drop a few spinach cubes into smoothies, soups, omelets, stir-fries, and pasta sauces—and even use the cubes as broth.”
- Freeze extra stock. “I often whip up a chicken stock to make my kids a warming chicken noodle soup,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. “Instead of letting extra stock go to waste, I freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, I place the frozen cubes into a resealable bag labeled with the date frozen, as well as a three- month use-by date. When I’m making quinoa or brown rice—or just want to punch up the flavor in dishes, I can easily defrost the chicken stock ice cube in the microwave or stovetop.”
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ. She’s a regular contributor to many publications, including ReadersDigest.com, Shape.com, FitnessMagazine.com, Dr. Oz the Good Life, Runner’s World, and more—as well as WeightWatchers.com, where she was a longtime editor. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy’s Eat List.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.