August 12, 2008

The Lazy Woman's Guide to a Healthy Diet

[By Merry]

A lot of people think eating right is a good idea. At least in theory.

Me: More vegetables, fewer cupcakes.
Them: Yeah, good idea.
Me: So, do you eat right?
Them: Hell no.

Why don't people eat food that's good for them?
I took an informal poll, i.e. stopped people in the hall at work. Typical comments ran something like this:

  • "Sure, I know I should eat veggies, but I don't have time to cook -- there's too much else to do."
  • "Yeah, I feel guilty about eating those danish pastries, but I was running late this morning and didn't have time for breakfast."
  • "What? I can't talk now; I'm late for a meeting. Don't you have some work to do?" [Note to self: for future reference, do not ask the boss to participate in an unofficial survey.]

People tend to eat junk food because it takes too much time to prepare something healthy. But does it have to take all that long?

Healthy Food for the Chronically Lazy

I have some suggestions for lazy people. Or at least for people who are short of time. I wouldn't recommend these ideas as a long-term solution, but there are ways to grab quick healthy food that you can munch while you are driving or sitting at your desk.

Kathryn, over at Limes & Lycopene, is running a series called 31 days to a Better Diet. The other day she mentioned one essential principle: make it a point to eat vegetables. Specifically, she says try to eat a vegetable with every meal. That's my goal.

By the way, I don't care what the gubbermint says. Ketchup is not a vegetable. Yes, it contains tomatoes, but it also contains enough high fructose corn syrup to choke a moderate- sized German Shepherd Dog. (In theory, anyway. This statement has not been tested. Cranky Fitness has a firm policy against animal testing, unless the test is multiple choice.)

When I first saw pre-cut vegetables, I scoffed. "What, are they going to chew the food for me as well?" But that was when I was young and stupid so healthy that I could live on fast food while pretending to study during the day, and going out on the town in the evening. I figured I could always cut my own vegetables for myself if I had to eat the dang things. Now, when it's crunch time at work I'm counting every minute. My best friends are baby carrots. (Yes, I do need to get a life, why do you ask?)

Anything that helps me to eat healthy food without taking much time is welcome. Or, I've been known to take a whole cucumber and a sharp paring knife to work with me. (Note: don't do this if you work around paranoid bosses, psychotic co-workers, or toddlers.) Any veggie that I can cut down to size while staying virtuously at my desk is a good idea.

Also, soup. Unlike most fast foods, you can generally find some kind of soup that contains more vegetables than meat.

It's easy. Speaking as the Queen of the Lazy Women, I love easy.

And if you need something more substantial but don't have the time to cook, there's always the pre-packaged healthy stuff like Amy's Kitchen. I hate the idea of frozen dinners, but even so there are nights when I come home too tired to cook any damn thing, or even to chop any damn thing. Nights like that, Amy's my bud.

Lastly, if all else fails, there's... Enrique.
Okay, so Enrique might not be his real name...
As a last resort, you could hire a hunk in trunks to stand behind your chair at work and feed you peeled grapes. Very healthy, peeled grapes. Or at least that's my story.

You can eat healthy food even if you're rushed off your feet.

These suggestions are really nothing but a short-term fix, and it's really not so much for lazy people as it is for people who are strapped for time. But even as a quick fix, it's good because if you've been living in the fast-food lane for awhile, just eating healthy damn green leafy things, even if they come pre-chopped, is going to accustom your body to eating healthy food. Which is a good thing.

The lazy way to a healthy diet isn't cheap. You know how they say you can have it fast or cheap or good? You can eat fast food or healthy vegetables. You can't have it all at the same time. And I hear Enrique's raising his rates.


  1. You are talking to the queen of lazy cooking here...
    I am trying to outgrow it, but for the longest time, I did not even use an oven.
    In my family, we had green salad with every (4/5 course) meal, before we had cheese (hi mom!).
    So, my spin on that was that salad was going to be my meal!
    I get pre washed and chopped lettuce, I chop a bunch of veggies (tomatoes, avocados, peppers, what else do you like?) add some hard boiled eggs, or some deli meat, some walnuts (hazelnuts maybe?) and voila!
    You can chop a bunch of stuff in advance and boil some eggs ahead of time. There are all sorts of ways to make great salads.
    If you have time to stop at some pastry shop to get something, then maybe you can reach into your fridge at home and get a piece of fruit instead. And consider this, oatmeal take seconds to prepare in the office microwave. You could also try yogurt or string cheese, cottage cheese...
    Seriously, there are many, many ways not to fall into the trap eating crap all the time. Time is not so much a valid excuse in my book. It takes minimum planning, and yes sometimes, you run so late you don't have time to grab anything from home... but those are the times where you also can barely manage to shower and brush your teeth. How often does it really happen?

  2. I wanna go to Alice's house for a salad!

    I agree that planning is key to having healthy food around.

    BUT I believe that people who eat badly generally do so because they LET THEMSELVES GET SO HUNGRY IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    If you skip meals because you're in a rush, then you end up craving all the bad stuff for a pick-me-up. And then the sugar peaks/crashes start, and you're on the roller-coaster and you can't get off.

    If I leave eating until I'm famished then I find it a real struggle not to opt for something that's bad for me.

    So, um, basically this is my excuse for eating more or less constantly :0)

    TA x

  3. Alice, these are great ideas. I will gladly share the Lazy Queen crown with you :)

  4. See, the major selling point of vegetables for me is that I don't have to cook them. I am a not so great cook. Now I'm not going to say that much of the time when I attempt to cook for myself I end up spending more time than I'd like to in the bathroom afterward, because that's none of your business. I'm pretty much a raw vegetarian if I'm left to fend for myself, unless fast food sounds like a good idea or there are leftovers my mom left me.

    So raw carrots? Lettuce? Spinach? Bell peppers? Hardboiled egg (which, believe it or not, I used to screw up constantly. I used to have to make two eggs, one to eat and one to cut in half to make sure the other was ready to eat). With the exception of the egg, even I can't screw any off those things up.

  5. Tokaiangel, there's a quote in Pasta Queen's memoir about waiting until she was famished before planning what she was going to eat. She said it was like waiting until she was drunk before deciding to drive. (Something like that, anyway.)

  6. My favorite lazy trick is to cook a lot.


    This past weekend, I cooked zucchini and smoked salmon, mexican soup, new-fangled farm fry, and steak/mushrooms/redpeppers. Oh, and carrots.

    Then I portioned it all off into leftover containers (along with some cut up fruit).

    I now have enough food to feed both myself and my husband lunches and dinners till Friday.

    And all I have to do is pop it in the microwave.

    Easy peasy!

  7. I do the cook a LOT ahead of time but Im also---to the dismay of many :) --- a fast fooder.

    I hit the drive thru often and just toss the grilled chicken bunS (yes plural) try and blot some of the ickygrillcrap off and eat from foil.

    I live a live of unflagging glamour.

  8. Cooking at home is something I'm working on doing more often. As a full-time employee and part-time graduate student, I usually get an entitled feeling on my drive home and stop somewhere to pick something up. Because, damnit, I'm working hard at life in general!

    Sorry excuse? Yes. When I do cook, I've found frozen veggies to be a godsend. I'd love to use fresh but they always end up rotting in my fridge.

  9. Some great ideas here!

    I don't love raw vegetables so much, but I do find that keeping some hummus around makes them a little more palatable.

    Unlike MizFit, when I'm at a fast food place I'm incapable of ordering any of the "healthier" items on the menu. If it's a burger place--I'm getting a burger, not an overpriced anemic iceberg lettuce salad. So it's best I stay away most of the time.

  10. Hmmm...

    I love to cook and yes, I am unusual I guess because I have the time to cook. But I too do not eat enough veggies as I should. Frig it! You have a good plan. Eating a veggie or fruit with every meal it a fantastic way to get in all the servings you need.

    Now all I need to do is get to the farmers market...still waiting.

  11. After a lifetime of food allergy restrictions, I'm with Dieting Ninja on cooking lots. If all I have to do is decide what to heat up (or put on a plate cold) it certainly feels lazy.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  12. The Bag Lady's idea of fast food is a little different. That's when she's already got extra carrots washed in the fridge and doesn't have to go pull them out of the garden, then wash the dirt off.

    She's curious about the dieting ninja'z new-fangled farm-fry.....what is this, please? She hopes she's not missing out on some new trend, being stuck out here on the farm.... :)

  13. The best salads I ever had were while I lived in France! Their rich soil, and love of good, healthy food really made for some wonderful stuff! The beautiful flowers were pretty nice also!!

  14. I don't mind cooking or chopping. In fact, I usually make a big ol wok of stirfry every week and get a few lunches out of it. I'm also a huge fan of soups with tons of veggies. However, I still wouldn't mind having an Enrique around...

  15. I love this idea!! Merry, you crack me up - can I come work with you?? My fave quick food is beans. yeah they give me gas but they're yummy and nutritious and easy! I also love fruit for ease. Although I must (kinda) protest Amy's frozen/canned foods. All Amy's does is purport to be ORGANIC. Which is awesome. But not necessarily healthy. For instance, Amy's products often are made out of white flour. I think Kashi's meals are little closer to healthier - although they strangely still rely a ton on the "enriched wheat flour" (because even white flour comes from wheat.) Off soapbox now. Thanks for the ideas!

  16. I posted a pic of a near-naked guy today too - we're on the same objectifying wavelength!
    I always buy pre-cut broccoli and carrots, bt a year ago, I was at my parents and my mom said, "here, try this." It was a carrot -like, a real carrot that you have to wash and cut yourself. And it tasted so good! different - sweeter and crunchier. Now I buy 'em like that. Converted!

  17. Is it wrong that I licked the screen when I saw Enrique's picture? Just wondering...

    I think most people don't eat veggies not because they don't have time, but because veggies are not a habitual part of their diet. I used to be one of those people. It doesn't take any longer to heat up some frozen veggies in the nuker than it does to sit in the drive through waiting for some teenager to hand you your order.

    When I was growing up, we had one of three vegetables at dinner: canned corn, canned green beans, or canned peas. Squash was a gourmet delicacy, and carrots only appeared if they were swimming in Beef Stew. I have since learned there is a whole world of veggies out there and I try to make it a habit to include them into my lunch and dinner.

    Making veggies a habit is like making exercise a habit - you don't know what you are missing until you've done it awhile.

  18. I grew up eating frozen peas (heated) for dinner, because I was so picky I didn't like any other veggies. But then I actually tried them, and wow, I actually like them!

    Last summer I made salads at work practically every day. Now it seems like so much more of a hassle to chop up all the stuff and make the dressing (I don't like bottled dressings).

    So what I end up doing most of the time is cook on Sunday, bring in the leftovers for lunch (this week it's american chop suey), and then bring in a vegetable I can cut up (usually red cabbage or red peppers). And the sharp knife we used to have in the office kitchen disappeared, so I get my exercise sawing the veggies up with a plastic knife!

    I usually have 2-3 fruits/veggies per meal, which I definitely didn't used to eat, especially back when the only veggies I ate were peas and iceberg lettuce.

  19. I always keep frozen veggies in the freezer - they microwave in 5-7 minutes, and are better than canned, almost as good as fresh.

    Also - in defense of ketchup - my ketchup is delicious AND has not HFCS. Just look for organic ketchup & check the label. It is possible. Of course, it still has enough SUGAR to (theoretically) choke a German Shepherd, and I still wouldn't count it as a veggie, but it's something, right?

    I do a lot of weekend prep, and I double every recipe I make, so that there are plenty of left overs (which means I have to box the leftovers before dinner, or the architect eats them, thus ruining my plan).

  20. I was just thinking about this last night, but in the form of: "Why can't i make myself eat vegetables....I make the kids eat them all the time". for me it's not just laziness for me (cause I make steamed veggies daily, etc at least daily) it's because I don't like them !! so eat the least healthy in the entire household. I need my mom to come over and make me, I guess. How sad is that?

  21. Because of IBS I can't eat raw veggies or whole grains, but a just ripened banana gives me a wonderful energy boost in the morning and actually MAKES me WANT to go out for a long walk!
    My daughter wanted to try buying presliced mushrooms to save prep time in the kitchen, but we found the prewash so disagreeable that we vowed never again!!
    Our current fave veggies to add to almost every dinner are mushrooms and summer squash!
    I love having kids who are old enough to cook and they want to experiment with new recipes, which helps get us out of the Mom-cooks-the-same-things-all-the-time rut! My kids are learning to comparison shop and pick healthy ingredients, make things from scratch, etc. *cheers loudly*

  22. They were just bugging me at work this morning because 4/5 days a week I have a vegetable base soup for breakfast at the office. (No, I don't ever eat my breakfast at home because I start work before 7 AM). I don't find eating soup in the morning to be odd and figure it starts my day off with a minimum of two vegetable servings and less sugar than standard cereals.

  23. I don't eat many salads. When I do, it's the prewashed, prechopped ones. I like steamed vegetables. Nothing easier. Cut into big pieces, put in steamer, turn on range, time and turn off range. I also stir fry, not as easy as steaming (vegetables need to be in smaller pieces).

    I'm vegetarian so I eat lots of vegetables. I also cut them up and put them in stews and soups.

  24. Who cares *what* his name is?

    I never (I'm serious) eat fast food and I am still chubbychubbychubby. But I did not get chubby from eating fast food. As long as I think of food as fuel, I can eat veges easily (and for breakfast). If I stop thinking of food as fuel and think of tequila as fuel, I find vegetables far less palatable.

    Is pumpkin a vegetable and if so, does that mean the pumpkin scone I ate for breakfast counts as veg?

  25. Another vote for cooking lots! But I enjoy cooking and it turns out so yummy, and fast food is so, well, icky really, it doesn't even smell good. 'Course I'm a vegetarian so there aren't many fast food choices anyway.

  26. I'm a big fan of the single serving frozen veggies! They're quick. They're easy. They're cheap. And they convince me to eat the green stuff.

  27. Oooohhh, yeah, cooking a big batch of stuff (or 2 batches, so I have some variety during the week) is the best. System. Ever. I usually have 2 "prepared" things in the fridge, and then a bag of spinach salad and some canned chicken laying around in case I get sick of eating whatever I fixed.

    The other thing that is a great help if you have no time though, is the slow cooker. The Crock Pot. Whatever. Some frozen meat, some canned/frozen/fresh veggies, some liquid, and leave it alone on low for 8 hours or so. There is a special place in heaven for the person who invented the slow cooker.

    (I made "taco chicken soup" in the slow cooker this weekend, and it was SO. FREAKIN'. GOOD.)

  28. Oh! One more thing! Get yourself a grill pan! Seriously. Get a halfway decent one, shell out $40-$50 bucks for it (nonstick - I like Calphalon) and you will LOVE it.

    Chicken breast? Toss it in the (hot) pan, salt & pepper it, cook for 5 mins on a side. Tuna steaks? 2-4 mins a side (depending on how rare you like it). Fishies in general? 3-4 mins a side. (I don't usually cook steak, so I haven't wired that one, yet.)

    The food gets those lovely grill marks, plus you get that seared taste, so really all it needs is salt and pepper. Zap a frozen veggie in the microwave, throw some cheese on it if you like, and ta-da! Dinner in 15-20 minutes!

    Ok, I'll let someone else comment now. LOL

  29. Hurray, so glad you wrote this! Is true, so true. I think its better to be honest- if you don't want a salad, then just say that, rather than make up silly excuses as to why you're not eating it.

  30. I use the "make extra and hope it doesn't get eaten before I planned on it" method. This works for dinners (which I package and freeze for lunches) and I also try to chop extra veggies. I try to keep lots on hand and in plain view. One of my biggest issues is out of sight and out of mind. The vegetable drawer may have a clear front, but I swear things go in there never to be seen again!

    My new mental helper is that I have been throwing any "questionable" fruits and veggies out for the critters in the yard. Whatever I put out there is usually gone within an hour or so to the birds and squirrels, etc. I realize this isn't a great solution, but I don't feel so wasteful and am more likely to buy a little extra produce knowing that if I don't get to it at least it is going to a 'good cause'!

  31. Loads of great tips here! I think it's so easy to make excuses, especially when we're busy -- but really, does it take LONGER to eat healthily in most cases? Grabbing an apple instead of a packet of crisps won't take any more time.

    Preparing a healthy lunch/dinner instead of junk can be harder though, which is why I try to focus my blog on healthy eating/exercising tips that fit easily into the work day.

    The one thing that bugs me is people who "don't have time to eat breakfast" -- setting an alarm clock 10 minutes earlier would deal with that!

  32. ...rawr.


    Right. What was this post about? Ah. Yes. I really should try eating baby carrots again... I actually usually hate carrots (only veggie I hate and it has to be the most convenient one! gah!) but over the years I've slowly started to acquire the taste.

  33. "No time to eat breakfast" solution: when I was in graduate school my time to start the day varied enormously, and if I woke up thinking it was Thursday, say, and it was really Friday, I would have to speed up a lot. Fastest breakfast ever: Tablespoon of peanut butter, washed down with glass of fruit juice (I was allergic to milk then, or I'd have included that, too.) I timed it at less than 60 seconds.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, speedy eater

  34. I'll take one Enrique to go please.

  35. I'm with Jill that waiting in line for takeout is usually more time-consuming than cooking. The caveat is that you have to do a little pre-planning and have the right tools.

    A rice cooker, vegetable steamer and crock pot will reduce your cooking time to the amount of time it takes to put the ingredients in the right appliance and turn it on. Once everything has cooked and cooled, put it in containers in the fridge and you've got your meals for the week. Nuke and serve. Even with cleanup, you still come out ahead of fast food in terms of time, and you know exactly what's in each bite you take.

    One of the keys to my weekly Sunday cook-fest is making it fun. I kick the hubby out of the house, queue up my favorite dance music of the "guilty pleasure" variety, and have a fine time.

    Two hours in the kitchen gives me a week's worth of meals. If I skipped the dancing, I could probably do it in an hour and a half, but I like to think of it as cardio-cooking. ;-)

  36. I'd be happy to nibble on Enrique all day!

    Oh, on the vegetables thing.. like a few others I try to cook extra for the next day; if not a complete redo of dinner, there will be extra fresh veggies and I'll add those to the meal, or the protein will become part of a salad, so we have chicken one night, then a chicken salad the next, so it will be a few chunks of chicken on a bed of veggies. When grilling, any leftover grilled veggies are always great on the next night's plate, especially if it is a salad, we have awesome salads here.

    I agree on breakfast being quick and easy in theory, though I am not a breakfast person. I can manage coffee or a latte, but solid food is generally not inviting to me. But I agree that yogurt, cottage cheese, a slice of brick cheese, an apple or banana, a handful of trail mix or nuts, all are quick and healthy and take just a minute or two to grab and eat. Or hardboil a couple eggs the night before and peel one, eat, and run, they're good in the fridge a couple of days. I do stuff like that for lunch when I do eat, or for a snack. It's inexpensive as well.
    The better half grabs an apple and a banana on his way out the door.

    I think the main problem with "not having time" for a healthy breakfast is just that the right easy and quick foods are not in the house, and the habit has not yet been acquired.

  37. The fastest healthiest breakfast ever is a green smoothie. I triple-dog dare all y'all to give it a try.

    Pull out your blender, toss in 1 c pineapple, 1 c mango, a little bit of water (or ricemilk or pure juice -- nothing with sugar/HFCS added or from concentrate) and a handful or two of raw spinach. Blend blend blend. I usually blend the fruits/liquid first then start throwing in spinach so it doesn't get too green and too scary. Also, I usually add a cup or so of ice cubes to give it more texture since I don't like smoothies that are really liquidy (which is why I just can't get into juicing veggies). Make sure to blend the bajeezus out of it so you don't have any little green leafies floating around.

    You can start out with more fruits than veggies -- even just a couple leafs -- because you really won't taste the veggie with all that fruit. Then when you get braver, add more veggies and use less fruit. Berries will make the smoothie darker and it won't look as green. Bananas will make it creamier. If you're REALLY scared to try, add a scoop of ice cream or sherbet (pina colada sherbet: BIG THUMBS UP).

    If you think that takes too long: buy frozen mangos, pre-chopped pineapples (not the kind in "juice" or sugar/HFCS, your best bet is to get the kind found in the produce section, usually in clear plastic containers and near the pre-chopped veggies), and baby spinach that's already been washed and bagged. It's a little more expensive, but to start off, do what you know you can make happen. Don't set yourself up for failure if you know you're prone to laziness or if you've never had any fruits/veggies. Then once you get better with it, buy the (usually much cheaper) au natural veggies/fruits. Although I think it's worth the extra $2 to buy pineapple that's already been taken care of since pineapples seem a little intensive to me.

    Now, if you're interested in the new wonderful world that green smoothies has opened for you, check out Green Smoothie Girl. Forewarning: She's a mostly-raw vegan. So if your only experience with plant foods are sad side salads and french fries, it might be a little scary. She's also got some articles posted that may be a little too out of the box/off the grid for me. I don't know if I agree with all of her opinions, but I think it's good to take what you can out of it. Green smoothies won't hurt you. They can only help.

    Also, check out Low Fat Vegan recipes. Even if you are not vegan and have no desire to become vegan, you can get some really good ideas for good real veggie recipes.

  38. Wow, more excellent ideas!

    So, oddly enough, I'm tempted by the spinach smoothies. Can you really slip in spinach without it tasting spinachy?

    I make a really simple smoothie with nothing but nonfat milk, frozen banana, frozen blueberries, vanilla and a little (gasp) splenda. Tastes like a milkshake. But if I threw in spinach could I get vegetable credit and really not taste it?

    I may have to try it and find out...

  39. I hear you about it not being cheep. It's amazing how much more money I spend on healthy food than I would on unhealthy food. Somehow this doesn't seem fair.

    As long as I'm spending all this money, I might as well spring for Enrique ^_^


  40. Can I just say, as a dog lover, I LOVE that picture of the german shepherd with the caption. Priceless. Also, you are the only other person I have seen who mentioned the same kind of smoothie as I make. Only I use frozen strawberries. Mmmm! Simple plus good. I don't think I'll be adding spinach to mine anytime soon. Pink and green make an awful shade of brown usually.

  41. just a thought..

    i recently watched my boss's secretary lose and keep off 15 pounds in around 3 weeks using a junk food diet, that comes in the form of a one meal a day diet..

    i dont find the urge to eat smoked salmon for three days to lose weight then fall of the band wagon..

    a slow and steady of not giving up on favourites work..

    i'm writng an account of her weightloss on my blog..

    BQ- Kuwait

    (you have fans in Kuwait)

  42. We have Kuwait fans? That's awesome!

    Thanks so much for stopping in to say hi!

  43. For anyone who is as lazy as me and don't even want to pull out that blender from under the sink:
    The smoothie can be made from a fruit/veggie juice combo that's sold in supermarkets. My favorite brand is Kagome. No V8 for me, thank you. I pour 8oz of the juice in a 16oz glass, pour soymilk in, and drink the mixture. It's all done in less than 15 seconds. It's really tasty.

  44. I want to answer this question: "Why don't people eat food that's good for them?"

    Because food that is not good for us is much delicious than healthy foods. hehehhehe


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