Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why would anyone bother with takeaway?

Take-away foods are marketed to us as convenient time-savers. Come home from work, worn-out after a long day of meetings, pick up some pizza or Thai food, and plonk yourself on the couch to eat dinner out of a box. No preparation, no serving, no dishes. Sound enticing?

Well, actually, no it doesn't. The hidden costs of take-away food include fat and sodium, not to mention all sorts of additives that aren't found in fresh ingredients. I may be a purist and a food snob but, to me, take-away food is no more fast and convenient than home-cooked food and nowhere near as tasty.

A new survey by CHOICE concurs with this view. Surveying the nutritional value of take-aways, CHOICE found that these meals were generally high in saturated fat, sodium and kilojoules. Thai food was found to be the unhealthiest choice overall because of its high levels of saturated fat, salt and kilojoules. Pizza, especially those with stuffed crusts and extra toppings, is high in sodium, fat and kilojoules. While CHOICE found that Chinese and Italian take-away food (excluding pizza) were generally better for your waistline in terms of kilojoules, they were still high in saturated fat and sodium.

"On average, most of us spend 10 per cent of our weekly food budget on takeaway food and the percentage is on the rise. But with the convenience comes a cost in terms of nutrition," said CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

I know we don't all have hours to spend in a kitchen, making a slow-cooked casserole or soup (and nor do some of us have the inclination), but there are many dishes that you can make just as quickly as if you ordered in take-away. The key is preparation. By that, I mean you need to have a pantry stocked with some key ingredients. These ingredients can form a meal on their own, or they can be supplemented with some fresh vegetables you pick up on the way home.

Many may groan at the thought of planning and preparing for meals, particularly if you don't enjoy cooking. But we plan for many other things, so why not food? You wouldn't let your car run out of petrol just because you couldn't be bothered to go to the petrol station that week. You wouldn't forget to book plane tickets to get to your holiday destination. So why should your meals be any different? Food is an integral part of life, even if you don't enjoy cooking and regard food only as fuel. What you put in your body, though, will have an impact in every other area of your life, so why would you choose to fill it up with fat and salt when there's so many healthy, tasty options instead?

Top of my list for a quick, standby meal is tuna tortellini with peas. Cook a packet of Barilla cheese tortellini, adding a cup or two of frozen peas about four minutes before the pasta finishes cooking. Heat a large tin of Sirena tuna in a frypan (I usually saute some chopped garlic, anchovies and capers in some of the tuna oil before I add the tuna). Mix all together, add a little of the pasta cooking water if extra moisture is needed, and serve (adding some chopped parsley if you're feeling fancy). Dinner is on the table in about 15 minutes, with enough leftovers for lunch the next day.

Other fast options include:
  • Pizza. You can make your own dough if you have the time and the inclination. Otherwise, use low-fat pita breads as the base - you can keep these in the freezer and pull out for last-minute meals. The other bonus is that you get to decide exactly what goes on your pizza and can make it as healthy or unhealthy as you like!
  • Stirfrys. Keep some noodles in the pantry and all you have to do is pick up some chicken or beef and some vegetables on the way home. An even better idea is to shop on the weekend and have these ingredients already in the fridge and freezer. Chopping up the vegetables for stirfry does take some time but, once it's done, dinner is cooked in a flash.
  • If I cook rice to accompany a stirfry or similar, I always cook extra. That rice can then be used to make a quick fried rice for lunch or dinner the next day.
  • You can do worse than have a meal of meat and three veg - after all, it fortified a generation of Australia's farmers! It's also surprisingly quick. While some steak, sausages or lamb chops cook, boil some potatoes for mash and cook some carrots and peas in the microwave.
  • Even soups can be quite quick to make. Last night, I sauteed some onions and garlic in some olive oil, added three diced parsnip and two diced potatoes, poured in 2 cups of vegetable stock and simmered for about 20 minutes, until the parsnip and potatoes were soft. A quick whizz with the Bamix, a sprinkling of salt and pepper and the soup was ready to eat.
  • You can always plan ahead and make a batch of soup or some bolognaise sauce on the weekend and freeze to have on standby during the week.
  • Invest in a Donna Hay cookbook. Most of her meals are quick, tasty and use readily available ingredients.
I can't vouch for the calories in these meals above, as I'm not a calorie counter. I simply believe in keeping food as fresh and unprocessed as possible and having control over what you put in your mouth.


Suzie said...

I love fish as a quick meal too - it rarely takes longer than 10 minutes to cook. Lamb is pretty fast too. We also love pasta carbonara for those nights when you think there is nothing in the house to eat (just pasta, garlic, eggs and bacon).

Melinda said...

Hi Suzie - fish is a great timesaver and I often make fish for a weeknight meal - I should've mentioned some of those recipes too. And it's amazing what you can whip up with a few basic ingredients in the house.

Passion said...

I put on a lot a weight over the past few years and I think that is largely due to takeaway foods. Now I always make an effort to cook at home, even though it usually means cooking just one portion at at time, I think its worth it.