Fatten us up and slim us down
November 2, 2005 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Piggyback filter: I need help with two things. First, getting healthy, tasty food on the table for two people in under half hour. Second, finding a personal trainer.

More about the first topic: my husband and I are really pressed for time, but would like to eat at home much more than we do. We don't have much time for grocery shopping, so we need tips on consolidating grocery trips into one or two trips a week. We are ridiculously spoiled right now, since we eat out literally every night. We have a hard time planning for meals in advance, since we tend to like exactly opposite things and tend to "not feel like" eating things that we have planned. Things that freeze exceptionally well would be appreciated. Also, if you know of any services similar to this in the Houston area (or that delivers to the Houston area), that would be great. We recognize that we're going to have to get over some of our pickiness and spoiled-ness, so suggestions on how to do that beyond "stop being so picky and spoiled" would also be welcome.

Second part: We also want to start with a personal trainer, but don't really know how to find a good one. We would like to do sessions together, if feasible, but don't really know how that would work.
posted by LittleMissCranky to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Pre-cook pasta and rice for the week on sunday. I could write on this topic for a week, but that's my number 1.
posted by Fuka at 10:11 AM on November 2, 2005

last few meals we've had:
- pasta: put pasta in boiling water for 10mins ('til done); tip into collander; empty can of sauce into pan; heat sauce; replace pasta; warm through; serve
- salad: cut slices of block of parmesan; boil some chopped up broccoli; disinfect leaves from lettuce; slice tomatoes, pepper; put in bowl with basil, oregano, salt, peper, oil, vinegar; serve with bread
- humitas: boil humitas (or tamales); chop up tomatoes; serve
- brocolli and pumpkin soup: fry chopped onions; boil brocolli and pumpkin; mash up with liquidiser rod thing; season
none would have taken more than 30mins preparation. i can't see how eating out can be quicker than eating in, unless you're going to some horrible fast food dive. a good restaurant meal takes hours.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:22 AM on November 2, 2005

posted by junkbox at 10:29 AM on November 2, 2005

If time is that big of a problem, you might try the pantry principle of grocery shopping, wherein instead of planning meals, you stock your pantry with staples and cook from that. It doesn't work if your tastes require LOTS of variety, but if you like a lot of simple, uncomplicated things, like say pasta and sauce, it can work well for you and will limit your grocery shopping time.

A variation of this that works for me is that there are three or four simple dishes that I'll always enjoy, such as pasta/sauce, burritos, and homemade pizza, that I make sure I *always* have the ingredients for in the house. If I'm too tired or rushed to cook something fancy, I can fall back on these instead of ordering out. Notice that the items I listed do not have set ingredients beyond the basics -- if you're feeling even a little adventurous, you can put anything you want on the pizza, or in the burrito, or in the pasta sauce.

As far as things that freeze well, most casseroles will. Also try the cookbook shelves at the library -- there are lots of "30-minute meal" books out there.
posted by JanetLand at 10:32 AM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Slow cooker - chuck some meat on the bone, veggies and water in it and leave it on for about 8 hours while you're out.
posted by lunkfish at 10:33 AM on November 2, 2005

Get a gas grill and BBQ. Buy your meat in quantity and freeze it. Grilling anything is pretty easy, and grilled vegetables are pretty yummy. Prep time is low, cooking time is in the 10 minute range and cleanup is generally easy and quick.
Crock pots are good, too. Making stew is pretty simple, it keeps well and you can cook it while you're at work.
I had to start a low sodium diet last year and was never much of a cook previously. When you have to cut out processed/canned/fast food, it's pretty much cook or starve. Now I eat mostly grilled meat and fresh or grilled veggies, and it never takes me more than about 10-15 minutes to throw together a meal that tastes better than most restaurant food.
The hardest part is getting out of the habit of wanting and buying fast food. It takes a little discipline. Fat and sugar are really very psychologically addictive substances, and quitting a regular McDonalds habit is a lot like quitting smoking.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:38 AM on November 2, 2005

The pantry-stocking would be my tip as well, but I'd also add that when I start getting really picky about dinner, it's usually because I'm really hungry, which for some reason makes me start craving very specific things. Often if I just have a small snack -- an avocado, some bread and hummus, whatever -- the cranky "But I couldn't possibly eat THAT you're being totally unreasonable!!!" feeling goes away.

And as a compromise -- Places like Whole Foods tend to have some pretty good, and healthy, prepared meals. Maybe you could get a bunch of stuff from there once or twice a week until you get your cooking-for-yourself legs?
posted by occhiblu at 10:54 AM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Get a countertop grill (George Foreman, generic brand, whatever). Buy large quantities of meat. Frozen chicken breasts are easy. If you buy a ton of ground beef, divide it up into one pound sections and freeze it that way. Hot dogs, brats, pork chops,whatever. When you're hungry, pull out two servings. It can be one of each thing if you're not agreeing. Throw it on the grill with some cut up vegetables - fresh or frozen. It takes about 15 minutes to cook a frozen chicken breast on the grill. Tada, dinner.
posted by undertone at 11:02 AM on November 2, 2005

Don't forget about the "healthy" part of your question. Stock up on a variety of frozen vegetables and buy a steamer like the first one listed here. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a pan, insert the steamer, dump a bag of frozen vegetables inside, cover and let simmer over medium-high heat for about 7-10 minutes. This makes a great supplement for other easy dishes, like pasta w/ sauce.

Go for non-starchy vegetables, like broccoli or carrots.
posted by arco at 11:08 AM on November 2, 2005

The suggestion to get a crock pot is spot on. You can come home to a fabulous-smelling, almost-ready dinner if you can find five minutes in the morning to get a whole or sliced-up raw chicken out of its store packaging and into the crock pot with just a dash of water. Bonus if you can throw in some onions, potatoes, and carrots, because then it's a whole meal and you won't have to feel bad if you don't wait to make a salad or side dishes before tearing into it! Endless varieties are available with seasonings like rosemary and thyme, or a nice red wine; you can also keep goodies like wild rice in the pantry to accompany the entree.

The crock pot is also fabulous for large cuts of pork -- just simmer all day with one can of beef broth, come home, drain, and use a fork to pull all the nice meat away from the fat. Mix with barbecue sauce and voila, pulled pork sandwiches.

Third crockpot staple is chili, from the vegetarian to the pork/beef/turkey varieties. My husband's favorite is heavily dependent on ready-to-throw-in-the-pot canned tomatoes and beans, which are both easy and healthy (just try to find lower sodium versions whenever possible).

All of the above freeze nicely, as do large batches of soup (a great use for leftover chicken or turkey pieces and bones). Stock up on some really nice quality mac'n'cheese (I like Annie's) and frozen burritos too. And last but not least, it's very helpful to plan in advance for a stir fry night right after grocery shopping, when you have the most varied and freshest produce on hand.

Last but not least, stock the pantry with a few kinds of pasta and some good jarred sauce. Grate some cheese and you've got a meal there, and if you're feeling more motivated, punch up the sauce with some freshly sauteed veggies like onions, mushrooms, and green peppers.
posted by clever sheep at 11:13 AM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

I feel we are neglecting your second question. This article has some good tips.
posted by JanetLand at 11:14 AM on November 2, 2005

I know she's annoying, but Rachael Ray has made a career out of 30 Minute Meals.
posted by clh at 11:17 AM on November 2, 2005

You can just throw frozen meat on grill? I didn't know that? That works and is good?
posted by xammerboy at 11:20 AM on November 2, 2005

Chinese stir-fries and Thai curries can be quick, delicious, and healthy.

If you have a selection of prepared or quick-to-make sauces/spice mixes on hand, then all you need is 10-15 minutes prep time and 10 minutes cooking. I'm vegetarian -- meat cooking might take longer. I use a rice cooker, and setting it up at the beginning of my prep time usually gets me white rice by the time the food is done. Healthier brown rice takes longer, but it's effort-free time.

I keep garlic, onions, ginger, green chilies, tofu, and canned coconut milk on hand. These all have very long shelf lives. I also use veggies depending on what looks good; favorites include carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, snow peas, eggplants, cauliflower. If making Chinese stir fry, I improvise a sauce involving some combination of broth, rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, store-bought sriracha sauce, and corn starch. For Thai curry, I've enjoyed this curry paste, though store-bought preparations will probably also serve you well.

Don't be afraid to experiment, and to persist through some questionable meals. Experience with different recipes and flavors takes time, but makes for both a more relaxed and enjoyable cooking experience, and better results.
posted by gorillawarfare at 11:20 AM on November 2, 2005

To answer your second question, I found a good trainer at my local YMCA. As you can tell by my user name, exercise is not my forte. He was able to put all my fears to rest, gauge my abilities, and design an exercise program for me.
posted by Fat Guy at 11:31 AM on November 2, 2005

You can just throw frozen meat on grill? I didn't know that? That works and is good?

Works for me as long as the cuts are thin enough (thin hamburger patties or thinner). Not ideal, but workable.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:37 AM on November 2, 2005

I would recommend searching for trainers who have been certified by either the National Strength & Conditioning Association, or the American College of Sports Medicine. These 2 organizations are widely recognized to provide the best education in personal training. Their exams and requirements are much more stringent than those of other organizations, and if you're going to shell out big bucks for a personal trainer, you want someone well educated, not someone who learned off the internet. The links above take you to the organizations' webpages, where you can search for trainers in your area. I'd find a few that sounded good, then call them and ask tons of questions, maybe meet with them in person and see how you "click."

Full disclosure: I'm NSCA certified as a CSCS, but I don't currently work in that field.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 11:40 AM on November 2, 2005

Salmon. Can't beat it for health, cooks quickly, tastes great. Smoke it and it will last a long time; mix with rice, veggies and cheese for an easy casserole; Pan-fry if you are in a hurry.

And take the money you would spend on a personal trainer and buy a couple of bicycles instead; then train yourself.

posted by Cycloptichorn at 12:05 PM on November 2, 2005

Try The What's for Dinner Cookbook. My wife and I are in a similar situation, and I stumbled upon this book about a year ago. Written by two working moms to take the thinking out of cooking. They go through an entire year and plan out 52 weeks worth of menus for you, complete with downloadable shopping lists from the publisher's site (only five days a week, since they figure it's still nice to eat out once in a while).

My wife and I sit down on Saturdays and decide how often we can realistically expect to make it home in time to eat together. Then we print out the shopping list and cross off any items we won't need (they tell you which day of the week each item is for, so it's easy to pick the meals you like best and only buy for them).

Most of the meals take very little time to prepare, and they go out of their way to help you cut down on time by giving you hints about what can be done ahead of time (chop an extra onion tonight for use in tomorrow's XYZ).

I know it sounds kind of boring to have everything chosen for you in advance, but that's really what I hated about cooking in the first place. Plus, we only cook about three meals a week, so we get to choose the ones that look best to us.
posted by richmondparker at 12:35 PM on November 2, 2005 [3 favorites]

It's all about planning. The other night I made a great Thai squash soup, but it was only makeable in 10 minutes because the night before I had sat around and pre-chopped the squash, then stored it in my fridge for a night.
Pick the day of the week you have the most free time (Sunday works for me) and pick a few recipes. Shop for them on Sunday, and figure out what chopping/measuring can be done in advance. Then on the night you're making that recipe, you're just assembling.

I am currently reviewing the new cookbook from the vegetarian Moosewood restaurant, which is Simple Suppers, meals in 30 minutes or less. Plenty of cookbooks (and recipes on Web sites, like allrecipes.com) offer similarly quick meals.
posted by GaelFC at 12:37 PM on November 2, 2005

Cycloptichorn's suggestion about not necessarily spending money on a personal trainer is a good one. If you still want to go the gym-type fitness route, there's a wonderful world of excellent videos out there.
posted by JanetLand at 12:38 PM on November 2, 2005

Tell yourself you CAN'T go out to eat on certain evenings. Just no way.

Don't feel like eating what's been planned? Make it anyway. Have it for lunch the next day.

Plan on a "snack dinner" now and then. Cheese and crackers, leftovers, something prepared that you got at the store -- grazing.

Consider designating one day a week when you have a particular dish or item. Like a pasta day, or a red beans and rice day, or hamburger day.

You will eat more vegetables and not mind (as much) steaming them if you get them ready for cooking when you get back from the grocery store. Wash, trim, separate into florets, spin, snap off the ends... Terribly boring, but you have to do it.

Buy spinach, lettuce, green beans and other things in pre-washed and prepped packages. Some packages can even go into the microwave.

Don't bother trying to get everything to finish cooking at the same minute. Lots of things tasted good at room temp or cold.

Soup is filling and a good way to consume vegetables. V-8 or tomato juice counts as a vegetable, and so do raw veggies. Sandwiches are acceptable fare if you're not all carbed out from lunch. A roasted chicken is easy and can feed you a few times.

Don't go cold turkey, and be reasonable with yourself. Do a little better every week.
posted by wryly at 1:44 PM on November 2, 2005

To the first part of your question, let me recommend the 5 in 10 Cookbook (5 ingredients, 10 minutes.) The recipes are simple, quick, and very tasty- it's not the "open a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup" kind of cooking- one of my favorites is baked goat cheese with hazelnuts and little baguette toasts, to give you an idea.

Like Fat Guy, I found a personal trainer at my local YMCA. Do you and your husband belong to a gym? Many gyms provide personal trainers, and some gyms are rather selective about who they will hire as a trainer, so you can use that as part of your criteria when looking for a gym to join.
posted by ambrosia at 2:00 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

I can't really help on the nutrition question, but I have some background with the personal training stuff.

There is a big alphabet soup of certifications, I would recommend the NSCA above all others, and specifically avoid ISSA and ACE for your purposes. Personally, I don't put all that much stock in the certifications to begin with, given what an average person is looking for from their personal trainer. You aren't looking to get fine-tuned at the level of a pro athlete, you're looking to get or stay fit effectively and intelligently. A certification is no substitute for a lack of key knowledge or a poor bedside manner.

You should look for two things in a trainer: an ability to teach and an ability to motivate. Your trainer should help you push yourself and should make you feel good about your workouts; you should look forward to them. More importantly though, your trainer should explain things to you as you're doing them in a way you can understand and use later. A great trainer is someone who doesn't just tell you what to do like a drill sergeant, it's someone who helps you learn why you're doing it so that you can eventually wean yourself off of the trainer and design great workouts on your own.

As for how to pick one, check out all your local gym chains (World Gym, Bally's, Nautilus, 24 Hour Fitness, YMCA, Gold's, etc.), ideally they will have a trainer roster you can check out with each trainer's specialties. To really check them out, though, there's no substitute for trying them out with a first session. Look for the things I mentioned above, someone who is positive and motivates you, and also makes an effort to keep you informed of what's going on and why he's having you do particular things. Ask questions about all the fitness stuff you're curious about, general and specific, to gauge how knowledgeable they are and how well they explain things (and get the most out of their time that you're paying for).

One other handy trick is to come up with a pretty obscure question about a particular exercise or muscle that you already know the answer to and ask it to a trainer you're considering. If he/she knows the answer, great. If he/she doesn't, but promises to look into it and get back to you, that's good too. What you don't want is someone who says they don't know and makes no further effort, and what you REALLY don't want is someone who doesn't know but tries to BS a wrong answer because they think you won't know any better. If a trainer comes up with a fake answer about that, there's no telling how much of the other stuff they're telling you is made up.

Doing joint sessions is definitely feasible, and most trainers offer the option. If they don't, ask them about it and negotiate, because they should be able to accomodate you. The key for that is to make sure the trainer doesn't homogenize the workout between you and your husband since, being female, the level and type of workout that best serves you is quite different. If the trainer you choose is just running both of you through the same things, he's a bad trainer.

Good luck, hope this helps. I always like to see someone taking charge of their physical fitness.
posted by TunnelArmr at 4:03 PM on November 2, 2005

Sounds like you need a personal chef; they come to your house once a week or so and cook and refrigerate/freeze meals for the week, typically around $200 per visit plus the cost of food. (You said you were spoiled.) We have an awesome food-delivery service near us that's similar, and while it's nearly as expensive as a personal chef, it's worth every penny.
posted by trevyn at 8:00 PM on November 2, 2005

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