We survived our “Cook 3 Meals A Day” challenge! What did we learn?

ERIC FINDS OUT THAT HEALTHY EATING IS NOT DIFFICULT

When I told Jane I wondered if anyone could actually cook all the meals of the day while keeping a full-time job, it was just that – something I wondered. I was happy not having empirical proof. But I am glad that I tested it out.

I am, by no means or measure, a wizard in the kitchen. My way of making meals is to see what’s available and cook them using my limited know-how.

This challenge made me realise that having healthy meals is not as difficult as I thought. Furthermore, cooking low-fat and nutritious options didn’t mean eating bland and boring food. I am quite proud of the few dishes I made that tasted good but were neither splattered in fat nor tasteless as cardboard.

My ingredients were simple, with a few additions such as high-protein flour, dhal and flaxseed, I made some pretty interesting things from scratch and that gave me a little culinary confidence. The flatbread on the first day and the pancakes on the second were my first attempts, and they turned out really well.

0806a ingredients

Some ingredients that really helped with Eric’s quick meals.

Quick meals are crucial. My working hours aren’t fixed, that means dinners have to be easily prepared. My favourites for the week include the dumpling and soup, and the cold tofu and meat. These required so little time to do and they were really delicious and satisfying.

Speaking of being satisfied with a meal, this is an important aspect in healthy eating. When we do not feel full or sated, there is a higher tendency of us binge-eating. I think we all know that at some level; however, doing this challenge, I proved that to myself. I snacked a lot less because I kept my breakfasts very heavy, my lunches moderate and my dinners incredibly light. I never felt hungry and therefore didn’t need to snack.

So now comes the million-dollar question: is this practice sustainable? Or, more importantly, would I keep it up? I believe so. Perhaps I would not make all three meals every single day, but I am definitely up for making most of them. Plus, it is really a lot cheaper. My daily three meals over five days cost me just a little over RM50 and I still have a few leftover ingredients in the fridge. This means on average it was only about RM3.40 per meal or RM10.20 a day, give or take. That is quite a saving!

MELODY DISCOVERS PLANNED MEALS AREN’T THAT BAD

This challenge was… a headache. Initially I thought it would be easy for me because I cook almost every day anyway and always have lots of fresh ingredients in the fridge.

Unfortunately, I forgot that it was my turn to do the early morning shift last week, which meant that my schedule would be quite hectic during the challenge. To add to my ahem, misery, I had to choose a theme that was not that easy to follow – to cook dishes or to use ingredients that are/were trendy among “foodies”.

I managed to come up with a list of trendy items and planned a three-meal menu for five days. I don’t usually plan my meals as I usually just cook whatever I have in the fridge but it helped a lot during this challenge.

Have quinoa, will travel (left). Melody learned to love the flavour of nutritional yeast.

As I do tend to follow certain food trends from time to time, I already had a number of the raw ingredients on hand like cauliflower, quinoa and bacon, as well as kimchi, “ramen” noodles (aka instant noodles) and my current favourite, nutritional yeast.

I admit I cheated quite a bit, though. I don’t eat breakfast so whatever I made early in the morning I ate at 11am, which was sometimes immediately followed by lunch. One time I didn’t even eat what I had prepared for breakfast and lunch, and wolfed down my dinner at noon instead!

I also didn’t make everything from scratch as I used a number of ready-made items like canned tuna, beans and tomato puree. Of course, there was no way I would be able to catch the tuna myself so I didn’t feel all that guilty when I used it. Everybody needs to improvise every now and then anyway.

I used the slow cooker twice, once to make the bone broth and again to make the pulled pork. You should know that a slow cooker is a really good investment to make. It allows you to prepare certain foods ahead of time and the recipes for slow-cooked dishes are usually simple with only a few ingredients needed.

By the end of Day 5 I was happy to discover that I can actually sort of stick to a meal plan! And it was a pretty healthy one, too. I still need to learn how to eat at regular times, though.

Also, I now know how to make cauliflower crust pizza. It wasn’t perfect but it tasted good. Other favourite dishes were the pulled pork with lentils and portobello mushroom burger. Mmmmm….

JANE’S COLOUR PROGRAMME NEEDS WORK

My planned meals using the food colour wheel over the five days have been relatively healthy.  I used vegetables in ways that were different to how I would normally cook them (flash-fried in the interest of time) and that’s something I hope to continue (roasting and steaming, for instance).

But I don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that keeping the veg to just one colour group a day is not ideal as you don’t get the full health benefits from eating as many colours as you can in one day, as recommended – each vegetable has its own nutrients which work in tandem with others.

As I said when we started this challenge, I am an early riser. So I have no excuse to not prepare my lunch for the work day. It doesn’t take long especially since many things can be prepared in advance. There is also portion control and I know exactly what goes into the dish.

My favourite dish out of everything I made last week must be the yellow curry. I admit, under normal circumstances, I would not think twice about using a curry paste from a pack, but making it myself was so easy and was exactly to my taste (of course it would be!). That dish goes into my repertoire.

Zucchini pasta (left) is a trend right now. Leftover mushrooms and sweet potato are cooked together into a filling for buns.

Over the weekend, I used up some of the leftovers and made a filling with similar flavours to what you might find in a char siew pau, only this one is made with mini king oyster mushrooms (my current favourite) and sweet potato. It will go into a yeasted bagel dough and formed into buns.

Some of the mushrooms also went into a tomato based sauce, which tops the “spaghetti” made out of zucchini (courgette), a paleo diet food fad that I decided to try. Though not unpleasant, it’s certainly doesn’t leave me as full as real carb pasta would. I could get used to it, but zucchini is not a vegetable I can afford all the time.