One Simple Tip to Up the Nutritional Quality of ANY Weeknight Dinner

Nowadays, it seems that everyone is leading an increasingly busy lifestyle and modern-day demands can leave many wishing "can't there be more hours in a day?". Few people relate to this feeling more than young athletes and their families. Whilst many of us appreciate the value of nutritious, home-cooked family meals, the day to day grind of juggling school, work and training commitments can mean that sometimes, there is a need to turn to convenience options...

Takeaway Food - The Youth Academy

The problem with convenient options, such as ready meals, takeaways and simmer sauces, is that these can be high in saturated fat and salt, whilst providing limited amounts of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Wouldn't it be great if you could take any convenience meal to the next nutritional level?

Well, ladies and gents, you can, and the answer is so insanely simple, you're going to hate us for suggesting it: vegetables.

Yep, the humble veggie is the not-so-secret, secret to your weeknight dinner woes. There are 3 core reasons why:

  • Vitamins and minerals to pack a nutrient-loaded punch into the meal
  • Phytochemicals (plant chemicals) to protect against disease
  • Fibre for gut health and a more satisfying meal

Additionally, by filling up on fibre-packed vegetables, you'll be likely to reduce intake of saturated fat and salt, as well as make some meals stretch further
 

How might this look in action...

Now, you might be thinking that the time and effort in prepping and cooking vegetables undoes the "convenience" factor. This is why we suggest having your favourite frozen and canned vegetables on hand. An additional strategy is utilising the ever increasing range of fresh, pre-cut and washed vegetables and salads available in supermarkets. However, these tend to attract a premium price so a thrifty alternative may be to use less busy nights to pre-prepare vegetables of your own and store these in airtight containers in the fridge

And below, you'll find some great examples of how we like to use vegetables in our favourite takeaway and convenience foods
 

Fast Food - The Youth Academy

Thai/Chinese/Indian

If you've chosen a stir-fry style dish, you may well be in the clear. However, many dishes tend to be meat-based with limited (if any) contribution by vegetables. A common scenario involves meat dishes with excessive amounts of sauce. Firstly, we're pretty sure it’s a crime to put that extra, delicious sauce in the bin. So why not use it? Enter: the frozen vegetable. When defrosted in the microwave and stirred through, this can be really handy in bulking up a meal and making sure that sauce doesn't go to waste
 

Burgers - The Youth Academy

Burgers

Our first strategy here is simply to ditch the chips and aim to have a side of veggies or a simple salad instead. Secondly, we hope we're not the only ones to notice the sad, shrivelled up bits of lettuce found in the typical fast-food burger. To compensate, we suggest adding your own lettuce/tomato/cucumber (or other salad veggies of your choice) once home
 

Spaghetti Bolognese - The Youth Academy

Spaghetti Bolognaise

The equation is pretty simple: mince + sauce + pasta = easy dinner. As fans of both easy dinners and spag bol, we don't want to upset this fine balance. However, with the slightest of tweaks through the addition of canned legumes e.g. cannellini beans, chopped vegetables and a can of tomatoes (to provide extra liquid for the additional ingredients) this modest dish can be transformed into a nutritional powerhouse

At The Youth Academy, our preference is always going to be for nutritious, home-cooked meals. However, we understand that there are occasions where life is just too flat-out and in these circumstances, we always advocate for making the best choice available. Whilst there are several strategies that can be used, a focus on increasing vegetable intake is one of simplest ways to increase the nutritional value of any meal and contribute to better dinner choices

Nick Maier