SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Keep a stock of long-life ingredients (such as frozen, canned or dried products) that can be combined in any number of ways to create interesting dishes.
- If you live alone and don’t like to cook for just one, try inviting people over for dinner more often.
- Cook in bulk, and freeze meal-size portions for later in the week or month.
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About convenience food
Australians spend about one third of their household budget on convenience foods such as takeaway and supermarket ready-to-eat meals.
There are many reasons why people are cooking less often. People’s lives are busier; the two-income household can mean that neither partner has the time or energy to cook every night. There are also more people living alone, who often don’t want to cook for themselves.
However, convenience foods can be expensive and many are high in fat and salt. Fast foods are up to 65% higher in kilojoules and larger in portion size than food prepared at home. The average fast-food meal contains about half the kilojoules needed for the day, so many people are eating far too many kilojoules without realising it.
If you lack the time or motivation to cook, the following suggestions may be helpful.
Keep your pantry well stocked
You may be tempted to order takeaway if your pantry is bare and you can’t face the thought of going to the supermarket. The secret is to stock long-life ingredients that can be combined in any number of ways to create interesting dishes.
- Buy long-lasting vegetables like potatoes, pumpkins, carrots and onions, which can form the basis of soups or casseroles.
- Keep tins of legumes on hand (for example, lentils, kidney beans, three-bean mix, chickpeas).
- Stock a range of canned fish – for variety, include tuna, salmon and sardines.
- Use tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, tinned corn or other tinned vegetables (look for ‘no added salt’ varieties) for pasta sauces, soups or casseroles.
- Keep a selection of other long-life carbohydrates like rice (stock different varieties such as white, brown, arborio and jasmine), Asian-type dry noodles, and couscous.
- Stock plenty of dried pasta, such as spaghetti, fettuccine, macaroni and spiral varieties.
- Keep a supply of canned soups in the pantry (look for ‘no added salt’ varieties).
- Have a stock of oils and vinegars, including olive oil, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar. You can make a wide range of salad dressings or marinades with these ingredients if you include a dash of herbs and lemon juice.
- Stock dried herbs, including basil, coriander, mint, thyme, oregano and mixed herbs.
- Useful condiments include tomato sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, relish, stock cubes, curry powder, ready-made stock, soy sauce and chilli sauce.
- Store a variety of nuts – these are a great meat alternative, and can be added to salads, stir-fries or pasta dishes.
Make the most of your freezer and fridge
Keep your fridge and freezer stocked with handy, healthy food. For example:
- Buy frozen vegetables and fruits (eg berries, mango). Contrary to popular belief, frozen fruit and vegetables retain a high proportion of their nutrients.
- Crushed garlic and ginger are available in jars and fresh herbs are available in tubes to keep in the fridge.
- Apples, pears and citrus fruits (eg oranges) have a long life when refrigerated.
- Fresh lemon and lime juice can be bought in bottles and stored in the fridge.
- Keep a supply of eggs in the fridge. Eggs are a versatile ingredient for a quick, easy and healthy meal.
- Marinated tofu keeps well in the fridge and is easy to toss through a stir-fry with a few vegetables.
- Grated cheese can be sealed and stored in the freezer to increase its shelf life.
- When buying fresh meat, choose de-boned varieties. Divide the quantities into meal-sized portions and freeze separately.
- Buy red meat and chicken already sliced or diced or marinated.
- Buy bread in bulk and keep it in the freezer until needed.
Meal suggestions for busy people
The above pantry and fridge items can offer you a range of easily prepared main meals including:
- stir fries
Find more information on healthy cooking tips and recipe suggestions.
Time-saving cooking suggestions for busy people
- Make your time in the kitchen count - make double (or even quadruple) the quantity you need. Freeze the remainder in meal portions, and you have ready-made meals for later in the week or month.
- Double up on tasks – you can save time if you do 2 things at once. For example, prepare your pasta sauce while your spaghetti is cooking.
- Prepare one-pot meals – such as soups, risottos, slow-cooked curries and casseroles to save on time and washing up.
- Use a microwave – it’s easier and quicker to microwave foods than cook them in the oven or on the stovetop. Check your manufacturer’s instructions on how to best cook different foods using your microwave.
- Don’t throw out leftovers – store them appropriately (such as refrigerating or freezing) for a quick meal the next day. Or reinvent the leftovers in a creative way; for example, pasta sauce can make a tasty jaffle filling.
- Do some meal prep the night before and put the slow cooker on whilst you’re at work, or have ingredients ready to make a quick meal when you arrive home.
Find your motivation for cooking
Some people who live alone don’t like to cook for themselves. Different ways to motivate yourself include:
- Invite people over for dinner more often.
- Offer to go round to a friend’s house to cook for them one night (hopefully, they will then return the favour one night for you).
- If you have a child in your life (such as a grandchild, niece or nephew), involve them in cooking sessions. Most children enjoy preparing and cooking food, and you can have a lot of fun together
- If your problem is coming up with interesting meals, a good cookbook can inspire you, or browse the web for easy, quick-to-prepare recipe ideas. Some food packets also have easy recipes on them.
- Think of the money you’ll be saving by cooking, instead of eating convenience foods (and how much better it is for you). Use the saved money to buy yourself a treat.
Where to get help
- Hogan L. Food Demand in Australia: Trends and Issues 2018. . Canberra; 2018.
- Dunford E, Webster J, Barzi F, Neal B. Nutrient content of products served by leading Australian fast food chains. Appetite. 2010 Dec;55(3):484–9.
- Wellard L HCCKGC. The takeaway on fast food meals: a summary of three fast food studies in Australia. . Sydney; 2012.