This is the last installment of notes from my mixer. Probaby the presentation I heard the most feedback about was the one on preparing quick, healthy meals – and it’s an area where I am definitely not an expert. I’ve just picked up a few tips from a combination of experience and reading/watching cooking experts. I could go on and on here, and someday soon I probably will. If you have any tips of your own to add, please do!
Planning is Key
•Plan the week’s menu on Sunday or Monday. Consult your calendar and take into account days when you are out until the last possible minute.
•Go grocery shopping one day per week.
•Stock up on the basics so you don’t have to run out and replenish.
•Do prep work in advance.
•Make your own convenience foods.
Essential Kitchen Helpers
•Best for days when you will not be home until it’s time to eat.
•Make up your own recipes. All you need is a protein, a veggie, a liquid (tomato sauce or stock), and seasonings.
•Fill the slow cooker with all of your ingredients the night before, and do any precooking that needs to be done. In the morning, just take it out of the refrigerator and plug it in. Don’t count on being able to get this done in the morning.
A small slow cooker is also amazing for making overnight oatmeal and other hot breakfast cereals.
The Cast-Iron Skillet
•Do the prep work the day or night before.
•Chop all of your ingredients, pop them in a storage container, and simply add them to a heated skillet when it’s time to eat. Cook meats first, and root vegetables, then add more delicate veggies. Season with whatever your family likes. I love soy sauce, but you could use Italian dressing, marinades, etc.
•Cast iron is easy to clean and the iron actually seeps into the food, boosting the nutrition.
•If you have extra ingredients, freeze them in a freezer bag for your own convenience meal.
•Make one big pot of brown rice at the beginning of the week, and serve it all week long with your skillet or slow cooked meals.
•Have 2-3 quick meals on hand that you can make at a moment’s notice: Two of mine are tacos and pasta. Make sure you always have these ingredients on hand.
•Buy a big bag of boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, put them in the slow cooker with a little salt, pepper and liquid (water, stock or wine), and poach them. When they are cooked, shred them and put them in bags to freeze. These are great for enchiladas, soups, etc.
•Coordinate with friends and set up a party to assemble dinners together, or cook for each other one night a week.
•Immediately freeze and label leftovers so that you have an easy dinner on the nights when you can’t cook.
•Sunday or Monday, plan the dinners for the week. I always plan on just 3 dinners. On other nights, we eat out, or eat with family, or I make something quick, like pasta. Otherwise I find that food goes bad before I can use it.
•Stock your freezer with things that will make your life easier: frozen brown rice, stock, leftovers, homemade meatballs (chicken or turkey meatballs are healthy and easy), shredded chicken. Do the same with your pantry: I always have microwavable rice packets, couscous (cooks in minutes!), stock, Tasty Bite Indian sides, canned beans, etc.
•Consider cooking (or at least prepping) once a week, or try one of those sites/cookbooks that tell you how to cook once a month! One I’ve been checking out is onceamonthmom.com. It’s pretty serious stuff, but it seems to work for some people!
•Lately, when I make casseroles or other dishes that I bake in the oven, I make enough for two meals, and then I cover and just freeze the other dish immediately, without baking it. Take it out the night before you are going to eat it and let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
•The yummiest way to make most hearty vegetables, esp root vegetables, is to roast them with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil. SO easy, but it does take a little time in the oven. Pop a couple of chicken breasts in at the same time and dinner is done.
The Last Word
Go easy on yourself. The goal is to have healthy, good tasting food for your family, not to win any awards.
Take advantage of the times you feel like cooking to get ahead of the game, because there are going to be plenty of times when you just can’t be bothered. Also cook when you have the time, even if it’s the day before or while the kids are at school. Don’t save it for that dinnertime rush hour.
Get the kids involved, when you can. They love to help and are more likely to eat it when they do.
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