It’s beginning to look, and feel a lot like fall. Cool, crisp mornings, refreshingly dry air, apples on sale, pumpkins at Home Depot, packing the lunches every night (or morning), school bus traffic delays, late to work, driving the carpool, helping with homework that you swear you didn’t learn until grad school, soccer practice until dark, what to do about dinner…. Sound familiar? If not, that probably just means you’re young and carefree and don’t have kids. Just wait.
Whether you do the sitting at the practice field until dark thing, or just the work late and get home too tired to cook thing, getting a healthy dinner on the table can be a pretty big challenge some nights. Rather than order take out night after night, or run through the drive through, try some of these tips to help get a healthy dinner on the table in less time than it will take you to do an algebra II problem.
Make your own frozen dinners
Try to prepare a hearty soup, stew, casserole, or anything that will freeze well each weekend. Use recipes that will make enough for 2 meals, (so you can have leftovers later in the week) and then double them, and freeze the extras in single meal containers. It takes just a little bit more effort to make twice as much food, and the work will be worth it on nights when you’re too busy to cook. Pull the container out of the freezer the night before, or first thing in the morning, and let it thaw in the refrigerator, and then microwave or reheat in the oven at night. If you need recipe ideas, look through my recipe section, or my Pinterest boards, or Facebook page because this time of the year is all about soups, stews and one pot meals and I post and pin lots of favorite recipes from other bloggers and cooking sites that I follow.
Check out this helpful YouTube video from Southern Living Kitchens for a great tip on freezing leftovers without using up your baking dishes.
Whenever you cook a whole grain starch (you are eating whole grains right?), like quinoa, wheat berries, farro, etc, prepare twice as much as you need. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, and most will also freeze nicely. Use them by tossing in some leftover veggies and make a whole grain salad for dinner. Quinoa is especially high in protein, so it’s great for meatless Mondays.
Keep your kitchen stocked with a few basics
If you have a few quick cooking staples on hand, you can always pull together dinner in a few minutes. It may not be 5 star restaurant quality, but it can easily be delicious, healthy, and filling. Use this list as a starting point to help organize your pantry, and fill in your own family favorites in each category:
Frozen, peeled, uncooked shrimp
Al Fresco all natural chicken sausage or meatballs
Canned beans – kidney, black, garbanzo, pinto
Tofu, tempe, Bob’s Red Mill TVP
Shredded mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan cheese (keep these in the freezer)
Whole grain pasta
Brown rice (regular, instant or boil in bag)
Stonefire (or any brand) naan
Whole wheat bread
Whole or baby carrots
Trader Joe’s frozen green beans (really good for frozen)
Canned tomatoes (Muir Glen)
Greens – baby spinach, kale, arugula
Frozen fruit – mango, pineapple, peaches
Sundried tomatoes with herbs
Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Dried herb blends
Chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
Most of these ingredients are either shelf stable, or they can be frozen and used when you are in a pinch. The key is to keep a list (on the refrigerator, or your phone) and replace them as soon as you’re out.
Stick to one pan and one-pot meals – because cleanup time counts too.
To minimize cleanup time, cook your grain or starch in one pot, and roast your veggies and protein together on one baking pan. Or even better, use a one pot layering technique: sauté your onions and garlic in a dutch oven or sauté pan, add starch with cooking liquid, layer with an herb seasoned protein, and a vegetable on top, cover and cook. Add some greens just before serving. Easy one pan cleanup.
Put it together
I always advise people to include at least one food from each of the three food groups listed above for a complete and balanced meal or snack. So here’s how you might put together a few meals with no recipe and very little time:
- Chicken tenders + sautéed garlic and onion + quinoa + broccoli
- Shrimp + pesto + asparagus + brown rice
- Sliced chicken sausage + garlic and sundried tomatoes+ arugula + whole grain pasta +parmesan cheese
- Black beans + chipotle peppers + mango + shredded cheddar cheese + corn tortillas
- Eggs + whole wheat bread + fruit (French toast)
- Toasted naan bread + garlic and tomato sauce + mozzarella cheese + arugula
Do you have any tips for pulling dinner together on the fly?