Ah, the Food Network. Full of fun chefs, delicious food, and entertaining shows. It is also full of lies. (And you’re not off the hook either Pinterest).
Do you know why those meals are simple? Why they are 30 minutes or less? All because the interns are out back chopping up all the veggies, measuring out the flour, and preheating ovens long before the star chef steps on set. Oh, and the chefs have major years of experience. Emeril’s idea of a “quick” meal would take me half a day and two specialty store shopping trips.
For those of us who don’t have culinary training, or Giada de Laurentiis’ manicurist, do we have hope of making ourselves healthy, tasty meals, in a timely eat-before-9pm way, using tools and ingredients we’ve actually heard of? Yes. Just takes a little planning and a few solid recipes.
- Know the basics: The first place to start is learning basics. And by that I mean, literally the basics of how to cook things. Scramble eggs, cooking pasta correctly, how to sauté, how to store food properly, which tools you need (yes good pots, pans, and utensils are important and another good place to start with the basics. You don’t need an immersion blender right away, promise). Once you learn the fundamentals, you can build on them. I got a free promotional copy of Jessica Seinfeld’s “Can’t Cook Book” and laughed at first. That seems too simple. And it was great! Even though I’ve been cooking for about 10 years now, I learned lots of great basics. That cookbook is a great place to start for the truly new chef.
- Know what to have on hand: Certain ingredients should be kept on hand at all times. Salt, pepper, spices for seasoning, pasta, frozen veggies, marinades, frozen meats (ya Omaha Steaks), rice, bread crumbs, flour, sugar, nuts…all things that last for a while and can help you make a meal in a pinch. Things like those on hand can help you whip up chicken parm, stir fry, and marinated steak tips all with ingredients you have on hand. There are endless lists from a google search that can help you review what items to keep on hand.
- Eat colorfully: If you are going to stay healthy, you need fruits and veggies. When I make a meal, I do a color check to make sure I have more than just brown all over my plate. It’s an easy way to make sure your meals are balanced.
- Plan your grocery trips: I don’t rush my grocery planning or trips. This is a huge and underestimated key in healthy, easy cooking success. Unfortunately, to really plan and prepare, you have to sit down and spend some time thinking about what your week looks like (if you have plans every night, maybe just a quick trip for breakfast foods), and what you will need for food, and what you will need for those meals. Sit down with your laptop or cookbooks and write out your list while watching a favorite TV show – seems less like a chore that way. I keep my list (paper! I know! In a world of technology my list is on paper) on my refrigerator and add to it as I run low on items so I can restock next trip. I plan out my trips for two big trips a month, with two quick trips in-between to restock fresh items like fruit, meats, and milk. Find what works for you.
- Prep as soon as you get home from the grocery store: When I go to the grocery store, I leave enough time in my schedule for that day to prep, chop, and wash all that I bought. It makes your weeknight meals and snacking faster and healthier when everything is prepared and ready to go.
- Make enough to reuse: Make more than what you need in one seating and reheat for other meals. If you get bored with a meal after eating it for one night, find a twist on it to multipurpose. If you make meatballs and spaghetti Sunday. Meatball subs on Monday. Don’t put marinara on all the spaghetti noodles, and make Pad Thai on Tuesday.
- Freeze! And Thaw!: As you learn to make all these tasty meals on your own personal culinary journey – make extras (like above) and freeze them. Instant microwave meals or thaw the day before.
- Just TOO exhausted?: There will be a day you are just too tired for any amount of cooking. This is when you dig out those frozen meals you’ve made. And don’t underestimate a yummy smoothie or shake (just watch the ingredients so they aren’t a calorie bomb). I keep a few microwave meals on hand in my fridge – while they heat I’ll make a salad or sauté veggies to beef up the health factor (and keep me fuller, some of those meals are tiny!) Make a crudités plate – hummus and pita bread, veggies, cheese. Here’s probably the simplest recipe I’ve ever found:
Cut each pita in half and then into 8 wedges. Arrange the pita wedges on a large baking sheet. Pour olive oil over the pitas. Toss and spread out the wedges evenly. Sprinkle with salt, and pepper. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until toasted and golden in color. – Giada
- Slow Cooker: Nothing more on this one. Just, get a slow cooker. Find recipes. Happy winter meals.
- Campbell’s & Pillsbury: These websites have simple recipes that incorporate a few of my favorites, soup and crescent rolls. Cheese, marinara, and a slide of pepperoni in a crescent roll wrap? Instant pizza bite to pair with veggies or a salad. My point here: there is NO shortage of recipe sites or cookbooks; you have to find which ones work for you. (Recommendation: crescent taco bake. Add: serve with Tostito chips)
Take Away: So these are some tips I’ve picked up over time to help me prepare healthy meals when I get home from work that don’t take forever. What tips have you found that are helpful to quick weeknight meals?