Last week I shared some ideas to add more variety and nutritional value into your meals. Maybe you have picked up on a theme of planning ahead to improve the quality and quantity of meals that you eat at home. This week I am going to go over some ideas to prepare food in just a couple hours that can make meals quick and convenient (and tasty) throughout the week.
Sometimes it is hard to figure out where you are going to find a couple hours to prepare food for the week. Look at your schedule – is there a television program you watch every week. You can meal prep while you watch the program. Meal prep does not have to be labor intensive and can be broken down into smaller steps. My favorite way to divide my meal prep for the week (or even a whole month) is to divide it up by food groups (protein, veggies, and grains/carbs). You could also divide it up by meals: breakfast, grab n go lunch items and dinner. Once the food is cooked it can be divided into meal size portions for a week and any excess can be frozen.
Starting off with protein this week because it can seem the most overwhelming, it’s helpful to choose versatile protein sources that can be used in a variety of dishes. Some basic ones would be chicken, ground meat, fish and eggs. Base your choices on what your family enjoys most. Navy, pinto and black beans and lentils are good vegetarian sources of protein that are affordable and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. Chicken, ground meat and beans can all be prepared in your slow cooker – that means part of your food prep can be done while you are at work or even while you are sleeping. Dry beans should be presoaked and rinsed before putting them in the slow cooker. (Hint: a thorough rinsing reduces the “gassy” side effects.) Choosing boneless, skinless cuts of chicken will reduce your prep time when the chicken has finished cooking. Eggs can be boiled by the dozen to eat plain or to slice into salads for added protein. Fish can be prepared on a large baking sheet with edges. Laying them out side by side in rows, you can season each row differently. Sprinkle a roll with dill and another with lemon pepper. You could sprinkle a row with taco seasonings to make fish tacos later in the week. Bake all your fish at one time (I put a pan of water in the oven with the fish to prevent it from drying out.)
Okay, so you have a variety of protein sources cooked and ready to be used as they are or as ingredients in main dishes. Lentils, beans, chicken, and ground meat can all become burritos, tacos or quesadillas. You can add chicken and sliced eggs to salad greens along with dried cranberries, strawberries, nuts or sunflower seeds. Sprinkle in some cheese (gorgonzola adds a bit of zest) and your salad can be the main course. Chicken pieces can be served just as they are with some veggies and a starch (rice, couscous, pasta or potatoes). Ground meat has endless options, season it with fennel, Italian seasoning, garlic, onion, green peppers and tomato sauce (from a jar – avoid the canned stuff if possible). This gives you the base for spaghetti, lasagna, or pizza flavored sloppy joes. I already mentioned fish tacos as an option and of course fish is good just as it is with some side dishes. Fish can be added to chowder or used in jambalaya. Be open to trying some new flavors – choose one day a week to try something new and let your family rate the dish on flavor, texture, and appearance. What did they like about it? What didn’t they like? What would they do differently? Beans with some broth and vegetables (you don’t have to chop them all up – they have soup veggies in the freezer section) make a wonderful nourishing soup. Great on a rainy day. My favorite way to enjoy beans when the weather is warm and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen is to mix up a big batch of bean salad. It can be enjoyed plain, served with tortillas chips or wrapped up in a tortilla. It can also be tossed in to an omelet.
I will be the first to confess that I am horrible at following recipes. It is more accurate to say I just don’t use recipes, this allows me to improvise with what is on hand. When I share a recipe consider it as a guideline to get you started, not something to be followed exactly.
BLACK BEAN SALAD
- Cooked or rinsed canned black beans
- Cooked or rinsed canned pinto beans
- Frozen corn (thawed)
- Chopped onion
- Chopped sweet peppers (use a variety of colors to help presentation)
- Chopped tomato or a nice fresh salsa from your local deli or produce department
- Avocado cubed
- Lemon or lime juice
- Taco seasoning
- Jalepenos (if you like it hot)
Your proportions of black beans, pinto beans and corn should be equal. I make a lot at a time because everyone really loves this and they are constantly eating it throughout the day. 1 cup of beans is a serving, so you can base the amount you make on the number of times you want to serve the salad and how many people you will be serving. Here is a sample of how much of each ingredient you will need to serve 4 people one time:
2 cups each of black beans, pinto beans and corn, ½ cup onion, 1 cup each chopped sweet pepper and tomato, 1 whole avocado, 1 packet taco seasoning, cilantro to garnish, 1/8 cup lemon or lime juice. Mix it all together and it is ready to serve. If you like sweet tangy flavors you could use cubed mango or pineapple in this recipe also.
Next week I will cover meal prep of veggies and grains/starches and breakfast. Let me know what steps you have taken to start eating healthier or if you have a question you would like to see me cover, please, let me know. Everyone has different abilities and lifestyles, so if you have a question other people probably do too.