Home Cooked Healthy Fast Food
5 Ways to Make Healthy Convenience Food at Home
I haven’t had much time to cook since I left home. First in college, taking a full class load and working 30 hours a week to pay the bills, I struggled to keep myself fed. At that time, campus food wouldn’t keep a vegetarian alive, so I was forced to feed myself.
I had a limited cooking repertoire and a pretty sad food budget. On top of that, I had no car, so my trips to the grocery store were done by bus.
You would have laughed to see me packing my groceries into a backpack and a duffel bag, but if you had to carry those bags the block and a half back to my third floor walk-up, you’d have been too busy wheezing to snicker. I made those shopping trips count!
I started with the easy stuff – mac’n’cheese, oriental ramen, scrambled eggs, etc. You know, the kind of things a student can make with two pots and a small frying pan. In order to keep these things from being short on nutrition, I learned to add frozen vegetables and canned beans to these easy foods. Not gourmet cooking, but it kept me alive. I also ate a fair bit of pizza. Ahem.
I’m a much better cook these days. My spice cupboard has grown, and so has my collection of recipes. I could put a heck of a meal on the table. But the amount of time I have to cook hasn’t grown. Actually, I think it may have shrunk.
I’m still trying to get the most meal for the least investment. I can’t convince my husband to do all the cooking, and although my mother might welcome me as a taste tester, 7 hours is a bit far to drive for a meal. So here are 5 practical ways to ease the pain of feeding yourself and others.
1) Simple Meals. Let go of the notion that healthy meals have to be elaborate. In fact, let go of the notion that every meal must a shining star of healthiness. That kind of perfectionism leads to breakdowns where you eat chips and salsa in front of the TV and call it dinner.
It’s more realistic to take the easy things you like to eat and make a more complete meal of them.
Eating chips and salsa? Thaw a cup of Re-fried Beans and make it bean dip. It’s not five star cuisine, but at least now it qualifies as a meal. Throw in a few olives and a chopped up avocado, and now you’re really talking!
Are you resorting to mac’n’cheese? Throw in a cup of frozen mixed veggies five minutes before it’s done boiling, add a cup of cooked beans at the end, and viola – a healthy dinner for two. Just don’t think too hard about the orange cheese powder.
Now you can eat for a week with very little effort!
2) Fast ingredients. When I’m tired, or busy, it’s the thought of all that prep work that keeps me from eating well. I’d love to have something healthy, but I just haven’t got the gumption.
That’s where fast ingredients come in. From the freezer, I grab some beans and a chopped half of an onion. In the pantry, I find diced tomatoes and a bag of pasta. From my spice cupboard, I snag a veggie bullion cube.
Now I have the makings of a basic soup. All I have to do is chop up a carrot and a couple stalks of celery – maybe a potato. I can do that much prep while I’m waiting on the pan to heat up and caramelize the onions. I’ll pick out a few more spices – some basil and thyme, maybe cumin, add some salt and pepper to the mix, and I’ve got soup in half an hour. I’ll also probably have enough soup left to freeze for another meal.
That brings me to my next subject:
3) Leftovers! Seriously, don’t hate the leftovers. There is no better way to cut down on cooking time than to make a double batch! That 30 minute soup you ate last night becomes a 5 minute soup when you reheat it for lunch the next day – which means you averaged 17.5 minutes per family meal.
Learn to love leftovers and live an easier life! I may spend 90 minutes over the weekend making a big Lasagna, but I get ten servings out of the deal. That’s 9 minutes per serving! We can have a lesiurely family dinner with bread and salad that night, and freeze the rest to eat over the next few weeks.
Zoe’s Vegetarian Chili is another recipe I make in large batches. Chili and Lasagna are popular and they freeze very well. Most soups freeze well, and pasta extras can be refrigerated to eat in the next two days.
4)The Dinner Roster: A big barrier to eating healthy is coming up with new ideas. Endless variety is an idea best left by the wayside. Nobody likes to eat the same thing every day, but we don’t mind a repeat every couple of weeks.
One of the smartest things I’ve done is to make a list of our regular meals. There are about 15 meals on the list now. I keep it in my kitchen, and when we can’t think of a thing to eat, I pull out the list and pick one.
The meals on the list are easy meals – 30 minutes from start to table, no complicated prep. Since we’ll be eating them regularly, I keep the ingredients on hand. That means no more sticking my head in the fridge and thinking “There’s nothing to eat!”
It’s not a haute cuisine, it’s everyday eating. During the week, I do what it takes to get dinner on the table. I think we all have our hands full doing that! Save culinary adventures for the weekend – and make extra!
5) Freezer Filling is the foundation of convenient home cooking. Throughout this article, I have mentioned pulling beans and more out of the freezer. I have also mentioned freezing leftovers.
You always want to have in your freezer: some kind of cooked beans, frozen vegetables, and enough leftovers to make up a family meal. That way you have easy protein and veggies any time you need to throw together a quick meal.
I cook four cups of dry beans in a batch and freeze them in serving sizes. One cup containers are VERY convenient. Since cooking beans is mostly a waiting game, I’ll cook two different kinds of beans at once – I might do more, but I only have two nice big pots! Anytime I’m running low on one of my freezer staples, I make sure to stock more.
I feed my freezer and it feeds me! Look for more next week on stocking your freezer and your pantry
Zoe Keeland, Veggie Mom