Top 6 Ideas for Easy Preparation of Weeknight Meals (and even packing lunches too!).

My sister and brother-in-law are very busy career folk with 2 dogs, a house under renovations, and a million other things to do, and freeze a lot of meals for quick dinners on busy weeknights.  After a recent conversation, I was inspired to share what I do for quick and easy meals, and how this preparation and routine has helped me maintain a healthy, whole foods diet (for the most part, haha!).

1. Have cooked or thawed protein in the fridge at all times.

I like to buy in bulk and freeze meat, and there is nothing worse then being hungry for dinner and having to defrost something before you can even cook it!  I like to bake 5 or 6 chicken breasts in the oven, with a simple seasoning such as salt and pepper, or some herbs.  This way, they can be doctored up later.  Add a drizzle of oil for extra flavour and juiciness.  Chill in the fridge in a container for later use.  P.S. Cutting cooked and chilled chicken is so much easier and slices SO nice.  Now you can add it to a salad for an entree-style salad, make a quick wrap, or pasta.  You could also cook a whole chicken, bone-in chicken, etc. and do the same thing.  For pork and beef, I prefer to have them thawed and even marinated for a day or two in spices or whatever, or even cut up and put on kabobs for quick grilling.  This works with chicken too.  Or with thawed meat you can cube it or slice it when raw and store in the fridge.  Sometimes cleaning and cutting the meat takes awhile, but this way, it is already done.

 

2. Make a big batch of homemade tomato sauce.

When you have tried this, you will never go back to the canned store bought kind again.  I freeze it in batches and always have one ready in the fridge.  Chicken parm sandwiches, english muffin or pita pizzas, or pastas are made super quick easy.

 

3.  Triple recipes, or just make a TON of something at once.

Put on the radio, and spend some time in the kitchen on the weekend and cook up a favourite dinner.  We love pasta dishes in our house and make huge batches of them.  Mac n’ cheese is really delicious for leftovers, and can easily be healthified.  We will make a pasta that has 4 or 5 chicken breasts in it and a mound of veggies is on the cutting board waiting to go in.  Pasta is good for leftovers and re-heats well too.  If you have a microwave at work (or like cold pasta) you will have lunches for several days, or leftovers to eat anytime.

 

4. Prep all your produce.

Wash, cut, and prepare all the fruits and veggies (including lettuce and greens) in your fridge store in containers (which also makes for easy snacking, I find I am much more likely to grab them if they are ready to go).  For lunches, I even take it a step further and portion them into baggies for small lunch containers for the week.  That way, all the work is done and I plop them into my lunch bag.  And having peppers and mushrooms sliced and washed already, and lettuce clean and dried, cuts dinner prep time way down.  I even sometimes do things 2-ways, for example, I will cut carrots into sticks for snacks and side dishes and also shred some for salad toppings.  Words cannot describe how useful it is to have a fridge full of washed and prepped fruits and veggies.  If I have edamamme, I will cook it and do the same thing (it is good hot or cold, or added to salad or stir fry).  Or I will have a can of beans or chick peas rinsed and ready in a container for salads and topping any dish basically.

 

5. Cook up a batch of rice.  A big one.

With your veggies already prepared and meat thawed, you can stir fry it all together and then serve over rice for such an effortless, yet delicious dinner.  I find rice re-heats well, in my opinion.  Or make a curry, which is really easy, yet really hardy, and serve with rice.  And combine leftover cooked rice with leftover cooked chicken, you get an amazing homemade chicken fried rice.  I even like our homemade, healthier version better then take-out now.  We almost never buy it out anymore.

 

6.  Use the slow cooker for everything.

Casseroles, meat, roasts, sauces, etc.  It does the work all day and you come home to a delicious meal!  For extra fast meals, do something all-in-one, like pork loin with potatoes/onions/carrots, seasoning of choice, and voila.  You could even add a side salad or corn on the cob for something extra.

Now I bet all of this sounds like a ton of work, and just really not do-able at all.  But I don’t have every single example above ready in my fridge.  My rule of thumb is: always have cooked or at least thawed protein available and abundant, and prep all produce.  One week I might have a ton of cooked chicken breast and rice in the fridge, the next week might be more grilling with side salads, and the next week might be making loads of 1 or 2 dishes for leftovers.

I pick a day when I have some time, put on my favourite radio station (oldies or NPR usually) and head into the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. It’s very relaxing, because there is no time frame, I am not starving, and can putter around.  Or the Artist and I will do it together one night, and catch up, be silly, or have really great talks about life, or all of the above.  Being in the kitchen together is one of our favourite ways to spend time together.  Sometimes we even take it a step further; the Artist will prepare a big dinner with tons of leftovers, and I will prep all the produce for the week, and we will pour drinks, turn up the tunes, eat the dinner by candle light, and make a mini-date out of it.

When these are all prepared, and I even pre-portion for lunches (so I literally grab my lunch from the fridge and plop it in my lunch bag in the morning), I eat a lot healthier and a much more balanced diet.  We are less likely to resort to junk or take-out when we get home tired after a long day because we can make something delicious and homemade in minutes.

The fastest meals, I would say in 15 minutes or less, would be: entree-style salads, tacos (using already cooked meat or beans), quesadillas, wraps, and grilled kabobs.

On the more medium side of things, in about 20 minutes, you could have: grilled meat, stir fry (less time probably if you use cooked meat instead of sautéing), pita or flatbread pizza, or grilled paninis.

And in about 30 minutes, you could make: spaghetti, chicken fried rice, any pasta dish, prepare pizza dough ahead of time by rolling it in desired shape(s) and freezing (you could even cook it for a few minutes to help it hold its shape) for taking pizza at home to the next level, spicy orange chicken with cashew nuts (or any Asian dish that doesn’t involve battering and frying the meat before starting), or larger cuts of meat including larger cuts of bone-in meat either grilled, or oven roasted.

In 30+ minutes: mac n’cheese casserole, sweet and sour chicken (or Asian dishes that include battering and frying meat), Mongolian style stir fry with Sriracha sauce, and of course things in the slow cooker.  These just mostly require time for cooking and don’t need as much attention other then checking or stirring during this time.

And for all of these examples, having prepped produce will come in handy for easy and quick side dishes and salads.  For example; grilled peppers, corn on the cob, steamed broccoli, roasted asparagus, raw veggie platter with hummus, and never ending combinations of salads.  And to keep things as healthy as possible, choose whole wheat options, make your own marinade instead of using a bottled one, and be aware of how much sodium and sugar you use so that you can adjust to fit your needs/wants.

I hope this was helpful 🙂

 

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The Artist’s First Tattoo.

We were getting ready to go walking down Delmar and the Artist was looking in the mirror and said that he wanted a tattoo of the letter X on the right side of his chest, near his armpit.  I was confused, this was oddly specific and a weird thing to want as a tattoo.  And he didn’t want a fancy letter X, just 2 straight lines.  I asked him why.  He said that it was my spot ❤

The story of my spot….

My side of the bed is the right side, and I like to lay on my left side facing the Artist, with my head on his chest/in his armpit, while his arm wraps around me tight.  I am then in perfect range of motion to receive a forehead kiss, and his hand can stroke my shoulder and arm.  It is so sweet and cozy, my favourite way to fall asleep.  My favourite place to be at all, really.  We always have the best talks like that too.  And when I get all sleepy at night, I literally CRAVE to be laying like this with him.  Those minutes before falling asleep, is my favourite part of the day.  So I felt very privileged that he wanted this tattoo in honour of me.  There happens to be a tattoo parlour on Delmar, so we popped in to see about the pricing.  One thing lead to another, and the Artist and the tattoo artist did an “artist swap”- a painting in exchange for the letter X tattoo that he wanted.  And boom- it was done.  It took longer to apply the stencil and disinfectant then it did to complete the tattoo, haha.  It was that simple and quick.

The Artist hugely suits tattoos.  A lot.  He is such a big, strong guy, with a huge beard and long hair.  He looks rather intimidating, actually.  But inside, he is the sweetest, most sensitive, cuddle bug that I know.  The contrast that I am describing is one of my favourite things about him, and the idea of even more tattoos would just further it.  He has practiced a few more with a pen to test out his ideas, and they look awesome.  Nothing crazy or anything, but rather symbols, interesting drawings, and even one in memory of his childhood dog that recently passed.

It was a wonderfully spontaneous, spur of the moment adventure.  And I think that in life, we all need to remember to have a little spontaneous adventure once in awhile.  It is good for the soul, in my opinion.

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No turning back now!

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It’s done! Doesn’t his missing chest hair look ridiculous?! Ha!

On the way home!

On the way home!

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After a few weeks of his hair growing back.  And no, his hands are not tattooed (yet!), he is just drawing ideas with a pen to see what they look like 😉

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My spot ❤

 

A Glimpse of the Day I Turned 25.

This 4th of July, I turned 25.  Yikes.  25.  Life is moving so fast.

The Artist asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday.  There are so many fun things to do on a budget in St. Louis, but all I ever want is just some good, quality time together.  I had been wanting to go bowling for awhile, so we decided to incorporate that into our day, and there is so much good food around here of which I have a hard time choosing where to eat, I asked the Artist if he would pick the restaurant and then not reveal it until right before we left.  That in itself is a great birthday gift, haha, because I can never make a choice and am always overwhelmed by the oh-so-many delicious options.  It was SO nice to not even have to think about where to eat!  He decided on one of our favourites: Mission Taco.  Read about the extreme levels of awesome they have here, https://emilyandherartist.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/moving-food/

But even after we made these plans, I told the Artist that I didn’t care if they didn’t happen or if we ended up doing something else, that if the night organically led us elsewhere, or nowhere other then the couch, I wouldn’t mind.  The Artist and I spend a lot of quality time together on a regular, daily basis, and we are always going out on dates and doing fun things.  So my birthday was like any other day when you boil it down.  Even if we both have a busy day, we always take some time together, even if it is just a few minutes.  Sometimes we will chit-chat and snuggle and giggle before we go to sleep, or sometimes we will take time out of our busy days to cook together, which always brings about great conversations.  This is a quality about our marriage that I just love; we don’t use special occasions as a “reminder” to do something nice for one another or to go out on a date.  Actually, the last 2 years we weren’t even in the same city on Valentine’s Day, and we did our own little thing weeks earlier.  But on that day, we knew we were thinking of the other, and that is enough ❤

My birthday ended up including a delicious breakfast of chocolate pancakes and bacon, sleeping in late, a great after-breakfast conversation about our favourite actors (which included Anthony Hopkins, Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage, Steve Carell, among so many others), a present, drinks, bowling, RummiKub, and tacos.  I have been loving the TV show Orange is the New Black, and really want to read the book.  But all the libraries around here have pretty large waiting lists, and each person have have the book for up to 3 weeks!  I was so disappointed when I discovered this, because I have such a craving to read it!

To my surprise, when I opened my birthday present, was a brand spanking new copy of Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman.  It smelled amazing.  I even fanned the pages a little because there is just something about the shininess and smell of a brand new book that is just so satisfying.  We usually use the library to read books, or get them for a quarter a piece at thrift stores or library book sales and in used conditions, so this brand new copy of my very own is such a treat 😀

He also got me new sunglasses because I broke mine and my backups are scratched like crazy, and then took me to the new candy shop that just opened down the street to pick out some candy.  He gets me.  He pointed out Sour Patch Peaches to me because he knows how much I LOVE peach candy, (a very specific flavour, I know, haha) and I couldn’t resist.  I also picked out some taffy, a cherry jolly rancher stick (which is awesome because that is the only flavour I like and didn’t have to buy a whole pack to get a handful of cherry candies), and what I was most excited about: the Harry Potter Chocolate Frog.

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Then onto a blueberry lemonade Smirnoff slushie, tacos and bowling.  I grew up with 5 pin bowling with tiny balls, so this intimidating 10 pin stuff was hard!  My goal of zero gutter balls went out the window in a hurry.  But it was fun, and we will be back.

 

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When we came home, we decided to play RummiKub, which is one of our favourite games.  We turned on some oldies music,  and of course, I won 😉

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We finished the night with some silly pictures, and watched Corner Gas in bed.

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Perfection.

What a wonderful life I have ❤

PMS

Lately I have noticed that lots of people post on social media about how crappy they feel, how sick they are today, how they wish their cold would go away, etc. and I am seeing these posts from both men and women.  And then I had an epiphany.  For several days a month, lasting several decades of every woman’s life, they experience menstruation, and I have never heard any complaints on social media about cramps or bloating and the like.  Why not?  Why the silence on things?  Having a cold or flu usually consists of an upset stomach, headache, muscle aches and cramps, feeling tired, irritable, and maybe a nasty cough.  Aside from the cough, most of the other symptoms are experienced with nature’s monthly visit to women, and then some.  Add in there feeling bloated, food cravings, and having to use feminine hygiene products (that are not cheap!) to get through it, along with a variety of other things as every women experiences her own combination.

Some would argue, that it is just nature.  Well wait, so getting the flu is some robot phenomenon?  Why didn’t anyone tell me!  Ha!  Some might also argue that women are “built” for it, so “it can’t be that bad”.  That is like saying that humans are built to require a heart to pump blood, therefore they are built for heart disease and “it can’t be that bad” since we are built for it.  Haha!  And it’s not like women can take sick days when feeling under the weather from PMS, because that would usually mean a few sick days taken every month from work.  Who has that many paid sick days, and/or who can afford to take that many days off unpaid?  Or in movies and such, you hear men say things like, “watch out, it’s that time of the month for her, she will rip your head off and then cry her eyes out”.  Well, men, if a large muscle in your body was contracting hard, you had a headache that wouldn’t quit, your body felt tired all over, you couldn’t hold your eyes open because you are exhausted, your stomach is acting up, and you couldn’t take the day off work because you have no sick days left, wouldn’t you be cranky too?

So we just go about our lives, uncomfortable and sometimes in pain, for 2-10 days a month (the average) and we just shut up about it.

But I don’t think it is necessary to suffer in complete silence.  When the Artist isn’t feeling well I will take over making dinner, give him a back rub, and make some snuggle time together to watch a movie for example.  When I am not feeling well, no matter the source of my symptoms, I expect the same.  Even if life is busy, it is never too busy for a 10 minute back rub before bed, and sometimes that is all takes to take the edge off.  He does not find me disgusting during this time of the month, as sadly, is the attitude that some partners take, and I can feel comfortable talking to him about concerns I have, or how I am feeling, and he will do what he can to help.  In the end, both getting through a cold and getting through the symptoms of PMS, well, you just have to ride it out until it has run its course.  So good coping skills is the most important thing to get you through it.  My favourites are delicious food, a movie, comfy pyjamas, and lots of TLC from the Artist.  And his favourites are exactly the same.  Now, I am not saying that women “get sick” every month, I am just trying to point out that we go through uncomfortable, sometimes painful, unpleasant, inconvenient physical symptoms for several days a month, for several decades of our lives, and it is ok to talk about them without giving away too much detail or being obnoxious about it.  So here it goes: today I feel so tired despite a good night’s sleep, I have terrible cramps, and a headache.  And I will feel this way until the weekend is over.  Now, that wasn’t disgusting or obnoxious, was it?

But, after all, this is how we experience pregnancy and become mothers, and that, is truly beautiful.  I look forward to the day that I can feel a baby kick, and then watch it’s first steps and smiles.  So folks, appreciate the women in your life.  Sisters, spouses, girlfriends, mothers, friends, etc.  Think about the tremendous miracles that their bodies are able to go through, and support them through it.  A little empathy and understanding can go a long way.  And the opposite; women, appreciate the men in your life.  Fathers, brothers, friends, spouses, etc.  Appreciate the support they give you, and their love for you.  As all relationships in life are give-and-take, not give “or” take, it is a big circle of mutual exchanges.

You never know what this world will bring…so love hard, laugh often, and be thankful for every day ❤