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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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 ❤

Time to Get Out of This Funk.

I don’t know if it is the weather, the changing seasons, or what, but I have been in this weird funk for the last couple weeks. I think that this end-of-winter-almost-spring change of seasons where everything is gray, and gloomy, and cold, and everyone is anxious for spring to begin, has taken it’s toll on me.

I haven’t felt like cooking, it seems like such a chore, and I have no desire to do it, when normally I enjoy cooking. And the same goes for baking, both regular and healthified. I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning the house, but normally I am good at keeping up with it, and it isn’t overly time consuming because we have an apartment versus a multiple story house, a small kitchen, and just 1 bathroom. But I have no motivation to do this, nor to do laundry (mostly because I have to go outside and into the basement, and carrying all the stuff down is such a hassle, and my clumsy self frequently trips on the stairs, sometimes resulting in nasty wounds). I haven’t picked up my knitting in a while, or read the current book I have on the go. There are projects that need to be done around the house, like fixing up the chairs we bought at Goodwill for a couple bucks each, cleaning out the pantry, etc., and none of them have amounted to anything more then just a thought. Even just going grocery shopping seems like a chore, even thought I normally I love it…getting all bundled up, going out in the cold, on a gloomy day, just ugh. And this type of mood and the gloomy weather, influences me to want to eat junk food, and resisting is so hard for me, and can be kind of exhausting haha. And I am just really busy with volunteering in the community, and applying to grad school and looking for scholarships, that these gray days can slip by in an instant. And I just have a lot on my plate, which is exhausting to carry around.

I am so sick of this! So I have decided that enough is enough, the weather and everything else does not get to dictate me or influence this kind of lifestyle- I am getting out of this funk, and back to my vibrant self. I figured that setting some goals for what I want to do, how I want to spend my time, and deciding what is important to me and creating a list, would be the best way for me to go about cutting off this extreme, lazy, procrastination. So here is my “beat this gloomy season funk” to-do list.

– Clean the house, top to bottom. A cluttered and messy living space makes for a restless and overwhelmed mind. And a clean and tidy living space makes for a more calm mind, or so I have found for me.

– Catch up on laundry.

– Schedule a day that works for both the Artist and I to prepare our taxes.

– Apply for an external scholarship.

– Go to the Soulard Farmer’s Market. To stock up on fresh and healthy foods, support local farmers, and get some fresh air and out and about in the community. I like to eat local and organically as often as I can.

– Do some yoga. I enjoy kripalu yoga. I find it is relaxing, stress relieving, and is really beneficial for my body’s needs.

– Work with the Artist on fixing up the chairs from Goodwill.

– Stock up on lots of healthy foods to fill my body with nutrients, and to entice me to cook lots of home cooked meals, and healthified bakes gods.

– Switch up my exercise routine to include heavier lifting and more cardio.

– Clean out and organize the fridge, freezer, and pantry.

– Find good homes for clothing and other items that I no longer need, and that are contributing to the clutter.

– Do a little thrifting. I could some some non-winter shoes that are more fancy then every day wear.

– Pick up my knitting.

– Finish my current novel.

– Watch some good movies.
This seems like a simple to-do list, which it sort of is. But by accomplishing all of the things that I have been avoiding and procrastinating with laziness, I will feel productive and proud of myself. It is like a snow ball effect; once I just get started, which is the hardest part, it will all come quickly together.

So after making this list, I feel a lot more organized and motivated to “get back to life”, and make the time for things that are important to me, both in terms of necessary things like cleaning and taxes, but also things I do for myself, like reading and watching movies. Keeping up with one’s hobbies gets more difficult as we get older and busier with life, and I do not want to lose or forget about mine. So making the time for them is important to me.

So far, I can cross a few items on my list.

We got the chairs fixed up, the Artist reupholstered them, and I helped clean them up.  It cost only about $4 per chair to do so 🙂

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And we went thifting.  I found these gems, all in like-new condition for a couple bucks a piece.

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We also watched Julie and Julia, and It’s Complicated, having a nice date-night in together, and after we watch a good movie it always sparks really great conversation between us afterwards ❤

I couldn’t end this post without sharing another Artist moment.  He is so funny, and wonderfully weird 😉  I went into the bathroom and took a shower.  When I came out, I saw this:

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In the 10-15 minutes I was in the bathroom showering, the Artist had decided to make some art, busted off a ton of drawings, and was laying on a floor playing catch with himself with a roll of masking tape.  It it kind of like when you leave a room and come back to find your dog having done something silly.

I love him ❤

Movies, Food, and Love

The Artist and I had 4 glorious nights in a row of evening movie dates and good food at home.  He is really busy for about half the week with class and stuff, and then the weekends are filled with painting and doing other related things, and we also do our errands and shopping, and fitting in something fun together.  Evening 1 consisted of Halloween and Halloween II with candy, chips, and chocolate.  Evening 2 consisted of National Treasure and homemade chicken wings with raw veggies.  Evening 3 consisted of National Treasure 2 and homemade thin crust pizza and a side salad.  And evening 4, consisted of baked chicken and orzo with mediterranean inspired flavours, and a side salad, while watching The Office, an episode we were craving to see.  We snuggled under a big comforter on the couch and only had our side table lamp on- which gives the best soft lighting.  Perfect for together time.

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Homemade dough by the Artist, homemade sauce by me, low fat mozzarella, and oregano sprinkled on top. To keep it healthy, I have a protein shake on the side and some veggies.

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Look at those nice arms 😉

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Homemade dough by the Artist, homemade sauce by my, low fat mozzarella, grilled red peppers, slices of baked chicken breast, basil pesto dollops, and a bit of tiny diced tomatoes. Having a shake and veggies to keep it balanced! Also, we make 1 batch of dough, and the Artist cuts it in half to make these 2 pizzas, each the size of a baking sheet. It is super thin, and hard to stretch, but it works. We liked the thin and crispy crust for these dishes, and it keeps the carbs lower.

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Homemade chicken wings with a slightly spicy buffalo sauce. The main ingredient in the sauce be Frank’s hot sauce. Not breaded and baked keeps them healthier them if you went to a restaurant, and cooking them so they are nice and crispy and falling off the bone is delicious!

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My currant favourite side salad; arugula and maybe some romaine, mixed veggies, fresh lemon juice, and a bit of an olive oil-herb-vinegar dressing.

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Mediterranean style chicken with orzo.

The Artist and I were in the kitchen together making these meals, which is one of my favourite things to do together.  Seriously.  Cooking together brings out really great quality time together, great conversation, jokes, giggling; the works.  And the Artist is such an amazing cook, and we both love eating delicious food, see how it is just perfect?  We also have great heart-to-hearts when dining in at a fast food place like McDonald’s, and end up sitting there talking for an hour.  Or right before we go to sleep, while laying bed, or while we are getting ready to go somewhere.  The Artist has a really absurd sense of humour, as do I, and a lot of people don’t always get his jokes or antics.

The Artist: (after saying something crazy about having chicken bits all over his hands) See, you get my jokes.

Me: Not only do I get them…

The Artist: (excitedly interrupting) Not only do you get them, you do them too!

Me: (smiling) I know, I love it.  Not only do I get your jokes, I love them.  I yearn for them.  If we haven’t seen or talked to one another all day, especially since we don’t have cell phones, I find myself craving some Artist-style jokes, humour, gestures, and general silliness.

We get one another.  Like crazy.  I have never felt so understood by someone else before.  And it was the Artist who helped me find the words for that, he is amazing with words.  He told me that he has never be able to be himself so much until he met me, that I allow him to be him.  That we bring out the most potential in one another.  And that I bring out the best version of himself.  I had been feeling this way, but couldn’t put it into words.  He nailed it.  As always.  He is so good with words, in every sense.  He is poetic in every aspect of his life.  He can articulate things like you wouldn’t believe.  His vocabulary will blown your mind.  He loves to read poetry and finds it amusing- seeing the humour in words.  He then uses that an ammunition for his own word humour, fuelling his crazy sense of humour.  I use word humour as well, the Artist brings it out in me.  And sometimes I let little things slip when I am out or talking with someone else, forgetting that is the incorrect way of saying something and that it is not just me and the Artist being goofy at home.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love life.

Happiness is contagious.

 

A Night Out- Loving Life.

The most recent outing the Artist and I had together was to a midnight showing at a local theatre of Ghostbusters.  Tickets are only $3, and instead of regular movie theatre chairs they have big comfy couches and tables.  There is even a lounge, bar, and of course a concession stand.  I even had a coupon for a free popcorn!  It is in a unique building, with interesting architecture and design.  I had never seen the movie before, so we decided to treat ourselves.  I am a HUGE fan of Bill Murray, so obviously I found Ghostbusters hilarious!  There were members of the St. Louis Ghostbusters club there, in costume- which was awesome, to tell us about the movie a little, the club, and Ecto-Con- which is a Ghostbusters convention here in St. Louis.  It was pretty cool, I wish I brought our camera to the theatre so I could get my picture taken with them.  Their costumes and props were AMAZING.  Here we are all dressed up and ready to rock:

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I am married to the most wonderful man in the world.  I am so happy, despite tight budgets and not the most desirable circumstances.  If we can be this happy together when we are just starting out, I can’t even imagine later on when we embark on even more journeys together.  I feel like I have such a good, ridiculously awesome marriage, it is like I am in a separate realm of things.  It is this happiness, having it with my Artist, that stems anxiety in places that I never thought twice about before.  Routine tonsillectomy when I was single and care free?  No problem.  Now, thinking of having a routine surgery is scary, because I have a husband and an amazing future I can’t wait to experience, and being sedated freaks me a little.  Or watching a sappy movie while single and care free?  I could giggle at those crying.  Now?  I cry my eyes out!  Putting myself in that situation in the movie, and I can’t help but cry a little.  The power of true love and happiness is amazing.

When the Artist and I are saying goodbye, whether one of us is heading out, he has class, etc. we always kiss, exchange I love yous, hugs, and give well wishes.  Because really- anything can happen in the world.  And when we reunite, we embrace so lovingly, and we are so thankful we were able to come home to one another, yet once again.  We chat about our days, getting excited to hear about the other’s good news and funny stories.  We try to keep healthy for one another too.  I worry about my health sometimes, always wanting things to be perfect.  When I was single?  A little cold or medication adjustment was no big deal- I didn’t think twice about it.  But now, they pose as a potential threat to my amazing life.  I don’t want to miss a single day because I have a cold.  I don’t want to have any sort of illness that could harm me.  I want every day to be just as magical as the last.  I don’t want my Artist to be sick and stuck in bed, I want him to be healthy and happy, so we can have the best day possible-every day.  I want the both of us to be stress free, because spending the day feeling overwhelmed and dealing with the problem to get it fixed, means that is one day less that we have together in pure bliss.

I used to feel much more stressed and worried about small things, or things that don’t even exist.  I am guilty of frequently worrying about the “what ifs”.  But I have gotten so much better since I have met the Artist.  The other realm of happiness we experience is so wonderful, that relishing in it and enjoying it is all I have room for.  I don’t want to waste any time worrying about a what-if type situation, I want to give my full self, and be 100% present during our time together.  I want to enjoy it fully, and not have a part of my brain secretly thinking about something else.  Yes, I still am a worrier, and think too much about the what-ifs, especially on and around the time of a doctor’s appointment.  But the improvements I have made are outstanding.  I never thought it possible.  My coping skills have really developed in a such a positive way.  I never thought it possible to be so content in life.  I love living in the city.  I love living in the country.  I love being busy and working hard on my career.  I love being at home, and taking on homemaker roles.  I love going out.  I love lounging around.  I love everything.

I love life.