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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T-shirt Art and Orzo

As I am watching Melrose Place, the series from the 90s not the newer one, the Artist gets up from doing his readings for school and starts puttering around.  I continue to watch my show on the computer with headphones, because I don’t have the DVDs and the computer is so quiet, headphones are needed to hear better.  I guess I could have hooked up speakers, but come on, that is just way to much hassle and avoiding any unnecessary movements are key to beat this heat.  Besides, I disturb the Artist much less this way.  Then I see him look like he is trying to talk to me, so I take my headphones out.  He is holding up a shirt, asking me how on earth it is made because this particular t-shirt does not have seams down the sides.  We conclude, that neither of us have any idea.  This shirt was from the pile of clothes that are too small, have holes, or are otherwise unwearable, and are used for rags, fabric for sewing, or whatever else we devise.

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Having lived with the Artist since before we were even dating, I didn’t think anything of this.  I continued to watch my show and hear the faint sounds of rustling and bustling in the distance.  When the episode is over, I see this on the floor beside me:

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Funny looking on the left side eh?  And then I see the scissors nearby, and immediately knew what he had done- began a masterpiece.  Earlier, he had wanted to buy some blue camping tarp, just the cheap stuff at Walmart for one of his pieces, but said that the colours sucked and didn’t get any.  Clearly, this was the colour he was after.  So I go in to the other room to find the Artist smiling proud, in front of this:

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He is arranging and rearranging the fabric pieces on canvas to decide how and where to attach them.

How can I do anything but smile at this?  Instead of donating the old shirts, he insisted on keeping them, as he does with everything else, because you never know when you might need them.  I have quickly learned that yes, they will actually get used.  Even old cans, pop bottles, cardboard, etc. gets used in his art.  What talent.  And I love finding his shenanigans and then hearing the story of they came to be.  It is always hilarious, yet impressive.

Then we go about our days.  I go to yoga and the Artist goes to an evening class.  I get home around 7pm and immediately re-heat some left overs of this delicious dish:

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Orzo, baked chicken, tomatoes, olives (for the Artist, I pick them out- yuck), onions, and a mediterranean inspired seasoning with balsamic.  It is absolutely delicious, one of our favourite dishes ever.  It is a take on a dish that friends made us when they had us over for dinner, and we have been experimenting with it ever since.  You know who you are, so if you are reading- THANKS 😀  I hope there is enough left for lunch later.  Then I jump in the shower, and the Artist comes home and heats himself up a serving, it is not about 8pm.  After catching up on how our days went, we decided to watch House, because we just borrowed the DVDs from the library and were anxious to see what happened to the Dr. in rehab.

Me: I am kind of hungry, like I could eat again.

The Artist: I am f*#@ing starving.

Me: (laughs)

The Artist: You know when you are hungry and you could be handed any option of all your favourite things, but nothing seems satisfying?  Like you have no craving or desire?

Me: Ya, that is the worst.  I have been wanting Ruffles brand All Dressed flavoured chips for so long, but no where seems to have them.  Anywhere.  (so to any American readers, are there Ruffles All Dressed flavoured chips in St. Louis, or in America in general or is it a Canadian thing?)

The Artist: Actually, my one thing that I could never turn down and enjoy no matter what, are Tim Bits.

Me: They have to be actual Tim Bits from Tim Horton’s right?

The Artist: Yes, sour cream glazed or old fashioned glazed.  F$#k.  Lets drive to Michigan, they have Tim Horton’s right?  Nothing else will suffice right now. (closes his eyes and lets out a huge sigh of yearning)

So we continue to watch House, and cuddle up to go to bed.

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that we are always hungry, eating, or preparing food.  Always.  Maybe we have big appetites?  Or maybe because we lose our minds if we get hungry?  Or maybe because we just love cooking and eating?  All of the above?  Whatever it is, I love to cook, especially when we get to do it together, and I love to eat.  I guess I am fortunate to have these interests and enjoy them, because I get to enjoy preparing foods and get to eat healthy, home cooked meals often 🙂

A Stitch…

I have had a “stitch” in my upper side for 2 days now….it comes and goes.  I hate it.  It is on my upper left side and hurts when I take a deep breath.  I thought it was because I didn’t have any water and it was going on noon, so I started guzzling. But I have been being conscious of drinking more water for 2 days now and it won’t leave me alone.  I have also tried Advil, and taking a hot shower.  The hot shower seemed to work while in the shower, but as soon as I got out it was back.  It seems to alternate between being almost nothing, usually while sitting, to being quite uncomfortable.  And the worst part is, I can’t think of what I did to cause this.  Maybe I am just getting out of shape this summer because my normal exercise classes don’t start up again until September, and my lack of exercise is what caused it.  Ugh.  It is driving me crazy.  This is the longest “stitch” I have had I think, maybe it is from lifting weights on Friday.  Waking up this morning it felt completely better, but as I got my day going it creeped back.  Maybe I am just sleep deprived from these last few days of 6 hours or less of sleep per night.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, does not fly with me.  I need my sleep.  A good 8 hours minimum to function, but too many nights in a row of just 8 hours won’t cut it.  The perfect amount is 9 hours.  I feel refreshed and energized.  I have a zero tolerance to feeling sleepy the same way I have no tolerance for feeling hungry.  And if I am tired I can’t control it at a certain point….I will fall asleep on a bus, subway, in a car, on a couch, sitting up, laying down, in the middle of the day- anywhere, anytime.  If I am tired enough, I will sleep.

To get my mind off this lingering stitch, the Artist and I got some Pad Thai.  This place we have been going to for years whenever we are in the area serves the best Pad Thai ever.  It is the right amount of spicy and sweet, with the egg whisked in really finely (I don’t like big chunks), the noodle is not too skinny but not too fat either, and there are some delicious ground peanuts on top as the perfect garnish.  And the portions are large, so there is usually enough leftover for lunch the next day 😀  I love a good Pad Thai, and this hit the spot.

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The Artist also makes a really delicious version of this.  He is such an amazing cook, he can make italian, chinese, thai, and mexican dishes better then take out places.  Especially pastas, I don’t generally order them at a restaurant anymore because I always find myself thinking “The Artist can make this waaaay better at home”.  Although certain things are just better for take out.  A nice greasy pizza, or deep fried chicken wings, are among the best to order out.  But as for fine italian fare, the Artist is the best.  Typing that made me think of Kenny Bania on Seinfeld…”The best Jerry, the best!”

Here is one of my favourite pizza dishes the Artist makes, it is homemade dough (we have really been enjoying thin crust with our home made dough), homemade sauce, low fat mozzarella, basil pesto (often home made), baked chicken breast, and grilled red peppers.  Sometimes we add diced tomatoes too.

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And then we convert the flavours into a pasta dish, not using any tomatoes, and adding onions.

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The Artist also makes this really good brushetta and broccoli pasta.  He makes a home made brushetta topping of freshly diced tomatoes, olive oil, a splash of canola oil, loads of fresh pressed garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and parsley.  He mixes it all up and it is so yummy on toasted baguette, so wonderfully fresh.  It is even good to “marinade” a little in the fridge, if you make it the day before you use it, the flavours really settle into one another.  But he boils some noodles and tosses them in this mixture along with baked chicken breast slices (we often bake a bunch of chicken breast with simple seasoning like just salt and pepper for example, and keep them in the fridge and slice off as we need them), and some briefly steamed or blanched broccoli.  I love my broccoli only briefly cooked so it is nice and super crunchy.  This is a favourite staple dish in our house.

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My Artist is such an amazing chef, he always cooks for us on special occasions, and a lot on weekends, and sometimes even lights candles for dinner, and serves me my plate all fancy looking like in a restaurant.  And then he cleans up and does the dishes afterwards!  He likes to spoil me, and I love to be spoiled.  We both definitely love being spoiled, as well as doing the spoiling.

I have the best marriage ever ❤