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 ❤

Moving Food.

Recently, we were talking about food experiences that have moved us.  I am not just talking about super delicious foods, or what our favourite foods are, I am talking about being so moved, there are no words to describe the level of deliciousness going on, that it is life changing.  My life changing food experiences?  Eating at Mission Taco- everything on the menu.  Buttermilk cake donut from World’s Fair Donuts.  Discovering how much I love banana peppers on a wrap or sandwich.  And the sauce the Artist made for our chicken last night, which was his take on a General Tso’s.  The Artist’s food moving experiencing included; a kabob he had on the beach in Spain with this mystery sauce, anything at Mission Taco, and this parmesan cheese from a wine show in Toronto.

Before I move on, I would like to take a moment and talk about why Mission Taco is so amazing.  I have never had a good restaurant experience with Mexican food, other then at Mission Taco.  Other places are so salty I get a stomach ache afterwards, or are so bland I could have made it better myself at home, or are greasy, etc.  And chopping up vegetables and putting them in the same bowl, does not equal pico de gallo- they need to be dressed in something and have some flavour.

At Mission Taco, the menu has so many options, from tacos, to burritos, to tortas, churros, side dishes, starters, and house made salsas.  I have tried a few of the tacos and the flautas, and the Artist has tried most of the tacos.  We have also been recommended by others that the guacamole and side corn is amazing, and the tortas are a must-have.

The flautas are fried, but somehow, they aren’t heavy.  I was a little sceptical about the corn inside, but it compliments the flavours SO well.  The chihuahua cheese also married well with the rest of the ingredients, and the ancho BBQ sauce was utter perfection.  And the flautas were rolled nice and tight, which made for easier eating and they didn’t fall apart.

All of the tacos we have tried all have the same things in common: lots of meat, perfect flavour combinations, light and tasty.  Each taco is topped with different things in order to best serve the protein, rather then top every taco with  cheddar, lettuce, and sour cream.  And I don’t like it when someone puts insane amounts of lettuce on something.  One time, the Artist got a fast food taco, and it was basically a smidgen of ground beef, unseasoned, and copious amounts of lettuce.  Nothing else.  But mission taco uses other flavour profiles like arugula, cabbage, avocado, pickled onions, different salsas and sauces, and instead of overloading the meat with twenty thousand toppings, they select a few that best go together, and create flavour combinations that just blow my mind away.  So.  Good.  The thought that goes into each and every dish, and specially choosing each ingredient so they all add something to the dish, is just amazing.  If you are in St. Louis, check out Mission Taco!!!  I cannot wait to go there again!!!

Then the Artist starts talking about his favourite foods, like burgers, and basically any meat.

Artist: There is nothing better then a freshly caught lobster and big bowl of butter.

Me: (laughing)

Speaking of food…

Artist: I need to eat more.

Me: (is he being sarcastic because he is holding his stomach saying that?) Actually, ya!  I ate normally yesterday and it was still more then you ate.

Artist: Ugh.

Me: And you need a lot more food, you are a bigger person and have tons of muscle that needs to be fed.

Artist: I need to eat more.

Me: I think it is because of who you are.  You are a romantic artist, obsessed with your craft that eating and other daily activities are not priorities.  Or do I need to feed you more?

Artist: Both.

Me: (laughing)

Artist: You know I’m kidding, right?  Yes because I am an artist, and no you don’t have to feed me.  But when you do, I love it.

Me: I will feed you lunch after I do the dishes, it is a pig sty in there.

Artist: (face beaming with excitement)

I think these thoughts he had stemmed from the delicious breakfast I made for him.  We did a hard workout last night, and I was feeling loving and generous so I offered to make him any breakfast he wanted.  It ended up being 3 scrambled eggs, a plain bagel with butter, and coffee- I even freshly ground the beans.  He isn’t a big fan of eggs, but eats them often for their nutritional value and protein, especially after a workout.  But for some reason today, he loved them!  He gobbled them up so fast, making “Mmmmm” noises as he ate.

He is so funny.  He was so grateful for such a nice breakfast, I was showered with gratitude and cuddles ❤  I think if he was any sweeter, he would melt.

He makes me laugh so often, that I have realized how much smiling and laughter can really have a positive effect on even the worst of moods.  He came home from a long day of working, all hot and sweaty from walking in the warm weather, and clearly, the best place to flop down as soon as you walk in the door after a hard day is the floor (right beside the soft, comfy couch) 😀

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And clearly, the best place to paint is in the kitchen, on the floor, in the muddy entry way 😀

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How can I not be so in love with him? ❤