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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I love Good Food.

I love good food.

I love making good food.  Mostly, just because I love eating it.

That is all.

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I made this for the Artist. All his favourite toppings and sauces.

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A view from the other side to see more of the layers.

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Brushetta topping to toss with a pasta dish.

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I didn’t make this, but bought it for $1. So good. Nice and warm, and healthy. Whole grain grain bread, provolone, chicken breast, spinach, loads or green pepper, onion, and black pepper. No condiments or sauce- yuck.

I am not a condiment girl.  I don’t like most of them.  I like sweet chili sauce sometimes on my chicken nugget, or plum sauce.  But mostly I like nothing 🙂  Especially on sandwiches!  The closest I get to a condiment is a smear of pesto or hummus.

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Apples are in season 🙂

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Love the size!

My ideas for apple-cooking-and-baking so far include: Apple crisp and apple cheese danishes- the Artist’s favourites.  Apple cake with caramel topping- a new recipe I would like to try.  Apple chips- something I have never had before.  Caramel apples- my Halloween day treat.  Applesauce- unsweetened to use as a sugar substitute in baking.  Apple cider- but I don’t have cheesecloth, and the recipes I like so far call for that.

I think I might need more apples haha.  I don’t know if I will get to all of these or not.

Some apple sauce to start:

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Home made snack mix. Shredded wheat, almonds, Grape Nuts, peanuts, a spoonful of canola, flax, seasonings and spices. Toasted nicely in the oven.

This turned out pretty good.  Maybe next time I will skip the flax, it didn’t stick to everything as well as I had hoped.  Maybe less seasonings too, I think I over did it a little.  Less is more for this recipe I think.

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Homemade Cheddar Bay Biscuits- see my Copycat Recipe blog about these 🙂

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The Artist wasn’t feeling well, so I made him a hot breakfast.  He asked for cream of wheat.  It smelled so good when I was making it.  I had to have a bite.  But then, as always, I quickly remember that the smell is deceiving because it tastes like nothing.  Mushy nothing.

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I made these next, and tried a new recipe.  Bad idea.  They turned out too cakey.  Not moist enough.  But the Artist had no problem loading them with ice cream and caramel sauce.

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Banana-Chocolate-Protein Muffins.

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Dark chocolate covered pretzels- not healthified haha.

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Roasted pork with carrots and onions, edamamme, and cous cous taboule with fresh mint from our plant 🙂 My FAVOURITE way to have cous cous.

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Roasted chickpeas with some herbs and spices for a crunchy, and extremely delicious snack.

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Pesto chicken, grilled red pepper and onion, and low fat mozzarella on a toasted bun.  BEST sandwich of life.

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Baked chicken and orzo mediterranean inspired flavours.  AMAZING dish.

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Homemade granola bars- tried to make them with chocolate protein powder….I didn’t like the texture, and they didn’t turn out too good. Definitely need to play with this one.

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Ravioli stuffed with cheeses and tossed in pesto.  These raviolis are from Costco, and are fresh pasta that gets frozen- SO GOOD!

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Plantain chips- thick cut with a knife and roasted in the oven with canola oil- the worst way!

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Cut with a mandolin and roasted with canola in the oven- they are ok, the taste of the oil comes through.

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Cut with the mandolin and used my Chipster- the best way! No oil or anything, just plantains and a pinch of salt. Delicious! Super healthy, crunchy, and tasty.

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Substituted banana and applesauce for sugar, and used chickpeas, no flour, and even melted chocolate chips on top in a thin layer, and still only 4g of sugar and low carbs per generous serving 🙂 I call them “banana muffin squares”.

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Whole wheat pasta with kale, baked chicken, onions, and asiago sauce (just asiago melted and thinned with milk). I don’t like kale, check out my “done with kale” blog post! I prefer spinach.

I am going to try a healthfied version of homemade butterfingers later 😉

Lifting Weights and Mid-day Crashes

The Artist and I hit the weights together yesterday.  He is naturally really muscular and strong, and can lift quite a bit, and in order to get a good workout, he has to lift pretty heavy.  Me on the other hand, I consider myself reasonably strong, and enjoy a challenge.  I love it when I can increase the weight on something.  But I do have the muscle definition the Artist has.  So we are lifting together, and nearing the end.  We are sweaty, exhausted, tired, and struggling to get a fresh breathe of air in the sticky, hot weight room.  The air in there is so heavy, its gross.  And earlier, I had bicycled to the Athletic Complex, it is a good distance with large hills, to attend day 2 of a self-defence course I am taking.  Day 2 was a little bit of “lecture”, but mostly learning moves and practicing them, and practicing them with the instructors holding pillowy cushions while you punch.  I have done kickboxing before, group fitness, drop in style, punching and kicking the air to music.  This class was 3 hours but it was a slow pace as we were learning technique, but actually punching hard and having your punch have contact with something is down right exhausting.  I was dozing on the Artist’s shoulder before we went to the gym.  I can’t believe I even made it there let alone lifted weights.

So we are nearing the end of our workout, doing biceps.  I am quite sweaty, but the Artist is clearly sweating and is very uncomfortable.  I am deliriously exhausted and tired, and I get the giggles.  And I am a giggly person even when I am not tired.

Artist: (As he finishes a set) Do we still have triceps after this?

Me: Yep.

Artist: F@#k.

Me: (laughing) Next time we should bring a water bottle with some gatorade in it to drink while working out.

Artist: Next time, lets bring the camping chairs, so we can sit down.

Me: (laughing)

Artist: And a beer.  And a hotdog.

Me: (laughing embarrassingly hard)

Artist: (as he finishes another set) And a puke bucket.

Me: (laughing so hard there are tears)

Artist: (gasping for air) And an oxygen mask.

Me: (laughter is not uncontrollable)

We finish up and head home.  And in good timing because my muscles had had enough.  Anything further and fainting would have been a possibility haha!  The Artist makes a delicious protein shake, and we always find ourselves coming back to life with every gulp.

A bit later, I made the Artist a big sandwich.  Ham, lettuce, tomato, banana peppers, black pepper, mayo, mustard, and “sub sauce” on a ciabatta.  There is no sub sauce here in Subways.  Crazy, right?  I don’t order it, but the Artist loves it, and it is like the most popular sauce.  So he tries to make it at home, or buys an oil/vinegar/herbs salad dressing.   He loved it.  He said it as better then Subway, his mouth was tingling for another one.  Heck yes.  I make good, hearty sandwiches.  Probably because I love sandwiches myself.  But, the key here is that my sandwiches are hot.  I guess I should say I love hot sandwiches.  And I don’t like deli meat, I like regular meat that I cooked ahead of time.  And I don’t like a normal loaf of bread, unless it is grilled cheese, I like french bread, ciabatta, baguette, buns, and it can be whole wheat, grainy, white, anything.  I like “fancy” sandwiches, most importantly, hot ones.  Or sometimes grilled like a panini.  Mmmmm.  If there wasn’t leftovers in the fridge I would be grilling one right now.

I don’t have any photos for this post, because I don’t bring a camera to the gym, and believe me, you wouldn’t want to see photos of that anyways, haha.  So use your imaginations.

Today shall bring: a community BBQ down the street, some baking maybe? suggestions?, and resting to recharge the batteries for next week.  Yesterday was crazy, and I was so tired I was dozing on the couch by 6pm.  I attributed it to the days events causing physical exhaustion.  But today, I crashed in the late afternoon and have felt very lethargic.  Like I have brain fog, and feel like a zombie.  But for no particular reason.  I got plenty of sleep, it felt good to sleep in this morning, I had enough to eat and it was good, healthy foods, so I don’t know.  Maybe I am fighting a cold, or coming down with something?  Maybe I didn’t get enough water?  Maybe I have low vitamin B12?  But of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that my thyroid medication isn’t doing it’s job.  If you read a previous post of mine: https://emilyandherartist.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/under-active-thyroid/ you will see why I worry.  I just started a higher dosage of medication, so I worry when I get that mid-day crash of intense fatigue.  However, trying to stay positive, these crashes have been happening less and less often.  Even if my crazy day yesterday wasn’t caused by physical exertion, but by my thyroid, 2 days out of the week is a lots better then 7.  And at least I wake up refreshed instead of exhausted.  Hopefully the next while will be better, and the mid-day crashes get even less frequent.  I would love to go to the doctor in December and have nice looking blood test results 🙂  Cross your fingers and think positive thoughts for me!

Nice thing I have done for the Artist: Make him a glorious-better-then-Subway sandwich, tell him how much I love his crazy long hair and beard, and how much it suits his personality.

Nice thing the Artist has done for me: Make me a protein shake when I am too weak to do so myself even though he is just as tired, helped me with dinner telling me it is always more fun when we cook together (awww!), and then served me.

Happiness is contagious.