Posted in | February 15, 2012 |
By Anastasiya Goers
Do you agree that fixing food is sometimes difficult and unappealing?
The other day my husband and I had a rough work day. The girls weren’t exactly angels either so we had to stop our work projects every few minutes to break up fights, use sophisticated diplomatic approaches to make them share toys and resolve everyday crises. Around 7 p.m. our brains were officially dead, our bodies were screaming all kinds of things at us for sitting in one position all day long and then hunger decided to show up in its most violent and irritating form.
Here we are, exhausted, hungry, stressed out, irritated at the end of the day.
Have you ever been there?
Of course the first thing that came to our minds “Let’s order Chinese!” It wasn’t exactly a bad idea but it wasn’t the healthiest or the most budget-friendly choice. I decided to master up my will power and move to my kitchen shift.
Surprisingly, cooking really refreshed me, made me move some, kept me from flopping on the couch and watching TV and helped me make a simple and yet satisfying meal in 15 minutes. Ordering Chinese would have taken at least twice that time, and more than triple the money.
Cooking meals is not always easy when you are tired, when you don’t know what to cook or when all your dishes require a long prep time. Like I mentioned before numerous times, I rarely cook meals that take more than 30 minutes (start to finish) and I always focus on using natural and budget-friendly ingredients. Let me share a few “secrets” with you.
We talked about budget-friendly shopping last week, but let me remind you about my favorite pantry staples:
Most of these items have a very long shelf life so you can stack up on them when you find them on sale or when you go to warehouses like Costco (my favorite) or Sam’s Club.
Buy perishable items like produce, milk, meat or poultry, fish etc every one or two weeks. Meat, poultry and fish can be frozen if you buy them on sale. I always have 1-2 extra pouches of chicken or ground turkey in my freezer, as well as frozen fish fillets. Work your weekly meal plans around the items that you have in the refrigerator and feel free to substitute them for missing ingredients in recipes.
We all have days when we know we just don’t have the mental or physical energy to cook. Mondays are usually stressful no matter where you work. Some days you might be coming home from work late or you might have additional commitments that night. Planning to cook a long meal on those days is a recipe for disaster. Take a simple calendar and mark days of the week when you know you need something fast and simple.
I teach evening Pilates classes on Mondays, so I always get home late. That is why Monday night is a spaghetti or leftover night in my house. If I have low-sodium jarred pasta sauce I will simply pour it over spaghetti and sprinkle with some Parmesan for a healthy and fast meal. Even if I don’t have pasta sauce fixing one takes about 10 minutes (as long as it takes to boil spaghetti)
Easy spaghetti sauce recipe
Heat oil in a deep skillet, add chopped onions, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes (if using). Sauté for 2 minutes, add the rest of the vegetables. Keep cooking on medium-high heat for another 2-4 minutes just until the vegetables are slightly cooked but still are crisp on the inside. Add diced/crushed tomatoes and spices and bring the sauce to a boil. Cook for 2-3 more minutes, turn the heat down and olive oil. The spaghetti should be ready by this time. Feel free to top your plate off with parmesan cheese, olives, left-over chicken or serve as is.
Another great option is using leftovers on your busy days. Most of the time you can plan ahead for your busy day and cook double portions of food the previous day.
There is no need in cooking fresh meals every day. Your life will get much easier if you have a simple side item already waiting for you in the fridge (like rice, quinoa, barley or cooked beans) that you can just heat up and mix with some fresh fast-cooking ingredients (veggies.)
I wouldn’t recommend cooking vegetables in advance since they lose their healthy nutrients, flavor and that fresh crisp taste. However, any type of meat, beans or sauce (like the one mentioned above) can be cooked once and eaten twice.
Beans and any meat are great in burritos or wraps the next day. Leftover chili can be served over rice or pasta. Leftover chicken or fish is a great base for a savory sandwich. Use your leftover rice for fast Fried rice with peas, cabbage and eggs. The possibilities are really limitless.
Any meal can be created by combining two or three simple ingredients:
For a healthy meal you need to start from the bottom: choose what vegetables you would like to use and accompany them with a base item or protein. Combining all three can be a little overwhelming for your digestive system and for your kitchen.
One of the reasons I love poultry is because it’s extremely fast and easy to cook. A lot of people avoid it because it can be too dry or boring over time.
Secret #1. Marinate your chicken in a mixture of lemon juice and vegetable oil with a pinch of your favorite spices, salt and black pepper. Make sure to poke the chicken with a fork to make sure that the marinade gets inside the meat. Let the chicken sit for at least 30 minutes or let it stand overnight.
Other great marinades: Italian salad dressing, beer mixed with a vegetable oil, white cooking wine and vegetable oil.
Secret #1. Any fish can be baked with a little bit of salt, pepper and lemon juice in under 20 minutes. If you are buying fish at your local grocery store most of the time it has been previously frozen. If you see fish fillets on sale ask to get the ones that haven’t been thawed yet – that way you can put them straight in your freezer and use them when needed.
Secret #2. Canned salmon is a great alternative for fresh and it can be used in many dishes.
Secret #3. Use light chunk tuna instead of albacore. Light tuna is lower in Mercury, cheaper than Albacore and higher in omega-3s. You can use it the same as canned salmon.
For a new twist on tuna salad try the following:
Secret #4. Catch your own fish. While fish can be expensive to buy the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to get it is catch your own. My husband combines his passion for diving with spear fishing that is why our freezer always has at least a few zip lock bags of fish in it.
Secret #1. Cook vegetables as little as possible to preserve their healthy nutrients and keep them from getting mushy. Stop cooking vegetables when they just start becoming brighter in color or stir-fry them for a quick meal.
Secret #2. Add lemon juice to your vegetable stir-fry for a boost of flavor.
Secret #3. Use spices to change the taste of even the most boring vegetables (the same tip goes for beans.)
Are you having a spaghetti night? Sauté your favorite vegetables with a little bit of Italian seasoning mix (basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, garlic powder.) Shred cabbage and carrots, mix them with canned corn, chopped onions and tomatoes (optional), sprinkle with cumin or Mexican seasoning mix for a fast salad that can sit in the refrigerator for several days. Serve with chunky salsa, use in burritos made from leftovers, tacos or use it as a side dish.
Secret #4. Bake your green vegetables. Broccoli, asparagus, carrots and green beans are delicious when baked at 425 F in the oven for 15 min with a little bit of oil and your favorite spices.
Secret #6. Add cut-up vegetables to pretty much every meal. If you or your family members are not big fans of vegetables then you can sneak the veggies into lasagnas, pasta sauce, meatloaf, mac and cheese, burgers and pretty much any other dish.
Keeping your grocery budget under control is always good unless it makes your food completely flavorless and boring. To make every meal interesting you need to use specialty ingredients.
Get inspired to cook with these 50 healthy 10 minute meals.
Do you want to know the biggest secret to healthy and cheap cooking?
If you go by the book all the time then you will never be free to create meals that are fun, inexpensive and satisfy even the unhealthiest cravings. Turn each time in the kitchen into an outlet for your creativity . You might feel a little uncomfortable the first few times, and maybe several meals won’t turn out exactly how you planned but soon you will an expert in impromptu cooking.
Keep it balanced!
P.S. My online friend and colleague Lisa Byrne is running Share the Love Giveaway. Visit her site to win an incredible package that includes a free copy of the Reclaim Your Life ecourse and yummy organic tea.