There are only so many hours in our schedule, and only so many menu ideas in our head.
After a long day of work, carpooling, and homework, the thought of whipping up a healthy dinner can be downright unappetizing. So it’s no wonder we go for the quick fix more than we care to admit.
Science has proven time and again that eating a home-cooked meal is good for your health, waistline, and family.
But as we all know, it is easier said than done.
My clients often ask me how I make it work, so I thought I would share with you some of my secrets for the 20-minute oven-to-table meal.
As some of you know, I have two teen-age children, a husband, and a business that requires me to revisit the office again in the evenings 2 – 3 days per week (allowing me a very short time to cook for my family before I head out again). I also have the added challenge of dietary restrictions; no dairy, gluten, soy, or peanuts/nuts, but I cook only once and adjust for the individual as I go. I am sharing this information so you can see that I am as busy as all of you.
First and foremost, I am prepared. I may not know from day to day what I will make, but I know I have enough pantry essentials to whip up a meal at any time. These items include canned tomatoes, canned fish (tuna, salmon), chicken broth, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, fresh and frozen veggies, pre-washed salad, eggs, olive oil, vinegar, mustards, garlic, olives, spices and grated cheese. This is not an exhaustive list, but I know if I have at least these simple basics, I am good to go.
Any prep work that can be done on Sundays saves me valuable time during the week. I can make a large pot of brown rice, bake sweet potatoes, cut up veggies, wash salad (and leave it in the spinner), and even cook and prepare produce that can be added to any meal throughout the week. For instance, a large pot of ratatouille, or steamed broccoli with oil and garlic, or roasted root veggies can make dinner easy to get on the table. All you have to do is think of what protein will be served.
My fast and simple go-to favorites of protein are ground meats (which can be combined with rice and veggies for a satisfying one-dish meal). I also love thinly sliced chicken, turkey or pork cutlets; quick and easy. Don’t forget fish; fish filets can be baked or sautéed in minutes. Truly my biggest life-saver is the roasted chicken. I love to make a large roaster that will last me all week in salad, pot pie, soup, etc. If you don’t have time to roast your own, a take-out rotisserie works just as well. And chicken sausage, popped under the broiler or thrown into a sauce, has saved the day on more than one occasion.
This time of year, large pots of chili or soup will satisfy everyone a t the end of a cold day. These are great make-ahead dishes on the weekends, or in your crock pot. Never underestimate the power of the “crock”.
When I have nights that are truly getting down to the wire, I break out the eggs. Omelets make a quick and satisfying meal; pair with a salad or sliced avocado, and everyone is happy. Another quick-fix is salad. The “big salad” is a favorite in my house. These are hearty lettuce c creations that contain cut up chicken, olives, avocado, roasted red peppers, raw carrots, grated cheese, sunflower seeds, etc. I usually serve salads with whole grain crackers or bread. And don’t forget about canned fish. My family really enjoys canned salmon prepared like classic tuna fish salad. The kids get filling sammies with sweet potato fries and salad on the side. I like mine served over a bed of lettuce.
When you are in a hurry and the kids are close to melt-down, you don’t have time to think. Always have a go-to list of quick and easy meals on the ready, and the necessary ingredients in the house or enroute from the office to home.
Preparation in and out of the kitchen will make the evening meals a much more enjoyable experience for everyone.
I would love to hear some of your go-to favorites. What meals do you turn to when time is running out and the family is running on empty?