Finding ideas for easy weekday meals used to be the stuff of nightmares. Thankfully, an assortment of small appliances have been created to tackle the issue head on and have managed to do it rather successfully.
Let’s face it, after a long day at work, no one wants to come home and spend a couple of hours cooking – and certainly not five evenings a week!
One pot meals are becoming more and more popular as they allow a lot of flexibility with regards to ingredients and time spent on meal prep.
Enlist Some Help
Whether you are cooking for one or for a crowd, a little strategic planning can go a long way. If you are planning meals for a whole family, pleasing everyone is important. Offering a mix of meat and vegetables balanced with some pasta or rice should make everyone happy.
A good place to start might be making a list of everyone’s favorite meat, vegetables, etc. Once you have your list ready, limit yourself to three or four ingredients: one meat or fish, one or two veggies, and a starchy side dish.
Cooking with whole foods instead of buying processed also ensures that you eat healthy, as more vitamins, minerals, fiber and essential nutrients are retained. And you can avoid preservatives and various chemicals as well as unhealthy trans fats.
Keep It Healthy
Choose organic meat and vegetables when you can, and try and use whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa or barley. Think legumes as a great source of protein: kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are easy to incorporate into simple meals, adding an extra dimension while providing excellent nutrition.
Another group of ingredients often forgotten is nuts and seeds. They are healthy for you, supply extra texture and can enhance the taste of a dish beautifully.
And when it comes to sauteeing, why not use healthy oils like coconut, sesame or extra virgin olive oil that add an extra layer of deliciousness to your dishes.
Another way to win that battle is to give in. That’s right, just throw down the gauntlet, seize the bull by the horns, and spend a whole day cooking. Make sure everyone pitches in and turn it into a fun day – a great opportunity to reconnect.
Buy in bulk – a whole chicken is less costly than cuts – or better yet, buy two or even three chickens.
Repeat the process with veggies. Guess what, once you are set up, it doesn’t take much longer to chop up two or three heads of broccoli than it does one. And cleanup is the same… While you’re at it, do the same with three, four or five vegetables, and you now have a base for three of four different types of dishes.
Add one or two of these veggies per dish, complement with different pasta, rice, legumes or spices, and no one will guess that all those different meals are the result of one mad cooking session. Freeze food portions, and you now have a selection of dishes that you can thaw during the week when you don’t feel like cooking.
If you find yourself short on ingredients mid-week, that’s what your supermarket is there for: the frozen food section is full of possible choices to complement your leftovers. Eggs are also a good source of nutrition and easy to use as a base. An omelette or a frittata make quick family meals in no time at all.
If you boil or pressure cook some of those vegetables, make sure you reduce the liquid and add it to some of your chicken broth. Add a little pasta to some of your vegetables and chicken and you have a nourishing soup.
Another thing you can do is prepare some marinades are rubs ahead of time. Marinate your meat the night before, and you have a meal almost ready. Throw it into your Instant Pot, add some chopped veggies, and let your cooker handle it from there.
Some dishes are great with fruit, a type of ingredient often forgotten but which can complement multiple flavors and add a little exotic flair. Apples, apricots, pears, peaches or mangoes can enhance chicken, beef or turkey beautifully and offer a welcome break from ordinary everyday fare.
In the same vein, nuts and seeds are a wonderful way to add texture and make a dish pop. For that extra crunch, add sunflower seeds to an avocado and pear salad, sesame seeds to a beef stir fry or almonds to a chicken curry. Walnuts and peach cobbler also make a good combination.
Here are four quick, healthy dinner ideas that you can cook in a jiffy when you get home using your Instant Pot or slow cooker.
Lemon Chicken with Spinach
In the morning, marinate 6 chicken cutlets in the juice of 2 whole lemons with a clove of garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
In the evening, all you have to do is saute your chicken, add your chopped spinach and cook in your Instant Pot.
Beef with Peppers and Tomatoes
This is a dish you can prepare quickly while your cooker takes care of the rice.
For one pound of round steak, you will need 2 green bell peppers and 2 medium ripe tomatoes. Saute these in cold pressed olive oil with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce mixed with 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, and 1 small chopped onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add your beef strips with a little extra soy sauce and saute.
Lime Chicken with Rainbow Peppers and Broccoli
Another dish that can marinate all day and be ready to cook when you get home. Place 4 boneless chicken breasts in a marinade made with ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of 3 limes, two cloves of garlic, some parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
When you get home, all you have to do is stir-fry your peppers and broccoli in a sauté pan with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Add a little garlic powder if needed.
Once the vegetables are sautéed but still have a bite to them, add the chicken and sauté on each side until lightly browned and no longer pink on the inside.
You might want to add a legume such as black kidney beans as filler and for extra nutrition.
Pasta with Broccoli and Beans
Pasta is one of the most versatile and useful ingredients available and can be combined with just about anything. Aside from whole-grain, it comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors which can add some fun for special occasions. Plus you can play with shapes as well, depending on your choice of sauce. It provides an endless resource for meals, side dishes or even salads.
For this simple three-ingredient recipe, you will need:
1 package whole-grain pasta
1 bunch of broccoli crowns, preferably organic
2 cups of dried white kidney beans
Soak your kidney beans in a pot of cold water overnight or all day. Rinse and drain before cooking.
Place the kidney beans in a pot and fill with water to about two inches over the top of the beans. Cook for approximately 1 ½ hours. If you prefer, you can also cook the beans in chicken broth.
The beans are ready to eat when they are tender to the touch.
Cook your pasta according to the package directions. You can boil your broccoli crowns or steam them which would retain more nutrients. A little forward thinking: why not steam as much as your cooker can take so you have extra for another meal or two?
Place your cooked broccoli and beans in a pan with some olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and combine with your broccoli and beans. Mix well and serve with a salad on the side.
Kidney beans are an excellent source of protein, while the broccoli provides antioxidants and calcium. And who doesn’t love pasta?
These are just four examples of quick, healthy dinner ideas which you can adapt to your favorite foods or whatever you happen to have on hand. With a little planning, weekday meals don’t have to be a chore.
Simply using three or four ingredients simplifies your life and offers an opportunity for all members of the family to work together planning the weekly menu and doing some food prep so that everyone wins in the end.