Like so many other folks, my number one obstacle to cooking and eating a healthful dinner on weeknights is TIME. Frequently, I don’t get home till after 8pm, and the last thing I want to do is stand over a cutting board and chop vegetables for an hour. I’ve come up with a repertoire of quick meals from pantry staples and one or two fresh ingredients. I do a bit of prep work in the kitchen over the weekends—maybe 20 minutes on a Sunday—to chop up some fresh vegetables so they’re ready to assemble into a quick salad or to throw into a meal.
Chopped onions make life so much easier and dinners so much tastier!
One of my quick formulas for putting together a meal looks something like this:
1. Choose a whole grain that cooks in 20 minutes or less. Cook it in stock or bouillon with a handful of chopped onions (the onions are already chopped and ready to go—a must have in my kitchen!). On this particular night, quinoa fit the bill with a 15 minute cooking time.
2. Choose a fresh or frozen vegetable of the non-starchy variety and roast or sautee it. On this night, I had a container of pre-washed greens ready to go. A handful of onions and went into a pot with a tablespoon of water to begin cooking down, and when the onions were translucent, I added a sprinkle of garlic powder. On my best night, I would have chopped fresh garlic, but when it’s 8:30pm, powder works just fine! The greens go in with a splash of apple cider vinegar, and we’re off!
3. Choose a protein that’s already cooked. In the last couple minutes of cooking the quinoa, 2/3 of a can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans went into the pot. Full of protein and fiber, they make a fine addition to this simple meal.
4. Cook for the number of people who are eating plus the amount of leftovers you want. I don’t just cook the whole box or bag of grains, or empty the whole can of beans if I'm just cooking for myself or for two of us.
5. Make sure that the proportions of each component add up to a healthy plate. I’m looking for about 50% vegetables, 25% protein and 25% whole grain (or starchy vegetable).
If the meal needs a little oomph, I often have pre-made sauces ready to go in the fridge, or I just add a scoop of hummus. It’s full of flavor without adding junk to a healthful meal. This meal will NOT win a beauty contest, and Instagram will reject it on looks alone, but it was delicious and on the table in less than the time it would have taken to order pizza or stand in line at Chipotle. Plus it was full of good stuff, so it goes on the "Make Again" list (and on a list to photograph in better lighting!).
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