A day of quick meals for the over-committed

Jul 19 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

I was out of town last week, which leaves the rest of the family juggling more balls on the home front than when I am there. This is not ideal, obviously, but got me thinking about some of the ways we try and make our lives a bit easier without succumbing to sacrificing things like home cooking. There are a few meals that we cook on a regular basis these days that require little effort, but are still delicious. We also tend to cook dinners that several double duty as lunches, to avoid paying for meals out.

With that in mind, here is a day of favorites. Bear in mind that all quantities are approximate because I cook by the force, not by book.

Breakfast
It still surprises me how many people roll out of their houses without eating anything before they get to work. This is a no go for me and I need to get some food before any work is getting done. We typically have a full breakfast as a family, but I can understand that this might not work for everyone. But, you DO have time to make a smoothie to at least get some nutrients into your system. All you need is to have some fruit kicking around, even in your freezer if that works better for you.

Dust off your blender and add the following:
One chopped banana
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup each, of two other fruits (whatever you have that would taste good together; melon, blueberry; strawberry, kiwi; etc.).
Enough orange juice for everyone to get however much smoothie they want.

Blend everything on medium for 2 minutes. Don't cheat on the time unless you want a chunky that separates in 5 minutes.

Pour and serve. Done. You can even chop the fruit during the weekend and individually freeze the portions if you are really that rushed.

lunch
Well if you cooked extra last night, you don't need this. But, we find it helpful to keep a package of prewashed salad in the fridge. You can grab some greens and toss just about anything on top, from a can of tuna to whatever meat or starch you ate last night.

dinner
Get out your slow cooker! Place six chicken thighs, or if you want to get crazy, a whole chicken breast side down (remember to pull out the bag of bits in there), and add a jar of salsa. Put it on low in the morning and come home at night to half a meal ready to go. Bust out some cheese, lettuce (our washed salad mix makes another appearance), tomato, hot sauce and tortillas and you're ready to go. If you're day is longer than you want the chicken to cook, buy a cheap light timer (the ones people use to turn lights on and off when they are not around) and set it so that the crock pot will go on 6-8 hours before you get home.

drink
The Speedy Mojito! This whole section will probably drive resident mixologist, Dr. Becca, into a rage, but sometimes you want a refreshing cocktail and don't have 10 minutes to make it. The only kicker here is that you have to have mint around, but if you toss some in your garden it'll be there for times like these. Pick the tops (about 6 leaves) of two mint plants and crush them a little in the bottom of a 16oz glass with the handle of a wooden spoon. Add clear rum to desired amount and some ice. Pour a whole 8oz can of tonic club soda in the glass and fill the rest with... limeade. No melting sugar or trying to get the right ratio of sugar to lime, just let the good people of Newman's Own, or whatever limeade you buy, to do that for you.

Simple and tasty, that's the basic goal. Easy meals at home keep us from hitting take-out on the way home or ordering pizza every night. After a long day you may not feel like cooking, but if there's a meal waiting for you it is less likely you'll give in to less healthy options.

Anyone else have quick meal "recipes"?

21 responses so far

  • KJHaxton says:

    I always fail with lunches. Just struggle to get organised enough to pack a lunch, and there's enough lettuce growing in the garden right now to feed most of campus.

    If you want the smoothie to be more substantial, a couple of teaspoons of rolled oats per person works quite well.

    Flat bread pizza: buy plain nan bread, put some salsa or tomato sauce, cheese and any toppings you have around. Grill until bubbly cheesy goodness happens.

    Put-everything-in-a-pan-and-roast-while-drinking-mojito: get potatos, veggies like fennel, pepper, onion (or wintery stuff like squash,carrots and parsnips), cut into sizes so they'll all be cooked in about 40 minutes. Put on somekind of protein (small roast, sausages (I twist them into half), chicken breasts separated) that cooks in 40 minutes. Salt, pepper, oil, herbs and add a lemon cut in half. Roast for 40 minutes while relaxing (stir a couple of times). Serve.

  • Scicurious says:

    I have the quick breakfast of champions: yogurt (I usually use plain), and granola. Mix together and eat. 🙂

    For our quick dinners we often do large side salad, with maybe a grilled portobella mushroom burger (George Foreman is your friend!). Veggies wraps also take about 10 minutes to make.

  • Another option for quick lunches if you want something other than salad - Dice some zucchini and red onion, throw in some cooked rice, ~1/4 can of beans (canellini or black are great for this), and a bit of frozen corn, top with a couple of spoonfuls of salsa (Trader Joe's Garlic Chipotle is really great for this), and - if you want a little spice - some chopped chipotle in adobo. No need to cook anything (other than the rice, which I normally keep a bowl in the fridge). Toss in microwave about 2 to 3 minutes and the zucch comes out nice and al dente 🙂

    For a quick dinner, I love scallops! As much as Gordon Ramsey shouts at people about them on Hells Kitchen, they're really not difficult and cook up in ~6 min (2 to 3 min per side for large scallops). I toss them with smoked paprika, chili powder, and a little salt and sugar or with just fresh ground black pepper and salt. Put 'em together with a quick veg and grain of choice.

  • bikemonkey says:

    Isis and Namnezia are going to KILL you dude.....

  • Anon2 says:

    I've been doing fritattas with greens from my CSA quite a bit lately. Saute some garlic and onions in a bit of oil, add some greens (if you're using chard or kale, something with a thick stem, chop the stems and add first before the chopped leaves) and saute for just a minute. Add 4-6 eggs beaten with a little milk, cook for a few minutes on the stovetop then add some cheese (I like crumbly feta) to the top and finish under the broiler for another few minutes. Whip up a side salad while it cooks.

    We've become pretty good at whipping up meals from scratch in the evenings, it just takes a little practice to get a repertoire of go-to meals. The keys for me are 1) prepping the night before if a dinner requires a lot of chopping or other prep and 2) a fun video for the kids to watch while I cook to minimize the whining (we like the They Might Be Giants video podcasts - might as well cultivate the little nerds from the beginning!).

  • namnezia says:

    TONIC ON A MOJITO!?! What are you, fucking NUTS?! Just squeeze lime into a cocktail shaker with sugar, rum and ice and shake the shit out of it, then you need not melt it. Then add this to your crushed mint leaves.

    At least you don't add sour cream to your "tacos"...

  • Dr Becca says:

    @scicurious - I have a quicker breakfast: Lemon Zest Luna Bar. Peel wrapper, and eat. No mixing! No silverware! Just 99 cents at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's! 9 grams of protein! I eat one pretty much every day.

    @PLS - I applaud your inclusion of a cocktail in the day's menu planning, but I would NEVER put tonic in a mojito--club soda is standard, and also calorie free!

  • Patchi says:

    Gin & Tonic is our fast fix... no need to worry about the mint.

    Now for food:

    1) Guacamole: mash avocados add salsa to taste. eat with chips or tortillas and shredded cheese. We tend to make fresh salsa when we have the time, but the stuff you have in the fridge works just fine. Add some strips of sauteed meat and you have fajitas. Options are endless -- we even use leftovers for sandwiches.

    2) Spinach Feta Pasta: cook pasta, drain, in the same pan lightly sautee one chopped onion in olive oil then add a bag of pre-washed spinach and let it wilt. Toss with pasta and a package of crumbled feta. salt & pepper to taste. A full pack of pasta is perfect for dinner for 2 adults & 2 preschool kids, plus 2 lunches the next day.

  • For lunches, I head to the supermarket on Monday morning and grab supplies for the whole week. I keep Ryvita, peanut butter and fruit in a desk drawer, and a tub of hummus and some cherry tomatoes (plus milk for tea) in the office fridge. Then all you need is a knife and you have healthy lunches for the whole week.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Shit, I always confuse tonic and club soda.I'm not usually a mixed drink guy, so they get switched in my head. I'll fix that.

    As far as the food goes, we mainly cook mutts, not purebreds. I won't apologize for your misunderstanding of the intention here.

  • SB says:

    I really like beans. One of my favourite go-to meals is bean salad: mix 1 can kidney and 1 can black beans with 1 can corn and some chopped tomato. Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cumin, coriander and cayenne to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

    If I'm feeling extra ambitious or have a bit more time on my hands, I'll make spaghetti with chili: saute onions with cumin seeds, add 1 can diced tomato and 2 large cans beans (kidney, black, mixed, whatever), simmer for 20 minutes. I like to add cumin, coriander, garam masala, turmeric and cayenne for flavor. Boil spaghetti in a separate pot and mix it with the tomato-bean sauce when ready. This recipe is very easy to scale up, and it actually tastes better the next day.

    For breakfasts: I'm one of those people who cannot function without food in the morning, but I really don't like cereal- or pastry-based breakfasts; I get a sugar high and inevitably a crash soon thereafter. Anything involving eggs is great (did you know they can be microwaved?). Also, I was over the moon when I realized you could buy frozen perogies and microwave them...

  • ecogeofemme says:

    We use the shit out of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store. We cut pieces off for different dishes: salads, tacos, whatever. It's really fast since the chicken is already cooked, and it's really reasonably priced given how much you're getting. Sometimes we make "taco salad" by sauteing some of that chicken with a can of black beans in some packaged taco seasoning. Add to a lettuce salad with tomatoes and cheese and whatnot, top with crushed up corn chips (they can even be stale) and catalina salad dressing.

    I also like to make casseroles that yield lots of leftovers. For example, just uncooked pasta, browned Italian sausage, jar pasta sauce, and some cheese in the oven is great. I find lots of good ideas at allrecipes.com.

  • JPop says:

    Grad student version, for people who can only buy 4 ingredients at a time:

    Breakfast: Pitta bread
    Lunch: 2 Pitta bread, chocolate
    Dinner: 3 Pitta bread, slice of cheese, a carrot.

    If it needs cooking, or you need to sit down to eat it, it's not *quick*.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    It's "quick" if it saves you from malnutrition and associated doctor visits.

  • Grad students - buy a mega-pack of chicken from your preferred budget supermarket at the beginning of the week, grill it all and put it in the fridge. Chicken salads all week - you can even use different types of dressing to convince yourself they're different meals.

    (Yeah, I get the prewashed salad bags. Anything else is too much time.)

  • Oh - and if you're getting lunch from the vending machine again, Reese's peanut butter cups have 5 g of protein. That's almost a real meal!

  • Natalie says:

    Three ingredients that we usually have on hand: feta, spinach and quinoa. The quinoa is expensive (sorry grad student!) but is full of protein and can hang out in the fridge once cooked for the better part of a week, the spinach is a nutrient packed version of iceberg and feta is just yummy. Either the spinach or quinoa make great bases for cold salads when combined with the feta and any other fruit/nut/veggie in the house (craisin/carrot/walnut or pepper/tomato/cucumber are some fav combos). Spinach cooked with egg and feta is an easy frittata like anon mentioned upthread. We're carnivores but if I forgot to take something out of the freezer, protein-rich veggie meals leave us feeling full.

  • Namnezia says:

    OK folks, it really does not take much time to cook stuff, especially breakfast. You could fry or scramble an egg faster than you could microwave it and it turns out much better. You could hardboil a friggin egg while you make your coffee and toast your bread. Then have a piece of fruit on your way out of the kitchen and you are set. A full breakfast in about 5 minutes. Much cheaper than expensive breakfast bars and better than cereal.

  • Ink says:

    I always plan to take a salad for lunch but then in the morning, it never sounds good. Then when lunchtime rolls around, I wish I had made that salad.

    You've inspired me to try to get out of the vicious circle. New school year vow: take a salad.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Salads are versatile because you can use the same base and add any number of things on top. I've made some unusual ones (yes, macaroni and cheese can go over salad with a nice balsamic vinaigrette) but it seems to work.

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