Healthy Cook: No more procrastination with easy food prep and meal ideas

IF WE MUST have a national slogan when it comes to cooking, many of us should choose “Procrastination for the Nation.” I’m too busy. I don’t have time to fix a healthy (insert name of meal or snack). I’ll buy something good for lunch.

Phooey. If we can make time to check Facebook and email, then we can take a minute for our health. Look at fresh fruits and vegetables, the kind from farmers’ markets, for inspiration.

Start with breakfast. The toaster is probably on the counter. Drop in two slices of whole grain bread. Put your shoes by the door. Get out the peanut butter and grab a banana off the counter. Slather the hot toast with peanut butter, slice a banana or apple on top and add the top slice. Take three bites then find your phone or iPad.

More bites and another quick chore. Before you know it, you’re ready to walk out the door after a healthy start. Not quite as quick as, but a lot healthier than a sweet pastry with a little jammy filling.

Healthy lunch at work is as easy as lunch at home, and both are quick and simple, with a bit of preparation. A little extra work in the evening makes for an easy morning.

• Clean a couple of carrots and slice them into rounds or sticks. Store them in water in the fridge.

• Wash a handful of grapes. Get black-colored grapes when you can because they are sweet without that hint of pucker you sometimes get in green varieties.

• Fish a couple of tiny sweet pickles from a jar. Cube whatever cheese you have on hand.

• Protein can be fish, leftover meat, cubed tofu, or beans. You have cheese in the mix already.

If you’re a person whose food can’t touch, then put each of these foods in a separate container. If you don’t care, store them together.

During your morning routine (between the onerous jobs of toasting, spreading, searching, slicing, and eating) throw a handful of mixed greens in a bag or container and add the garnishes you made last night. If you must have dressing, carry it in a jar. Low-fat, please. Lunch is served, at home or at the office.

When it comes to dinner, you don’t get much healthier than a stir fry. It’s take-what-you-got-and-cook-it-in-a-pot. Or wok. Or frying pan. A little bit of this and a slice or two of that are all you need for each person. Try to make it a treat for the eyes as well as the tummy.

After your trip to a farmers’ market and your larder, you might have a zucchini, a yellow squash, a few mushrooms, a small red pepper, a small green pepper, a couple of stalks of celery, a few stalks of asparagus (cut up), a few slices of carrot (left from your lunch salad preparation), half a can of sliced water chestnuts, half an onion, a handful of beans sprouts if you have them — not canned — a bit of garlic, and maybe some green onion tops.

Just about any protein works in a stir fry. One chicken breast can serve four people when it’s cut into small morsels. Tofu actually tastes good this way because soy sauce and hoisin add flavor. Cooking quickly with just a touch of oil, a splash of soy sauce, and a spoon of hoisin make it a healthy meal.

Heat the pan. Add the oil and when it’s hot put in the onions, celery, carrot, and peppers. They take the longest time to cook. After about a minute, toss in the softer vegetables. Push the vegetables to one side and add the protein. Toss it around for a minute then add the soy sauce and hoisin.

Cover for a minute or two. If the mixture is too dry, you can add water, stock, or wine.

A small jar of hoisin sauce, sweet barbecue sauce, is nice to have around because it can dress up many things. Plain carrots aren’t plain any more with a dollop of hoisin. Sautéed celery is special with a little hoisin. You add a lot of flavor to pork chops or chicken by braising them in fat-free stock and a little hoisin.

Healthy isn’t difficult when you make your plate a rainbow. It takes a little preparation, a little imagination, and alternatives to gobs of oil. Dress a healthy salad with a drizzle of good olive oil and tasty vinegar. Fry foods in stock, not fat. Enjoy.


article by TRENT ROWE, CFHN Food Editor

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