Q: Back-to-school season can be a hectic time of year for everyone. How can I feed my family fresh, healthful meals when I have zero time? Any shortcuts to make the cooking process faster?
—Amber Williams, Memphis, TN
A: The key to feeding your family quickly is just a few shortcuts away, with a little planning. First, plan on stocking your pantry well so you can whip up meals in minutes. Don’t just buy one of each, get three to four of each of these healthy mealtime ingredients, like canned tomatoes, broth in cans or cartons, tomato paste, a wide assortment of low-sodium canned beans, whole grain noodles and pasta, whole grains like short-grain brown rice, and other grains like quinoa and barley. Then, add in one or two more gourmet-style ingredients that can ramp up taste, like canned chilies in chipotle sauces, Bragg Liquid Aminos, and flavored vinegars, like blackberry or raspberry balsamic vinegar. Finally, add your proteins and fresh veggies to make a fast skillet meal or soup.
I always stock my standard veggies that keep for more than a week in the crisper and use them over and over again in various meals: kale, collards, onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Then I add in a few that don’t keep as long but make highly nutritious side dishes, like broccoli, spinach, and salad greens, which usually last about five days. For eggs and cheese, most last up to two weeks. If you eat fish or chicken, I use those in the beginning of the week and go vegetarian toward the end of the week.
One way to have dinner on the table fast is to cook up a batch of your grains on Monday or over the weekend and use them in a multitude of ways. Cook 2 cups of plain quinoa and brown rice (they triple in size). Allow them to cool completely before storing in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days. Short-grain brown rice rehydrates well and makes delicious fast rice dishes like my Chipotle Veggie Skillet Rice and cooked quinoa can be reheated for a breakfast cereal that you can top with nuts, dried fruit, and honey. Quinoa tossed with feta cheese, olive oil, and fresh lemon is a perfect kid’s lunchbox side, and you can toss it on salad for a fast yet satisfying lunch. Having grains already prepped means you can toss them with fresh ingredients in a hurry!
Jennifer Iserloh, aka the “Skinny Chef”, is a leader in promoting healthy, vibrant lifestyles though a diet of delicious and nutritious easy-to-prepare meals. A classically trained chef, certified yoga teacher and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Iserloh is the best-selling author of 50 Shades of Kale and Healthy Cheats, among other books.