Reader Request: Quick Meals

Anne-Marie says: “I’d be interested in hearing your ideas on ‘OMG I have 20 min to make and eat something’ recipes, or ‘I seem to be on the highway, am starving and no end to the errands to do in sight’ solutions….”

Excellent question, I have a few basics I can do quickly. Before I start though, I will state for the record that my husband does the majority of the cooking in our house. I am not a chef, I am what could be best described as an Extremely Reluctant Cook. I know lots of people like my husband who can make gourmet feasts, who can whip up a delicious meal from an seemingly-empty cupboard, people who enjoy cooking and can be considered artists in the kitchen. That’s not me, I am very aware of my shortcomings in the kitchen. So the things I whip up quickly are based on culinary fumbling, low expectations, and are extremely basic.

That being said, I’ve learned to put together a few quick default meals for when I’m stuck cooking for myself without much time to spare. The first point about cooking without a lot of time is that the kitchen has be stocked and ready beforehand. This is part of the planning process, I keep some of the basics on hand so I can whip something up when I need to. Here are the things I try to keep on hand all the time:

-frozen veggies
-frozen lean meats – pre-cooked and peeled shrimp, chicken breast, etc
-fresh veggies of a wide variety
Boca patties (more of a last resort)
-a collection of spices
-a collection of sauces and salsas

With these basics on hand, I can do a pretty good fast meal. When I was learning to maintain my weight, I did a lot of experimentation. I had a great fruit and veggie market near my house, so I would make a point to grab items I wasn’t familiar with and try them out. This allowed me to come up with some rules of thumb for cooking most veggies. Here’s my ultra-quick default:

Grab whatever veggies are handy, for example, broccoli, fresh green beans, or asparagus (so many possibilities!) and trim them quickly. Spray the bottom of a skillet with cooking spray like Pam, and heat. Throw the, for example, green beans in the pan once it’s hot, then go mix up some sauce while the veggies start cooking. For a long time I was doing equal parts soy sauce and vinegar, a spoonful of sugar, some corn starch and a bit of water in my sauce. Lately I’ve been making a dry paste by throwing in a half cup of water once the beans a sizzling nicely, then start shaking a Penzey’s spice mix over it till it is good and thick. (I recently received a gift box of mixed Penzey’s spices from a very thoughtful friend as a birthday gift. This was possibly the most considerate and prescient gift I’ve received in a very long time – I am tearing it up trying those spices out on salads, in veggies, in soups, etc.) The sauce thickens up while the veggies cook, I toss in water (only if needed, I like a dry sauce on my veggies that’s more like a paste), throw in a handful of frozen pre-cooked shrimp to heat up, and it’s dinner!

This works with most veggies and meat combinations, or without meat at all. Another option if I’ve got eggs on hand is an omelette. I’m an unrepentant breakfast lover, I’ll happily eat an omelette for breakfast, lunch or dinner. 2-3 egg whites, one whole egg, a handful of diced veggies (tomatoes and basil is a favorite) and a spoonful of greek yogurt or feta on top and dinner is served. A little salsa is also great for topping an omelette. I don’t eat meat with every meal, because I don’t personally crave it much and I don’t like preparing it because I’m not very good at it. I maybe eat it 3-5 days a week, and it plays a role more as a garnish or flavoring than as a main in my meals.

And, as always, if worst comes to worst, I can heat up a frozen dinner or a can of stock-based soup in less than 5 minutes. They’re ready fast and since I only buy entrees or soups with fewer than 300 calories per package, they’re already portion controlled and I know they won’t break the calorie bank. Maybe not my preferred option, nor an every-night kind of meal, but great in a pinch.

On the road, with nowhere to cook and no snacks on hand I’m at the vagaries of what I can forage. Off the top of my head, I know that Subway has some passable quick options and they’re everywhere, if I can find a fruit and veggie market I can grab something to tide me over, and if I have time to stop for dinner I’ll use my restaurant eating techniques wherever I end up.

What sorts of healthy meals do you make when you don’t have much time?


5 Responses to “Reader Request: Quick Meals”

  1. Princess Dieter Says:

    I find that I always need to take something with me on errands/visits to family/etc. That means some sort of bar or nuts or string cheese or something in my purse. It was my saving grace to have protein bars and water bottles when I was camping daily at the hospital this summer with a dying nephew. It kept me from becoming unduly hungry.

    Also, knowing where the “I can eat decent on plan foods at this place” type of restaurants are to dive in as needed for takeout.

    But finding some sort of protein bar that could be an emergency aid with a bottle of water was key. I don’t eat them normally. I ‘d rather have fruit and nuts or fruit and cheese or cheese and nuts. But for a “can be in my purse for weeks/months” sort of ration, it works. The “I’m dying of hunger on the highway” scenarios.; )

    For home: I must have salad fixings, eggs, cheese, proteins, fruit. Period. Must keep in stock. And since I hate to cook, cooking extra every time, so I can get 2 to 3 meals out of each turn at the stove. Leftovers are ..easy. 😀

    If I were working now and had to take food with me, I’d invest in a portable thermos/cooler that’s got a shoulder strap and keep it stocked with healthy snacks. I make 3 tupperware type cotainers that fit in one cooler for hubby to take daily. 2 lunches. 1 filled with snack options. He doesn’t have to buy junk. Ever. That’s what I’d do if I worked and had access to a fridge. If no access, I’d invest in a good cooler. Then scoping area restaurants for that take-out plan in safe zones. Only safe zones. I wouldn’t go into restaurants/fast food places that offered trigger foods for me. 😀

  2. lisalys Says:

    I love the frozen tilapia they sell at costco — they’re individually wrapped, so I can just grab a couple and stick ’em in some water to quickly thaw. They cook up in just a few minutes and taste awesome with chili powder, cumin, and lime. I often just cook up some onions and whatever veggie we have in the house and scootch them to the side of the pan before I dump the fish in.

  3. Stacy Kilpatrick Says:

    Our quick to make, low cal meal is soup. We have it several times a week, especially lately since my week night schedule has exploded. Saute some chopped onion (or shallots), carrots and celery for a few minutes. Add broth of your choice and any variety of chopped veggies you have in your frig. You can add a small amount of left over meat or a can of beans for more protein. It only needs to simmer for a 5-10 minutes depending on the size of your veggies and how soft you like them. Add a splash of acid (vinegar, lemon or lime juice) and some fresh herbs at the end if you have them.

    Stacy Kilpatrick

  4. Michelle Says:

    I’ll take a can of tuna and mix in a little bit of mayo and top it with tomatoes and cucumbers for a quick lunch or dinner if I have to run out. Another quick dinner idea is to take a whole wheat pita bread, cut it in half, and throw in some turkey and cheese and toast it. Or taking that whole wheat pita and making a little pizza out of it with some sauce, cheese,tomatoes and garlic. I put that in a little pan and cook it on low on the stove and its usually ready rather quickly. I do not eat much in the way of white flour. But whole wheats and grains have helped me take weight off and keep it off.


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