Cookin’ it, Old School

September 16, 2013

Remember back in the day when mom or grandma would spend Sundays at the stove making delicious homemade food for an early 3pm dinner?  The smell of onions and garlic sauteing in a large pot with a drizzle of olive oil.  The cans of tomatoes lined up like soldiers waiting to be poured into the pot and turned into a velvety tomato sauce for pasta. Perfectly formed meatballs sizzling away in a frying pan ready to be dunked in the sauce and turned into little balls of heaven.  Those are some of my memories of being at my grandma’s house on a Sunday.  We (being Italian-American) always had pasta with sauce on a Sunday.  There was usually a little salad to go with it and white wine for the adults.  I used to ask to “taste-test” a meatball, to make sure there were good.  My grandma always gave me one ahead of dinner, usually with a crust of Italian bread to dip in the extra sauce. It was a wonderful routine.  Sauce, bread, meatballs, getting a piece before everyone else – it was heavenly!

Marie and her Grandma Marie, 1981

Marie and her Grandma Marie, 1981

My grandma is cooking sauce and pasta up in heaven now, so I don’t get to scam early meatballs from her anymore.  I do have to put dinner on the table for my own family every night (not just Sundays) and I think a lot about the traditions that I grew up with and how different things are now.  My grandma was retired and had all day to cook, whereas now most of us moms are working out of the home and have so much more to juggle.

Marie and Grandma Mary, late 90's

Marie and Grandma Mary, late 90’s

To make sure the weeknights are about healthy eating and not ordering Chinese food, I earmark a few hours on Sunday afternoon to get some cooking done.  This allows me to simply re-heat and eat during the week when things are crazy as we are coming home from work and picking up my little one from daycare.  It’s the only way I can get a home cooked meal on the table 5 nights a week.  My strategy every week is to make 3 different meals that we can have for dinner and/or lunch and that usually gets us through 4 days.  Since we are a small family of 2 adults and 1 toddler, usually making meals for a family of four lasts us for 2 meals, at least.  Then I plan one meal that I will make and serve on the same night.  That could be a crock pot dish (that I can leave cooking during the day) or something that is a 30 minute meal.

So now, on Sundays I’m cooking like a whirling dervish in my tiny kitchen to make sure our fridge is stuffed with healthy food.  It’s a far cry from my grandma slowly cooking a tomato sauce all day, but its our ritual and it works for us.  Once the weather gets colder, I’ll definitely be making more one-pot dishes like soups and stews (and tomato sauce) that will give my home the aroma of onions, celery and carrots simmering away.  Until then, this is my strategy.

Marie’s 5 Easy Tips on How to Fill Your Fridge with Healthy Food

1) Plan to cook 3 make ahead meals for the week.  

I usually pick one beef dish, one chicken and one vegetarian meal.  We normally eat Meatless on Mondays, so I cook the vegetarian meal for that and also for lunch leftovers.

To make the most use of my small kitchen I plan to make one dish in the slow cooker, one in the oven and one on the stove top.  That way I am truly cooking 3 things at once.  One of my favorite make ahead meals for the week is Organic Chicken and Brown Rice that only takes one pot to cook.

2) Decide on what snacks you will want and pre-make and portion those out

I like to make a bunch of hard boiled eggs for snacks and I even peel them so they are ready-to-eat, even on the go.  I put one egg in a small reusable container so they are portioned out and I can thrown one in a lunch bag every morning without thinking.

My other favorite snack is trail mix or plain nuts.  I also portion that out ahead of time into reusable containers so that I don’t overeat it.

3) Have salad ingredients on hand

We eat salad with lunch and also with dinner.  To jazz up a regular bag o’ salad, I add cucumber slices, orange and yellow peppers and red onion.  I dice all these vegetables on Sunday and keep them in a separate container.  Then when it’s time to serve salad I just combine them with lettuce and dressing – voila!  Bags of salad also keep in the fridge very well, so its great to have on hand in case you run out of make ahead meals.  You can always top a salad with a can of tuna and have a new meal!

4) Find one meal (usually one you can make without a recipe) to cook fresh during the week 

Even the most diligent of us will get tired of re-heating and eating, so plan one night where your after work/school activities are light to make a fresh meal.  For me, this is usually the night we have pasta or baked chicken.  Always aim for easy recipes that you know by heart (for the most part) so that this one meal a week is a joy and doesn’t stress you out.

5) Don’t forget about breakfast!  

Think through what you’ll need to make sure breakfast is part of the equation as well.  For breakfast we normally do smoothies or juices because they are so fresh and easy.  I bought reusable cups and disposable straws so that we can put juices in the cups and drink them on our way to work. The straws are sometimes a pain to clean, so I throw those out but reuse my cups.  If you like to have eggs in the morning there are some great recipes out there for make ahead quiches or egg muffins.  This time of year you could also enjoy a pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast that is make ahead and no-cook!

If this seems a bit overwhelming at first, I understand.  With my health coaching clients, I always tell them to pick the low-hanging fruit first.  Whichever of these rules seems the easiest to incorporate into your daily like, choose that!  Do that one for a week or two, get the habit down-pat and then add in another rule.  The other piece of advice is that you know your family best, so modify these accordingly to suit your needs.  The idea is not about following rules but about making your life easier.

What make-ahead meals do you like to make?  Please let me know in the comment section.

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