Eating Right and Eating Well

Due to the nature of my hectic existence, I’m often really tired when I get home and don’t cook. I’ve known this about myself for a long time, and long ago found a food I could make very quickly that was still healthy: frozen dumplings from Trader Joe’s. I love those things and will eat them every day. This weekend I decided that I am going to start eating them for lunch as it’s much less expensive and to break myself from my Hale & Hearty soups habit. That stuff is great, but expensive.

My dilemma is that if I eat dumplings for lunch, I don’t want to have them for dinner, too. Otherwise it would comprise 80% of my diet. At the same time, it’s hard to find food that can be cooked quickly (i.e. mainly pre-prepared) that is also good for you. No unnecessary preservatives and other junk. Would also help if it was inexpensive. I’m going to try to do more weekend cooking, but, oddly, my weekends are hectic, too. So, I need some other alternatives.

I beseech you, o readers of my blog, to offer some suggestions. My criteria: food that is ready within 15 minutes, that requires very little or no preparation, that is healthy, that isn’t expensive. I’m an omnivore, but I’m trying to limit my pork and beef intake. Fish and chicken are cool, though. I fear I may be asking too much, but I found the dumplings, didn’t I? There has to be more.

28 thoughts on “Eating Right and Eating Well

  1. Crock Pot, which can be cooking while you’re out of the house.

    Prep may take some time — chopping vegetables and so on.

    Non-sodium bouillon, plus lemon juice and or white wine or vinegar makes the broth for all kinds of soups and stews.

    You can cook meat in a slow cooker too — I just made carne adovada in mine, for instance.

    What you need is lots of things on hand, including onions, garlic, and other forms of them besides the raw vegetables, like the powdered kind. With onions and garlic and chile (all different kinds there are!), and even dried mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto — you can always make pasta very quickly.

    Beans and rice stay good refrigerated for at least 5 days. Make enough at one turn, and all you need to do is warm them up.

    It’s endless what you can have to whip up dinner in a few minutes, if you live alone or are feeding only another adult besides oneself, and you have supplies on hand. Your freezer is an excellent friend.

    This is how this household eats — meals made from scratch but seldom do all the parts get made at one time. It’s very healthy: low sodium, non-sugar, seseme or olive oil, etc.

    Love, c.

  2. This is a good book: Going Solo in the Kitchen by Jane Doerfer. What I like best (next to the recipes) is the concept that you deserve good food and that cooking is an investment in yourself.

  3. I third the hummus, raw veggies, and pita combo.

    Also, I think TJs has these quick cups of couscous soup. Either TJs does or your basic supermarket will. You know, boil water, fill up the cup, let it sit for three minutes. It’s less sodiumy than instant ramen or other types of stuff, and it’s a small package.

    TJs also has prepared sushi maki; their brown rice california rolls are decent, although I would avoid the other ones.

    Also, if you want, next time I’m in NYC I’ll teach you how to make Chinese dumplings. You can make a huge batch and freeze it for months, and then just defrost and eat as needed, the same way you do the TJs dumplings. The advantage here is that you can use wrappers that are more complex carb, and you can vary the ingredients to give you more protein, less fat, more veggies, less sodium, etc.

  4. I second the ramen suggestion. Anything that cooks fast (green veggies, baby veggies, mushrooms, an egg) can go into the broth and there are some MSG-less brands out there. (Koka, if it’s available where you are.) Also, I’ve discovered potato omelettes. Potatoes cut into thin fries (skins can be left on), pan-fried for 10 minutes, add veggies (prepped while the fries are frying), and lastly your scrambled egg mixture (with or without cheese)… and I salivated while typing that up.

  5. An egg, a couple of ounces of flour and some milk and you have pancake batter and/or yorkshire pudding mix – assuming you’re cooking in an oven, throw some sausages (I use frozen vegetarian ones) into a roasting dish in the oven while you make the batter, then pour the batter over the sausages and put it back in the oven for toad-in-the-hole (I can’t help the name)

  6. With Merrie Haskell on the giant salad- Trader Joe’s bagged salads are great and seem to last longer than the normal supermarket brands.

    My current usual work lunch is hummus and pita bread- varied with cut-up carrots, celery, etc.

  7. What I have found here with joy is that salmon is more or less as expensive as meat, especially if bought in bulk, that is, six or eight pieces ready for freezing.

    So what I do is wrap a still-frozen piece of salmon in foil, with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper, put it in the oven, switch it on around 200C for 25 minutes, take fish out, eat. Hmmmm. Heaven. Lots of nice omega3, no butter.

    Then there’s pasta: No, you don’t cook it for the week, you just boil the water, throw in 80gr of pasta, put some olive oil in a pan with some tomato sauce and heat it while the pasta cooks, add capers, black olives, oregano, pancetta cubes, basil, all together or in any combination. Or, heat up some butter and put in a small can of tuna in brine, chop it up so it is all nice and separated, add the juice of half a lemon and thyme. Pour on pasta.

    Then there’s fried egg rice: this requires pre-cooked rice. Heat sesame oil in wok, beat up one or two eggs with some soy sauce or miso, mix the rice with the egg, pour into the wok, mix mix mix, take off the fire, add defrosted peas and defrosted maiz cooked in the microwave. Very good.

  8. I like making ramen, and you can make it healthier by not using the ultra-high-sodium packets, and instead cooking it in chicken broth (instead of water), and chopping up some vegetables for variety (scallions, mushrooms, etc).

    I like spice, so I usually add a little sesame chili oil or something, too.

    Boiling + 3 minutes FTW!

  9. I have a boiled sweet potato for lunch most days. Very easy, and high in nutrients. I make a super-easy lentil soup, too: put a diced onion, a few tins of chopped tomatoes (or fresh ones), and about 1/2 a cup of lentils in a pot. Add some chili flakes. Let boil until the lentils are soft. It’s great with crusty bread. I also love boiling up bok choi, eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms in a miso stock with noodles. Yum! Oh, and cottage cheese and cinnamon on fruit with salsa and salad on corn thins makes a great breakfast. :)

  10. Slow cooker. Dump a bunch of stuff in it on Sunday at noon, by Sunday night you have stuff to eat all week. This past month I’ve made veggie casserole, rice and beans, and meatless Shephard’s pie.

  11. Chop up (or buy a frozen, pre-chopped) bag of random stir-fryable vegetables. Stir fry them in a bit of oil. At the same time, boil water for couscous (which is way quicker to cook than rice–you take the water off the stove, put in an equal amount of couscous, cover and let stand five minutes).

    Put veggies on couscous, toss in some pine nuts if you want protein, add a little soy sauce, and eat. :-)

  12. I have a zillion quick-ish one-pot recipes — like saag paneer, since I live down the street from an Indian grocery that sells paneer cheese and I always have spinach in the freezer — but they do tend to require a bit of prep. Lately I have been making tomato-cucumber-corn salads, which is chop chop chop all the way but good cold. (And, incidentally, has no protein, unless you mix in canned white beans.)

    (My true bane is washing the dishes afterward.)

    I have liked Trader Joe’s apple sausages (pre-cooked, so they nuke in a jiffy and don’t go bad quickly) as well as their frozen latkes (in winter). Their frozen samosas are so-so, or anyway, I bake them when they’re supposed to be fried, so I don’t know how they’re supposed to taste. I wish they still carried frozen edamame out of their shells — my location doesn’t any more — because I used to nuke up handfuls of those to throw over a garden salad.

  13. If you could wait a whole half hour, a piece of salmon slapped onto a toaster oven tray skin-side up at 350 degrees is simple and delicious. Stick a potato and/or an ear of corn in the microwave to go with it and you’ve got an actual meal of real food.

  14. Here’s a somewhat similar query and a few answers:
    Other Trader Joe’s-based things:
    Box of chicken mini-tacos, baked (toppings like light sour cream, guacamole, salsa, optional)
    Frozen corn heated up (can put a little butter on)
    Refried black beans or other canned beans, heated up
    You’ll have extra tacos, but somehow I like them cold.

    Box of the eggplant cutlets, baked (I hate eggplant but I like these)
    Either a bag of any of their frozen pastas, or any pasta (angel hair/cappellini is fastest) and any jarred sauce
    Shredded parmesan (from a wedge or in a bag or a tub, not that junk in the green tube)
    You’ll have leftovers, but they heat up OK.

    In a pinch, their refrigerated section has a couple of things like Harissa Chicken that are decent and fairly tasty and extremely fast.

  15. Do you still have access to Trader Joe’s? Because you can go look at their ready-to-eat and frozen sections. 2/3 of them are less-than-15-min, and few or no preservatives.

  16. Office dronitude more or less restricts me to freezer meals for lunch, so I’ve eaten a wider range of the stuff than I’d like. Amy’s frozen Indian meals are some pure awesomeness, cheap and healthy (long as you watch your sodium for the rest of the day) and ridiculously yum. I’m also a sucker for Healthy Choice french bread pizzas, which are shockingly not-terrible-for-you.

  17. Rice cookers are awesome for this sort of thing, and I suspect that the inexpensive ones from W*l-M*rt are as good as the deluxe ones from the fancy kitchen stores if you are value conscious in the accessory department.

    A half-cup of rice and a cup of water, then put a cup of frozen broccoli in the steamer tray, and that takes fifteen minutes to cook. In the mean time, I grill 4 ounces of chicken breast on my George Foreman grill and slice it into thin strips. Pour it all in a bowl and add a tablespoon of soy sauce and you’ve got a balanced 400 calorie meal with good fiber where you can walk away from the kitchen for most of the cooking time. Lots of sodium, alas.

    I use the same sort of technique to make a very bland beans and rice bowl, and spice that up with 2 tablespoons of hot salsa. The beans are really easy too cook in a crock pot overnight or while you work, and you can cook a few day’s worth at once and store them to be reheated in the rice cooker’s steamer tray. More fiber, less sodium, fewer calories, much less taste (at least with my bean cooking skills). And once you have a crock pot, you can theoretically make a zillion great dishes, but I’ve been too single and intimidated to look too far into that.

  18. I am a fan of steam-in-the-bag veggies with a splash of asian ginger salad dressing, with grilled or microwaved fish.

  19. I was on a pretty big GIANT SALAD kick for a while, since I could vary the protein source every night. Deli turkey breast one night, avocado another, taco meat or beans & rice another. Or all of the above.

    As long as I have pine nuts or tortilla strips, the crunch is good enough, and a little sprinkle of mozzerella cheese… with a base of 2-3 cups of prewashed organic baby greens or (cheaper) non-prewashed Romaine, and a diced up bell pepper of the current cheapest color…

    The key is not getting a too fatty/sugary dressing, and that takes some experimentation to figure out what you like, though light caesars almost always seem to fit the bill pretty well.

    Your 15 minutes is pretty much all chopping and washing, and it’s frequently only 10 minutes.

    The drawback: you pretty much have to shop at least every week to keep everything good and fresh.

  20. One solution I’ve been using during my three weeks of summer bachelorhood:

    On Saturday or Sunday, roast a chicken. It takes a good hour and a half or so, but doesn’t require much work. Since I’m not picky about free-range expensive chickens, we’re talking $4-6 for my local prices (cost spread over five or so days, of course).

    Then get one of the Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice Brown Rice packets. They run $1-$1.50 (depending on sale price), and are ready in 90 seconds.

    Reheat a portion of the chicken (via the microwave), and while the latter is cooling, cook the rice. Then toss the chicken onto the rice, and you’ve got a quick meal that’s filling.

    (Note: You can substitute a store-bought rotisserie chicken, of course, which saves work, and only generally adds a dollar or so to the price. You can also, if you’re willing to bump the time to 25 minutes a night, get those Near East boxes of pilafs/wild rice, which are pricey but occasionally drop to $1 a box on sale days around here.)

  21. Not sure how readily available they are in the states, but lately I’ve been buying pre-made ravioli and tortellini with cheese, beef or spinach filling. Prep time is about ten minutes.

  22. Lady, you’re talking my language right here. I’m all about the grab-and-go meal. I favor sandwich-like things, hummus on wholegrain toast. Then add tomatoes or even tuna on top if you want a double shot of protein. Also, refried bean burritos with cheese and maybe some quorn. They take like 2 seconds to make in the microwave, and can be piled with sour cream which is not healthy but is delicious. Avocados chopped up with tuna or canned chicken … on toast. I basically eat everything on toast. It makes the plate really easy to clean up.

  23. If you have a rice cooker, (which is well worth the $50 or so if you like rice) you can put rice & water in it, and drop a frozen plank of basically any kind of fish in the steamer basket on top, with some garlic salt or other seasoning sprinkled on the fish. Set it to cook, go do other stuff, and in 15 or min the rice and fish will be perfectly cooked. I stir them together in a bowl with a little bottled stir-fry sauce and it’s very yummy.

  24. Actually, starting off with a decent breakfast is a good idea (yes, I know you didn’t mention that :)).

    An easy breakfast is two eggs, over easy, with toast. Get a decent whole grain bread for the toast, and make sure to cook the eggs lightly (about three minutes on a low-medium heat). Not something for every day, but a decent twice a week breakfast. Takes five minutes when you get it down.

Comments are closed.