Classes start soon, and with that comes the knowledge that – however much I like to cook and want to eat nutritious and delicious (and cheap) meals during the semester – feeding myself and Zak tends to fall by the wayside once school starts. So I’ve spent the last week or so arming myself (and my freezer) with ways to make it easy to chow down without resorting to packaged meals and pizza every night of the school year. Yes, I take eating seriously, and yes, the semester will be conquered by my tactical assault by means of vitamins and essential nutrients. Here’s the logistics:
1. Breakfast. The meal I hate the most. Being not a morning person, it’s like eating breakfast is an admission of failure – once I start eating, I have officially woken up, and now I have to go do stuff and behave like a civil human being around other human beings who would probably also rather be asleep. And yet, I’m hungry and will feel even worse if I don’t eat something. Usually this means I put breakfast off until I’m about to run out the door with a stomach full of nothing but coffee. And I’d like to eat both a granola bar and a tube of yogurt, but I never do (because I’m incredibly lazy in the morning). So here’s my solution:
Dried cherries + dried blueberries + vanilla yogurt covered raisins + regular raisins + sunflower seeds. Throw into a bag, shake up, then put the mix into the emptied raisin boxes. One box = breakfast…and it’s got protein, B vitamins & anti-oxidants, plus a sugar boost.
2. Lunch. Normally this consists of either Wendy’s dollar menu on campus or, if I’m at the lab, an instant macaroni bowl with queso added to it. Although queso mac and Wendy’s are definitely still options, there’s this… So about once every two weeks, I end up making a ginormous batch of something – stew, slow cooker pork roast, roast beef, whatever. And of course the two of us don’t go through all of it before we’re like, “Okay, I’ve had beef stew three days in a row – Enough already!” So I throw the whole thing in the freezer and forget it exists until I’m trying to fit groceries into the freezer and can’t. So about 1/2 the freezer is full of plastic containers that are 1/2 full of leftovers in big blocks that don’t thaw for two days. So I split up the frozen leftovers into sandwich-size ziplocks, froze them flat (so they thaw quickly) and ended up with about a month’s worth of lunches and more room in the freezer.
3. Smoothies. I love them so! When you don’t have time to get fresh fruits and veggies from the grocery, though, you can run out of things to put in your smoothies pretty quickly – or else you don’t use up your produce quick enough and it all goes bad, which is worse. So I got the idea (from Pinterest) of making “smoothie packs”: pick your produce combo, throw it in a sandwich bag, and freeze it. When you want a smoothie, grab a pack from the freezer, empty it into the blender, add some yogurt and applesauce (or whatever liquid) and you’re good to go. Yay! I made about 7 different “flavors” using these fruits & veggies: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, avocados, spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumber, zucchini, and carrots.
4. Dinner!!! This calls for serious tactics, since dinner is my favorite meal of the day. So:
- 4a. Spent the summer finding recipes that are quick, easy, and don’t use a ton of dishes. Have become a huge fan of the one-pot wonder meals on Pinterest, where I can literally throw all the ingredients (including the noodles) into a covered pot and have dinner 1/2 and hour later. There’s chicken Alfredo, pasta primavera, veggie lo mein, creamy Buffalo penne…you name it! Then there’s savory “cupcake” recipes. Take almost anything and put it in a muffin tin lined with wonton wrappers and bake it for 20 minutes, and it’s awesome. Taco cupcakes and shepherd’s pie cupcakes are my personal favorites!
- 4b. Get a rotisserie chicken. Pull all the meat off it. Toss a little chicken broth and/or white wine in with it so it won’t be dry. Freeze it in small portions. Now when you want a some chicken on a salad, for a pasta dish, or in a soup, you don’t have to cook the chicken. Hooray!
- 4c. Ramen can become a decent meal without taking much longer than it normally takes to make it. All you have to do is add some good flavoring, crack an egg into the hot broth, and stir. Normally my “fancy ramen” includes coconut milk, also. As for the other seasoning I add to fancy ramen, well…I figured I’d just mix up a big batch instead of adding all the ingredients individually.
- 4d. Take a cue from Europe once a week! A plate of bread, good cheeses, fruit, and some form of sliced sausage (smoked sausage, hard salami, etc.) is a damn good meal, and only requires you to pick the stuff to put on the plate. And by good cheese, I’m not talking about a few slices each of Swiss and American cheese. I’m talking about the good shit you get from the deli area of the grocery. I’m talking about Manchego, aged white cheddar, goat cheese with sundried tomatoes and herbs, etc. A little sample size of a few is all you need; you don’t have to break the bank with a huge block of $15 cheese!
- 4e. When my brain is in school mode, it’s not always easy to think about what’s for dinner. So I made two lists to put on the fridge: 15 Minute Meals and 30 Minute Meals. Everything else can wait for the weekend!