Who has endless amounts of time and energy at the end of the day to cook a healthy balanced meal that will create leftovers, but not too many? Wait, the answer is no one I know. If you’ve read this blog ever, you know that there is no shame in Punting (take out, frozen food, etc.), but what if you’re ready to up your game?
The Practical Cook does not claim that you can make a gourmet dinner with separate sauces and courses every night between 6 and 7 pm in the time zone of your choice. Read on for some thoughts on solving this problem.
Today’s reader question comes to us from someone we shall call Mr. T. I pity the fool who asks him to eat meat.
Dear Practical Cook:
I love to cook but I rarely do because I hate the time it requires. I often go to the gym after work, and when I get home I’m usually so hungry that I don’t want to spend time fixing myself something and will instead opt for cereal, a sandwich, or a Whole Foods microwave meal. I’d like to change this behavior—I want to eat healthier and I’d also like to have leftovers for lunch and other dinners. Do you/your readers have any recipe suggestions for quick, delicious, nutritious vegetarian meals? (Note: I don’t like spaghetti or marina/tomato sauce—strange, I know, but it’s the way I’m hardwired.)
The Practical Cook loves a challenge. A bit more investigation gave me more detail on preferences, and here’s what I suggest for Mr. T:
1. Make a list and shop once a week. Don’t waste time going to a crowded store after work multiple times a week. That’s an extra trip to the gym, time in the kitchen, 25 potential Tweets. Anyone who wants the deep-dive on this topic can look at the “Weekly Menus” category for ideas. Suggested staples:
- Dry Pasta
- Whole Wheat Tortillas
- Canned Beans, Selection of
- Cereal (including Oatmeal)
2. Batch cook once a week. Do this either on the day you shop or the next day. Find what works for you. Since Mr. T is a fan of pasta primavera, I would suggest pan-roasting, grilling, or broiling a selection of veggies (squash, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, whatever is in season) with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, basil or oregano. If you have mostly-prepped ingredients, such as any combo of the veggies above, you can make:
- Pasta Primavera
- Veggie Burrito (add beans or tempeh, rice if you like it, salsa, cheese)
- Pita Pizza (a little goat cheese would be great for this, some prepared pesto for the non-marinara factor)
- Salad (with tempeh or tofu, beets, nuts, goat cheese)
- Stuffed Baked Potato
- Gratin (just add a little cheese) and Toast
3. Start small. There’s no need to go all Bobby Flay on the first day. Nothing is worse than buying too much, having food waste, being really tired, and feeling guilty. Set a goal for cooking more, but stock cereal, sandwich stuff, and emergency frozen food. Or start a blog about cooking and force yourself to cook more because you need fodder. Just an idea.
4. Mix and match. Nothing is worse than spending too much time with the same leftovers. If you opt to make something like soup or chili (both great options), automatically freeze most of it in appropriate portion sizes. Now you’ve got your own emergency frozen food! Find ways to repurpose your leftovers (like discussed above), or consider tossing it in a blender and changing the texture.
5. Buy cute leftover/lunch containers. This actually matters, and not just for kids. There are any number of Bento box lunch kits and BPA free containment devices. Make your food appealing to you, and you’ll be more likely to pull it out of the freezer or pack your lunch.
Great question Mr. T! What are some of your favorite quick and easy vegetarian meals, gentle readers? Post them here for the world to see.
Send your dinner questions (no problem too large or small) to practical cook at gmail dot com. Or post a comment here, or connect on Facebook (The Practical Cook Blog).