What's the secret to quick, healthy cooking?
By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com
The secret to getting a nutritious and delicious dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes is not a culinary degree or a team of sous chefs. It's one word: organization. Use these simple tips for pre-planning your meals and organizing your ingredients and you'll never again ask the question "who has time to cook?"
- Plan your meals for the week ahead and shop accordingly: Keep an inventory list of what is in your freezer, pantry, and refrigerator. (Stock your kitchen with foods that are cheap and healthy.) When you are making your meal plans for the week, you'll know what you have so you don't waste food. It will encourage you to use up what is on hand instead of buying new. Always remember the saying, first in, first out. Date and label all your food.
Make every moment count: If you have been saving stale bread for breadcrumbs and already have the food processor out, take a minute to make breadcrumbs. They'll come in handy for coating meats and topping casseroles. If you're waiting for dinner to finish baking, use that time to load the dishwasher, chop nuts for granola, or prep tomorrow's dinner. (Find my favorite quick, healthy recipes here.)
Set aside one afternoon a month for from-scratch projects: Make homemade no-salt chicken and vegetable stocks and freeze for soups and sauces. Bake a batch of granola and some healthy muffins for easy breakfasts on the go.
- Double up: If you're already making one batch, make two. Roast two chickens instead of one and save the meat for sandwiches and salads. Chop twice the vegetables for stir-fry. Make two batches of roasted vegetables if you have the oven on anyway. This is also a good way to make the most of supermarket specials. And speaking of which . . .
- Hoard like a pioneer! When your garden or the farmers' market is overflowing, take time to put up food for the winter. Make pesto from mint, basil, and parsley, prepare tomato sauces for chili and stews, and blanch and chill corn, beans, and peppers for freezing. Roast tomatoes and peppers, and dry hot peppers and herbs.
Unpack with purpose: Don't just put groceries away wherever they fit. Group the condiments together on the fridge door. Place the vegetables in the produce drawer, the whole-wheat flour with the rest of the baking ingredients in the pantry, and the coriander in between the cardamom and cumin in the spice cabinet. A few minutes of organization prevents those frantic searches when you're making dinner. (Peek inside a healthy chef's fridge and freezer!)
- Pre-chop your vegetables: Whether you chop them ahead of time or buy them that way is up to you, but dinner seems like a much less daunting task when all you have to do is add ingredients to a pan. This is definitely something that helps me at home.
- Prepare spice blends in advance: This is a great rainy day chore that will pay you back on a sunny day when you want to be outside. (I've compiled some of my favorite spice blends here.) Having these blends on hand lets me add flavor without pulling a several jars from the pantry and measuring. I save small jars to store these spice blends-they also make great hostess gifts.
Finally, when you're ready to cook, remember the short French phrase mise en place. In the kitchen, mise en place means everything in its place and a place for everything. Before you start any recipe, pull out all the ingredients. There's nothing worse than getting halfway through and realizing you're out of something! Complete any prep work as instructed: chop your vegetables, wash and mince herbs, measure out spices. Line up all your ingredients in advance and you'll find the cooking process will be smooth and stress-free.
About the Author: Meg Galvin
Chef Meg Galvin
SparkPeople.com Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons. (Learn more about SparkPeople.com.)
Reprinted from The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose The Weight (c) 2011 by SparkPeople, Inc. Permission granted by Hay House, Inc., New York, NY 10033. Available wherever books are sold.