Tuesday, November 09, 2010


... you have twenty minutes, thirty minutes tops, to create a healthy dinner for your family every evening without having to resort to PB & J and cereal for dinner, the sad extent of my culinary talents. What do you do? What do you on the run between the kid's extra-circular activities? Keep in mind that I leave directly from work to take my son to his after school functions so I am not near a stove. I would have to prepare something in the morning and keep it with me all day. Again, what do you do to avoid the drive thru?


Stella Oriens said...

I am of Eurasian extraction brought up in Australia, so ingredients common to me may be difficult for you. When I was living alone in Japan last year, I concocted a recipe even a lazy 20s man could do in his sleep. It takes a bit of preparation, but it goes a long way.

Buy a couple of chicken breasts, soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic (crushed if you prefer) and whatever herbs you feel like (I had basil, oregano, and other stuff I forget). Oh, and lemon juice.

Rinse the chicken breasts, trim off the skin and fat, then slice into thin strips. These will shrink when you eventually fry them, but the idea here is to create the highest possible surface area for the marinade to seep in.

In a resealable (tupperware?) container pour a generous amount of soy sauce and an equal amount of water (so 1:1), then toss in a couple dollops of oyster sauce, and however much of the herbs. You can tell I was meticulous about measurements.

Mix up your marinade and put the strips of chicken breast in them - they need at least half an hour, but they can last in the fridge for a week before they start to look suspicious. If you prepare them at the weekend, you could have dinner for days.

When you get home of a Monday, cook two serves of rice (best done with a small rice cooker, cheaply obtained from any asian grocery) and fry a suitable number of chicken strips according to need. I'm a big guy and usually stretched two chicken breasts to between three and five serves.

The rice may be tricky for you (I don't know how common rice is amongst non-asian Americans), but if you get one of those rice cookers (they cost $20 here, and our dollar is only very recently worth more than yours) it's a simple matter of taking 3-4 (standard) cups of rice and the same number of cups of water, putting them in the rice cooker and hitting the button.

I hope my simple student's fare is satisfying for your little priest in the making!

Terry Nelson said...

Canned soup, grilled cheese sandwich. Mac and cheese. Frozen dinners. Canned chili. Hot dogs and something. Should I move down there? I'd have your vodka and tonic ready when you got home. LOL!

Stella Oriens said...

Ha! I forgot to mention that the crushed garlic and lemon juice go in the marinade. I'm sure you would have figured that out, but I'll make it clear anyway.

Also, your son may expect something besides meat with his rice. Maybe not though, since at his age meat and rice is a perfectly respectable meal... and at my age, actually. At any age!

I also didn't explain that you fry the marinated strips on medium heat with little oil - just enough to stop it sticking. I used olive oil because it's delicious, but you could use whatever.

Rick said...

Boil water. Keep in thermos bottle until ready to mix with instant oatmeal or cup-o-noodles.

Fresh fruit and nuts. Granola bars.

MREs (military food)

Jane said...

Do you have a few minutes in the morning to reheat things? Do you have a thermos or other keep-things-warm food container? Is your son ok with eating the same thing two or three times in the same week? Do you have a day off?

If the answer to the above questions is "yes," here are some ideas. First, cook two or three things on your day off. Many things will keep for about a week after cooking and can be reheated at will.

Foods that I have found do well being cooked ahead, refrigerated, reheated, and kept hot in a thermos include most meat stews, spaghetti, beans, and some kinds of casserole. Sliced cooked chicken breast is very versatile, and tasty hot or cold, keeps well, and works in quesadillas, curry, salad, sandwich, etc.

If you don't want to spend your entire day off bent over a stove, buy a crockpot. They're not expensive, and as long as you follow a recipe it's really hard to burn or undercook the food (I have problems with both). There are a number of good crockpot recipes for which you can just throw all the ingredients in in the morning and forget about them until dinner time. When the food is done, let the pot cool down, take the stoneware out of the cooking unit, and put the whole thing in the fridge. At will, scoop out contents, reheat on stove or microwave, and pour into the thermos.

Soups are good too, but not if you have to eat in the car.

I'd be happy to give some specific easy recipes if you'd like.

Anonymous said...

Crock pot (a.k.a slow cooker) is your best friend. You can't take it with you, of course, but I can't see how you manage to eat cereal in a vehicle, either. (Maybe I'm misreading?) Anyway, things like chicken, pork, and soups can be put on in the morning and when you come back in the evening, they're done.

TCN said...

The crock pot is, indeed, your friend, as are ziplock freezer bags. Lots of good recipes online, from jambalaya to pot roast. Pot roast lasts several days if you plan ahead and have lots of tupperware. Also, make big batches on Sunday and freeze them, like chili, spaghetti sauce, even cheesy potatoes. Go get a Joy of Cooking cookbook--it has some crazy stuff but also tends to allow you to cook on the quick and cheap. Not every meal needs to by Steak Diane, and most things can be fixed ahead and frozen for quick retrieval. Ask every mom you know and collect their hints--that's how we learned! You will smile when your son says (like mine did) "My mom is the best cooker."

Margaret Mary said...

Do you have access to a microwave before you leave work?

Debbie said...

Chicken, tuna, or egg salads packed in cooler with different breads and/or crackers for variety. Fruits, veggies and dip, veggies that are good blanched--green beans, sugar snap peas, asparagus,etc. Cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs. Simple salads with grilled and sliced chicken breasts, fun and varying salad extras. Think of packing a picnic and put it in your cooler.

Stitchwort said...

I see several others have beaten me to this suggestion, so maybe a theme is emerging.


Here in Canada, I bought my medium-sized one on sale for $15 (plus tax, of course), so they aren't necessarily expensive.

Borrow a crockpot cookbook from the library and try two or three things that look interesting. Take that book back and borrow another.

Freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions. In a few weeks (of one recipe a week) you will have a freezer full of varied meals which can be thawed while the pasta or rice is cooking and there you have a good supper in 20 to 30 minutes.

Oh--do copy down the recipes you like so you can make them again!

Rick said...

Lunchables - contains meats, bread, juice & dessert. Comes in diff. varieties.

Pita bread & hummus.

Lydia McGrew said...

To add "on the side" to these great main dish suggestions: My kids love fresh red bell pepper slices. They have a sort of sweet flavor to them. If you make one of the above ideas for your main dish and you're like, "What about a vegetable?" _don't cook_ a vegetable. Just slice up red bell pepper pieces and much them. Good for you and balance out the meal.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Store bought salad (1 minute give or take), a can of veggies heated on the stove (5 mins), some form of fruit (apple orange etc.) and a quick main course. I have found the George Foreman grill to be one of the greatest inventions ever. There is a plethora of main courses ranging from fish, to poultry to beef that can be grilled in minutes. You can get as simple (chicken patties served on hamburger rolls) or as complicated (dressed and marinated boneless breast of chicken or even steaks) as you wish. On alternative evenings you can serve some pasta using sauce prepared either earlier in the day or the night before and left to warm in a crock pot. Noodles generally take no more than 10 minutes to prepare. And maybe once a week give yourself a break (and give the kid a treat) and just pop a good frozen pizza in the over.

On a side note; don't let "fun" take over your life. If your schedule is so hectic that it is interfering with family dinner more than a couple of nights a week, then something needs to give. And it should not be dinner. Family meals are important, maybe more so than all of the extra-curricular stuff. Sports etc. in moderation are good. But so is family time and good nutrition.

A good question here is what kind of schedule does your son have?


Sarah said...

Dried beans cooked in a crock pot with onions and spices are one of the easiest, cheapest meals ever. Make a big batch of rice and you have meals for days. I'm just a single grad student, but I do lots of cooking on weekends and store individual tupperware for the week, maybe add a salad.

I also just got hooked on a blog with super easy, well explained, affordable recipes. http://budgetbytes.blogspot.com/

Mark Scott Abeln said...

During winter I will put lots of veggies, beans, and whatnot in a crock pot and I'll eat hearty for days.

Elisabeth said...

There is nothing in the world wrong with feeding The Boy a peanut butter sandwich with an apple or a container of on-sale yoghurt and a thermos bottle of milk on the way to his activities. In that situation, what's important is healthy calories fast, and that meal-lette will stay with you all day without any trouble. I was trying to be the mother of the year (single category) by providing lovely variety, then discovered that my daughter was really happier with a consistent meal during these dashes.

More importantly to me, my dear - what are you feeding yourself on these dashes from work to school to soccer to the library? A brilliant midwife told me to always keep almonds in the car. They're expensive, but perfect for filling in the corners (and cheaper at Trader Joe's).

Lee Gilbert said...

1. Trader Joe's low sodium vegetable juice bizzed up with an egg yolk. Season to taste with hotsauce or curry and sea salt in cold thermos. Serve with almonds or trail mix.

2. One frozen banana bizzed up with milk and 1 or 2 egg yolks, plus one stevia envelope and two or three tbsp of flaxseed oil. Keep ice cold if possible. Deeelicisous. A little vanilla helps, too,

3puddytats said...

I had a couple of semesters where I was doing just that--running from working 8 hours to sit in a 3 hour evening class...and yeah about 1/2 hour into the class I was crashing...

What I found really helped was eating a GOOD breakfast and lunch...in class I snacked on cut-up fruit or dried fruit or banana chips, corn tortillas (cut-up) with pieces of cheese and lunch meat (doesn't crunch like crackers and won't go bad as long as you don't leave it in a hot car), raisins, and the occasional granola bar or protein bar. Jerky is also good too....think camping/backpacking...

These aren't really supposed to replace a meal...just to get ya by until you can make it home and get some REAL food..

Nod said...

Crock pot is your friend. They come in all sizes (including personal) and you don't have to have any skill to use them -- throw stuff in the pot and come back later and eat.

Lots of recipes available will make you a gourmet with no effort. Pop it in some Thermos-ware to go!

PaxetBonum said...

Crock pot may be your friend, but microwave oven is your lifeline. Rule of thumb- if you can't nuke it, don't buy it. There's a million frozens out these days, a few of my favorites lines are- Stouffers Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and Michelina's Lean Gourmets (formerly Budget Gourmet) has a bunch of little boxed 200-300 cal entrees for less than $2. Trader Joes has a great frozen section with all sorts of dishes, meats, seafood and veggies, from mild to wild, a little pricier than the big chain or warehouse stores, but well worth it... hopefully you've got a TJs in/near Charlotte? Excellent prices on produce, milk and other staples, too.

The Fastest Breakfast In The West-
cover the bottom of a microwave safe bowl with a layer of frozen Jimmie Dean Breakfast Skillet mix (Ham, Sausage, etc). Pour in enough liquid Egg Beaters to completely cover the skillet mix; sprinkle on some grated parmesan/romano cheese. Microwave for 4-5 minutes in a 1200W oven or until there is no more liquid egg visible on top... and Bam! Instant hearty breakfast omelet; splash on some pico de gallo and/or Cholula sauce and it's heaven in a bowl. Add a bowl of TJs Organic Morning Lite cereal or a raisin bran muffin on the side, wash down w/ hot instant coffee and you are good to go, sistah...

Fair warning- my captcha was "burns"- bwahahaha!


John said...

Prepare pasta or rice.

While that is in process, heat olive oil in a small frying pan, add garlic and seasonings to your preference (I find that the Gourmet Garden seasoning mixes work really nice) add a couple chicken breast or tilapia filets; cover. Pour glass of wine. Give the frying pan a shake every couple minutes.

After about 5 minutes flip the filets - recover.

When fish/chicken is done, remove and put to one side; add a little more olive oil and a handful of spinach and more seasoning, if needed.

Put rice/pasta on plate when finished; next to sauteed spinach which you top with chicken or fish.

I can usually get this done in less than 20 minutes from when I walk in the door. Even faster alternative is to throw some fresh broccoli or Brussels sprouts into the microwave after flipping the fish/chicken and serving that for a green instead of the spinach.

My wife sautes Brussels sprouts nad they come out great, so you could probably cook them at the same time as the fish/chicken, but I haven't tried that, yet.

Good luck.

Amy said...

I don't know what kind of grocery stores you have in your area, but a local one near my in-laws house has a deli counter with fresh made sandwiches and side dishes. For $4, I got a sandwich big enough for the two of us, made fresh and not fried, with veggies on it. I'd grab a bag of pretzels and a to-go bottle of milk or juice and that was our lunch.

Delicious, and better than fast food.

Hope that helps.

Mary said...

Same problem here, and it is not always a problem of being too busy - we live in a rural area and any activity our children participate in is at least 20 min away.
I often do use the sandwich and fruit meal, as well as "snack meals" - granola bar, cut veggies, string cheese, fruit, yogurt, etc. By the time we get home after practice, etc, my children are hungry again for at least a snack and at that time I then serve more of a traditional "meal" (even if it is smaller portioned) which I make while they shower, change, etc. It is both nutritionally and financially more sound than fast food, even if I can't always have "dinner at 5 at the table"!

Badger Catholic said...

We prepare meals and then freeze them quite often. I know you said no stove, but that has worked quite well for us to just throw one in and take it out in a half hour or so.

Gail F said...

Sandwiches and fruit/veggies will do for hectic days, you can make that really filling and healthy. If you really want help with dinners, try savingdinner.com -- for two years I had their online menu subscription, it gives you a menu every week (I got the "regular" one -- you can try a week's recipes for free at the site), with a shopping list and everything. I didn't even end up cooking half of them but I have a whole store of ones everyone likes. They also have a cook-ahead ebook I have been meaning to try out, because we have so many after-school activities right now and don't get home until after I would prefer to have dinner on the table. You just cut them into serving sizes and heat them up for lunches or when you get home.

Here's another hint: when my son, who has ADHD, wasn't gaining enough weight we bought the store-brand version of Ensure (a lot cheaper -- and the chocolate tasted good). We called it his "energy drink." It provides a lot of calories and vitamins and can be a good snack if you're not going to get to eat for a while. But don't serve it with a meal, or with a big snack, it's way too many calories that way.

Andrea said...

Microwave potatoes! You could cook them before hand and just reheat. I top with canned chili or these one serving frozen cheese broccoli that green giant puts out.

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm with the pro-microwave people. One great thing about microwaving stuff: It's a lot harder to start a fire that way, and the cooking dishes don't get as hot as pans on the stove. It's a lot safer as a way to cook especially if you're unsure of yourself in the kitchen.

It's also fast. You can microwave a couple of chicken breast halves more easily and quickly than you can cook them on the stove. (Be sure to have something with a lid on it, though, so it won't get stuff all over the inside of the microwave.) Microwaved chicken is also a _lot_ easier to cut up than raw chicken.

Sure it's more tender, etc., to cut the meat up raw and cook it in butter or oil on the stove, but I'd advise microwaving instead for a) safety, b) confidence, c) not having to hang over it, and c) speed.

So what you do is, you buy various sauces--Alfredo sauce or spaghetti sauce, for example. Then microwave a couple of chicken breasts for three minutes on high, turn around in the dish with a fork, cover up again, three more minutes on high, turn around with a fork, until you can tell that they are done (they are all white, no pink, when you cut into them). Cut them up if you want, microwave some of the sauce to warm it up too, and just mix the cut-up chicken meat with the sauce. Meanwhile cook some pasta or rice on the stove to serve it over. (Start the water on the stove for making spaghetti or pasta _first_. Boiling the water is probably going to be the longest part of this if you're doing pasta.) That's quick and good. Fresh veggies or lettuce salad, a glass of orange juice--voila, quick, safe, balanced meal. And leftovers can easily be saved for the next night.

By the way, this also works with those individually frozen chicken breasts. You can microwave them directly from frozen without defrosting. Sweet. It just takes a couple more rounds of "3 minutes on high, turn around" to get them done.

Ouiz said...

First time poster here...

I can't imagine the amount of stress and rushing around you have to deal with. Cooking dinner must be a pain!

Since you asked for suggestions, I'm with the crockpot fan club. With eight kids (the youngest being 3 months) and not a lot of time to whip up gourmet meals, the crockpot is my friend. Truly.

Tonight, for example, was pot roast. Chopped up veggies (potatoes, carrots, and cabbage), meat, one can of tomatoes, one can of french onion soup, and one can of beef mushroom soup. Done.

Tomorrow night is chicken tacos. Two packages of chicken thighs (boneless, skinless), 1 can of Rotel, and one package of taco seasoning. It really doesn't get much easier than that.

I loved the website A year of Slowcooking. http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/ for all sorts of great suggestions.

God bless you in all that you do!!!

Nancy said...

I also love my crockpot. My 13 year old son wants to try some new recipes this fall/winter, and it is easy for him to do it! I have found that Uncle Ben's Converted Rice works best for recipes calling for uncooked rice. Instant gets gummy and regular is crunchy - lol.

Something my kids love to do is get slice roast beef at the deli counter, some soft french rolls, and a packet of au jus mix (with the gravy and taco packets in the store). You make the au jus, separate the beef slices and dip the into the pot of juice. It heats the beef quickly and makes it very juicy. remove with slotted spoon or strainer after just a few secods, put onto the roll and serve with canned, or frozen microwaved veggies. Everyone loves this meal. Good luck.

Smiley said...


We cook over the weekend for teh week then freeze everything which we pull out for each day of the week, the only thing we cook on teh day itself is rice.
so all teh curries, vegetables curries, salads (we cut them for teh week) and soups are all made on saturday from 7:00am to 1 pm and then put in the freezer for the week.
We also boil the unpolished broken wheat (lapsi) for the morning porddige on saturday and put it in the fridge. so in the morning you only need to add milk and heat it up again.

I hope this helps

Smiley said...

Oh i did forgot to mention in the morning before you leave for work remember to thaw the food you need for the evening. this is don't by leaving the container in a dry kitchen sink.
The nice thing about curries is that it takes time for teh curries to impact the meat so the longer you keep it the tastier it gets.
if you are worried about the curry being too spicy, add curd while cooking to temper the taste of the spices.

Lynne said...

I remember those hectic days! ugh. How many days a week are you driving him right to an after-school activity and it's right at dinner time? If it's a couple of nights, fast food 2 or 3 times a week is not going to kill him or you. If the activity is only for an hour, then give him a substantial snack and feed him a real dinner when you get home. The crockpot is a wonderful idea. Dump chicken in it, cover the chicken with bbq sauce and voila! 8 hours later you have a great dinner. I tried the cooking on the weekend and freezing the meals to reheat during the week and it was wonderful but you have to be organized to keep that up and I'm not...

Sally Thomas said...

Another vote for the crockpot. Couldn't live without it. You can do a potroast, then recycle the leftovers by adding extra beef broth and vegetables for stew, or by mixing leftover meat and juices with rice, or shredding the meat and making tortilla wraps. If it's just for two people, you can get a lot of mileage out of what looks like an expensive piece of meat.

You can do the same thing with a whole roasting chicken -- put it in in the morning (take out the giblets first!) with salt, pepper, and whatever seasonings you choose, and when you come home, you have tender cooked chicken to eat as it is, or to put with pasta, rice, etc. Like having a rotisserie chicken, but cheaper. That, some nice bread, and a salad makes a meal.

I'm a terrible meal-planner and organizer -- my typical MO is to leap up at 4:55, on a night when there's Scouts at 6:30, and go, "Dinner! Oh no!" But a couple of months ago, a friend talked me into spending a day with her (it was Labor Day, actually) making freezer-meal kits. She had bought this set of five recipes from something called "Five for the Freezer," and we made them -- it was five chicken recipes. You don't cook the meals beforehand, but you mix up marinades and other preps, add the chicken, put it in freezer bags marked with whatever the recipe is, and frozen. So you pull them out as needed, and they cook up in about 30 minutes. The recipe guide gives you not only a "prep day" shopping list, but a shopping list of things to have with the meal, that you can buy that day or that week -- salad, fresh veggies, and so on. The meals we made were great, and it was like a miracle to have all the thinking (which to me is the hardest part of cooking) done beforehand. All I had to do was jump up at 4:55, go, "Dinner!" and then open the freezer.

Here's the link, if you're interested.

(and while these don't say that you can nuke them, I would imagine that you could, as long as it wasn't something breaded, which would be too soggy nuked.)

Anonymous said...

salad based on rice or pasta:


pasta with sweetcorn, mayonnaise and chicken or tuna

pasta with tomato sauce of some kind (out of a jar or home made)

rice with sweetcorn, mayonnaise, tuna or chicken

rice with beans and some kind of sauce

E.g. boil a big batch of rice, mix it up with kidney beans from a tin, fried or raw chopped onions, some kind of sauce. Take two tupperware tubs, one for your lunch and one for your son's tea in the car.