“I want to cook ahead…where to start”?

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I’m a big fan of doing a little cooking ahead so you can enjoy delicious, healthy meals all week without a huge effort.  I know some people have a hard time knowing where to start with that, so here are two easy tips that I use when I don’t have a ton of time to cook ahead:

  1. Cook rice ahead.  Brown rice is nutritious, low in fat, and a delicious base for any meal.  And, it’s naturally gluten-free, so if you have someone in your family who needs to follow a gluten-free diet, it’s a great choice.  Rice can take a while to cook, so if you are getting home from work and are in a rush to get dinner on the table, you are likely to skip this delicious addition to your meal.  But, if you’ve got some already made that you just need to heat up, you’ll have a lovely dinner in no time.  If you are in a huge rush, just add a tin of tuna, or some cooked chicken to the rice – or even some canned chickpeas or black beans for protein.  No time for chopping vegetables?  Have some baby spinach on hand and throw it in…it can be hot or cold.  Slightly wilted spinach is still tasty and beautiful.  Of course, you can cook any type of rice you like.  My favourite is brown rice with wild rice.  The wild rice is a little expensive, so buy it in the bulk section of your grocery store if you can.  Cook the rice in chicken broth or vegetable broth instead of water for extra flavour.  I add chopped vegetables when I have the time.  Adding the vegetables to the rice is not only nutritious, it makes the dish go farther and fill bellies more easily.  But, even if you don’t have time to do that, the brown rice and wild rice looks very appetizing on it’s own.  Take a look at the recipe and photo in this link.

2.  Unpack and bag your meat individually and marinate before freezing.  We often buy chicken, meat, and fish in large packs to create value for our hard earned dollars.  Rather than freezing the entire pack, we usually bag the pieces in servings of 4, 2 or 1 to give us flexibility for using the items in different cooking situations.  How many times have you bought a big pack of chicken thinking it was a great deal, thrown it in the freezer and then weeks later, wondering how you are going to use that pack, or unsuccessfully tried to separate the rock-hard frozen pieces?  Taking a little time to bag things in smaller quantities will save you time, frustration and money down the road.  Many years ago, my husband and I went to SupperWorks a number of times to have a fun way of cooking together.   One of the time-saving tips we learned from those outings was that you could marinate your meat, chicken or fish before freezing it.  That never occurred to us before.  How many times have you defrosted some chicken before leaving for work and then got home and thought, “now what am I going to do with it?”.  Marinating before freezing makes the decision for you and makes it more likely that you will be motivated to cook delicious, healthy meals during your busy weeks, rather than opting for take-out, or frozen food.  One of our favourite things to marinate ahead is Maple BBQ Salmon.  This recipe is my own version after searching a number of recipes on-line years ago.  Doing your own marinating and seasoning means you can control what goes into it.  Many store prepared marinades are high in salt, sugar and have other additives that your body doesn’t need.  Check out the recipe here.  We mostly do this on a cedar plank on the Barbeque, and it also works very well in the oven.

So, if you are looking to improve your nutrition by cutting down on store bought meals, start with the two tips from this blog entry  – or maybe just one!  Be kind to yourself – try it out, and congratulate yourself for the steps you are taking!  By the way, if you have a SupperWorks in your area and haven’t been, check them out.  It’s a fun outing for those who like to cook together, whether you are a spouse, friends, or with your kids.

Happy cooking!  Be well!