Craig Valency, CSCS
It’s January, and I’m feeling a little bloated after the holidays. I’m guessing I’m not alone. Perhaps some of you are tired of the junk food rollercoaster. Maybe you’ve decided to give this real food, paleo, primal, whatever-you-want-to-call-it-diet a try. You’re on board with vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts, fish, eggs, poultry, and meat. Sounds pretty healthy. You go to your farmers’ market, Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods and stock up on local, pasture-raised, grass-fed, organic meats. You buy a free range chicken to cook for dinner. Your macadamia nuts are raw and organic, and you know that sweet potatoes are a safe starch. You purchase only wild-caught salmon. You’ve been reading the blog, so you know all the buzz words.
When you get home, you load up the fridge. It’s so full that there’s a partial eclipse of the mini light bulb. Before shutting the door, you gaze at your bounty, smile, and gently nod your head as you congratulate yourself on your healthy choices. Well done!
But Where Is The Fridge Fairy?
The next day you’re starving. You open the fridge door and frantically search for something to eat. In a panic, you yell to your spouse, “Honey, there’s nothing to eat!” You repeat this procedure every 10 minutes, hoping something new will materialize. But the Fridge Fairy never shows up.
This is a common phenomenon. You see, the food doesn’t magically become a meal when you put it in the fridge. Buying foods with one ingredient can be a pain. You have to make every meal. This can be depressing. You’re starting to think about other options. Nutrisystem comes to mind.
I can tell you from personal experience that this can wear you down and test even the strongest relationship. Each night becomes a negotiation. “I cooked dinner the last two nights in a row!” “Yes, Honey, but I make breakfast everyday.” “But I end up doing all the dishes!” and on and on it goes.
Don’t despair. It doesn’t have to be this way. The magic is in learning how to plan ahead by cooking several meals at one time. This is how you become your own Fridge Fairy. Here are a few time-tested tips that will allow you to eat real food and save your marriage at the same time.
Crank Up the Crock Pot
Slow cooker meals are usually quick to prepare and quick to clean. Best of all, they can feed you for a long time. Toss in a large cut of meat. Chop up your favorite veggies–onions, carrots, and celery always work. Shake in your seasonings and don’t forget the bay leaf. Turn it on, and you’ll have a hot meal waiting for you when you get home. You don’t need to add liquid if you’re using a pork butt or a fatty cut of meat. The veggies and fat will create their own juices. If you’re using beef, bison, or game meats, it’s probably a good idea to add broth, wine, or any tasty liquid of your choice. The best part about slow cooking is that you have tomorrow’s lunch ready to go as well. And, if you don’t eat like me, you may even have dinner for the next night.
One Pot, Many Meals: Soups, Stews, & Chili
Besides the health benefits of slow-cooked meat and bones, one-pot meals bring unmatched depth of flavor to the party. Try out some Texas style chili (no beans please). You can usually make a one-pot meal in less overall time than a slow cooker creation. Cook it on Sunday and have it for lunch and dinner on Monday and Tuesday.
Meat Loaf is Not Just a Large Singer
Grass-fed, organic ground beef or bison is available just about everywhere. Even our local Vons carries it. Few things are easier to make than meatloaf. If you want it to be really moist, use pork instead or add some ground pork to your beef or bison. Account for about a quarter pound to half pound per person, per serving. In this version of meatloaf, you’ll have your veggies inside instead of on the side. Just put all the meat in a large bowl. Add an egg, diced vegetables, herbs and spices, gluten-free Worcester sauce, and Dijon mustard. Skip the breadcrumbs, of course. Bake it in a casserole dish for forty-five minutes to an hour. It’s a complete meal in a slice.
Frittata For Breakfast
Make it once and you’ve got breakfast for the week. Use whole eggs. You know by now that we never suggest throwing out the golden yolk. That’s where the magic happens! A frittata is easy to make. Just combine onions, peppers, spinach, broccoli, and eggs. Bake it in a casserole dish. Cut it into squares. Upon awakening, heat it up and top it with olive oil, avocado, tomato, salsa, or hot sauce. Don’t forget the coffee (not like I need to remind you). Your day is destined for greatness.
If You’re Cooking One, You Might As Well Cook Two (or Three or Four)!
If you’re making mashed sweet potatoes, don’t just peel and mash one pitiful, lonely tuber. The extra three minutes it takes to peel and chop a few more potatoes will be worth it the next day when you cook your 10-minute steak and realize you have a golden bowl of deliciousness staring at you in the fridge. You can also cut up a huge bunch of hearty root vegetables. Add salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Roast them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. You’ll have enough veggies to last several days. You can do the same thing with your proteins. Cook some extra chicken, steak, fish, or burgers. Just reheat it the next day. Add the sweet potatoes or veggies, and you’re set. Make sure not to overcook the extra protein. Leave room for more cooking when you reheat.
What’s the Plan?
Have a plan. Always cook extra food. Buy more meat and vegetables than you think you need. Decide ahead of time what you’re cooking for the week. If Wednesday nights are really busy, plan on cooking a large meal on Tuesday. You’ll find it much easier to stick to your new way of eating when you have a solid plan.
Check out part 2 for quick meal ideas in a pinch.