I have often struggled, as many women do, with the problem of how much time to spend in the kitchen. We want to prepare food to nurture our families without buying ready-made food at the grocery store or a restaurant—food that’s expensive, where you have no control over its quality or preparation. Jerzy once said that he could live without a kitchen in the house. I suppose when you are frustrated you just don’t want to deal with the problem, and I think he pushed a little bit here. So he agreed that maybe using “one burner” wouldn’t be so overwhelming.
This is how Jerzy and I simplified the idea of cooking.
Our plan is easy: we make soups daily for lunch, which we love. Once a week we make our own batch of healthy food bars. Every morning we start with our own smoothie or green juice, and we use pulp for vegetable pate as snack. Fruit with nuts is also a snack we enjoy.
Our weekdays are simple, with the focus falling on what we need to do workwise and helping our daughter with her schoolwork and activities. Weekends are more relaxed, so we occasionally go to our favorite restaurant for lunch or dinner. We also like to entertain at home often, enjoying cooking creatively and spending time with friends. We’ve found that simple, high quality and healthy food is the best remedy to keep our body healthy in the fast paced, challenging times we live in.
I would like to share five simple ideas to help you streamline your meals and clear more time for what makes you happy:
1. Simplify your meals.
Instead of elaborate dishes, we make simpler meals without skimping on nutritional value. Making soups for lunch takes little time, but fills the house with delicious aromas, and leaves you satisfied for the rest of the day. Add a dollop of yogurt for a dose of richness—in such a simple meal, it will feel like an indulgence.
Salads or stir-fried vegetables are great source of vitamins and fiber and also so easy and fast to prepare. For a quick meal, chop up some red or green cabbage or lettuce and top it with a little bit of protein. The dressing can be as simple as lemon juice mixed with Tahini or hummus. The meal will have fewer calories, will slow down your eating, and fill your colon, making your organs healthier.
2. Go back to basics.
Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, are already packed with nutrition and goodness. Instead of viewing them as ingredients, consider them what they are: food.
Always chose produce over products, unless you make it yourself. When shopping, to save time and fewer trips to the store, consider buying produce that lasts longer in your pantry or fridge.
There are some foods that I always keep at home; I can combine them differently to create a variety of dishes.
Fill your own pantries with foods below:
Dry pantry: jams, potatoes, sweet onion, red onion, garlic, ginger.
Also, fruit like pineapple, lemons, limes and oranges for dressings, green apples and pears (some green to leave time for ripening) that you can use in salads, fresh or poached.
Pantry: jarred tomatoes, marinara sauce, a variety of canned beans, canned salmon, smoked trout, tuna, coconut milk, roasted seaweeds, pickles, sauerkraut.
Refrigerator: red and green cabbage, zucchini, all varieties of peppers, celery, carrots, cucumber, baby tomatoes.
Freezer: cooked rice, cooked quinoa, fava beans, English peas, sweet corn, berries, mango, bananas, ground lean beef, a few steaks, wild salmon.
3. Prepare food in batches.
Set aside time once a week to make your own batch of healthy food bars. These are simple to make, packed with flavor, energy and nutrition, and one batch will last all week. You can also make a large batch to last a month and freeze some of it. We make ours with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate.
Another great practice is to make your own vegetable broth for the whole week. Pack a daily serving of broth into containers and freeze it. Add one raw vegetable like tomato (add dry or fresh cilantro), or mushrooms (with basil), and enjoy different soup every day. If you love soups as much as we do and have little time, this method will provide a great way for you and your family to eat healthy and be satisfied.
4. Use everything.
We make smoothies or green juice in the morning, and then we save the pulp. When we want a snack we’ll use mix the pulp with lemon, garlic, avocado and fresh herbs (parsley, arugula, dill) to make a tasty vegetable pate. Then we top it with sliced tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, zucchini, or other vegetables that we have in the fridge. Sometimes we might even eat vegetable pate with fresh fruit like banana, peach, pear or apple. It’s simply delicious!
If you have leftover soup, add a new vegetable to it to transform it into a fresh and different soup for the day. For example, if you have leftover tomato soup, add some broccoli. The ‘revised’ soup adds variety and will delight you. Often if we have leftover steak or fish, we just add it to our salad the next day for a nice addition of protein.
5. Entertain with ease.
We love entertaining at home and spending time relaxing with friends. But instead of taking hours to prepare elaborate meals beforehand, we keep it simple and creative, and everyone (including the hosts) has a great time.
Between children, work, and daily responsibilities, these are fast-paced, challenging times. But you can take the pressure off without losing any pleasure if you commit to preparing simpler meals. Stick to good quality, healthy food, easily preparations, and your life will be filled with goodness instead of hours in the kitchen.
When entertaining I keep in mind a few qualities that seem to satisfy everyone:
hot (start with broth soup like clear tomato, mushroom, beet)
and cold (veggie platter with dip, or arugula salad)
low calories (stir fry or steamed veggies)
a rainbow of colors (all kinds of vegetables from green cucumbers to yellow peppers, to red tomatoes to purple beets)
a variety of flavors (salty, sweet, sour, bitter)
and textures (crunchy, soft, etc.)
protein source: one grain (like quinoa) and one animal protein like filet minion, or fish
Above all, food is not the only way we entertain our friends. Our gatherings are the time for a good conversation about what’s happening in everyone’s life. We also like playing board games, putting together puzzles, or reading Taro cards for entertainment, which has now become our pre-New Year’s tradition. On rainy or cold days, we watch a movie together, and talk about it afterwards over a good cup of tea (our favorite Marco Polo) and a mixed berry salad topped with Greek yogurt with honey and cinnamon. Yum! Food is a wonderful complement to our lives, but never the center of attention.
Do food preparation or the selection of meals take up a lot time in your schedule? Do meals need to be such a central focus in your life? Do you have a simplified practice in your life that you could share with others?
Leave your response below in the comments.