I have a confession. I have a love-hate relationship with cooking. I love to cook… just not when I am hungry and tired. That is why I often cook enough food for about 3-4 days and stock my refrigerator. I only have to dirty up the kitchen once and have a few days of homemade meals ready at my convenience.
We sampled some of these Easy Make Ahead Recipes at the FUEL Healthy Cooking Workshop sponsored by Furman Employee Wellness on July 17. These programs are offered free for Furman employees and families throughout the year. We run similar programs for Furman students and athletes and will soon be branching out into local homeless shelters and soup kitchens this fall with our new FUEL the Community internship.
FUEL recipes are based on a simple plate-based eating guide that fills half of each plate with vegetables and/or fruits, 1/4 with whole grains or potatoes, 1/4 with lean proteins, and a little bit of healthy fat. The Furman Department of Health Sciences has tested this easy eating strategy on over 150 employees over the past seven years. The results suggest that it helps most individuals to 1) improve nutrient intake, 2) maintain or lose body fat, and 3) improve health outcomes such as cholesterol, blood pressure, or diabetes. But the best part is that it adapts easily to just about any cuisine and you don’t have to be overly restrictive with portion sizes or count calories.
Let’s see how to make some Easy Make Ahead FUEL meals for individuals on the go.
Turkey Taco Bowls
This is a really simple idea with a few flavorful variations. Spread a little bit of cooked brown rice over the bottom of your lunch containers (1/2-1 cup depending on your appetite). Top with your favorite toppings such as turkey taco meat, tomato salsa, black beans, fresh kale salad, and roasted corn. They will hold for a few days in the refrigerator and can be warmed up in the microwave at meal time.
Fresh Kale Salad with Lime Juice and Salt: WAIT! Don’t run just because I said the “k” word. The participants raved about this salad and never knew that kale could be so tender and flavorful. Start with about 4-8 cups of fresh kale. I usually use the pre-washed and pre-cut kale in the bags. I prefer to remove the woody stems and give them to my dogs (yes, my dogs eat kale). Feel free to leave the stems in there if you don’t mind the tough texture. Spread the kale over a large cutting board and roughly chop it into smaller pieces. Transfer it to a large glass or plastic bowl. Drizzle 1 Tbsp of olive oil, 1-2 Tbsp fresh lime juice, and a pinch of salt over the kale. Using very clean hands, massage the dressing into the kale leaves. This makes it really tender and flavorful. You can eat this right away but it will also hold nicely in the refrigerator for a a few days. The kale will become more tender and flavorful as it marinates.
Roasted Corn: If you have access to fresh, local corn, this easy recipe is a must. Start by shucking the corn and removing the silky strands. I use a vegetable scrubber to do this easily. Stand the corn upright on a large cutting board. If you have a bundt cake pan, stand the corn cob on the center cylinder to catch all of the rollaway kernels. Either way, stand the corn cobs upright on your cutting surface and use a sharp knife to cut the kernels away from the cob in a downward motion. Rotate the cob until you have removed all of the kernels. Fresh corn kernels are amazing raw and I often snack on them while I am doing this task.
To roast the corn, toss the kernels with a little bit of vegetable oil and a pinch of salt. Spread them out evenly into a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes at 425 degrees F until they are lightly golden, stirring halfway. Roasted corn can be frozen and reheated later.
Fresh Tomato Salsa: Quarter grape tomatoes and combine them with a little bit of minced onion, garlic, chopped fresh cilantro, and a pinch of salt.
Turkey Tacos: In a large skillet over medium high heat, saute a chopped onion in one Tbsp of oil until slightly softened and golden. Add one pound of 93% lean ground turkey. Season with 1 Tbsp of cumin and chili powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Break the meat apart using a spatula and cook until for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a 15 oz. can of fire roasted diced tomatoes; simmer until cooked through.
Black Beans: Just open a can, rinse and drain.
Another delicious version of this meal is to serve it as a salad. Spread kale over a plate and top with turkey meat, roasted corn, fresh tomato salsa, and black beans. Top with fresh cilantro and serve with a dollop of guacamole.
Simple Roasted Vegetables and Potatoes with Chicken
Our cooking workshop participants requested more Sheet Pan Supper ideas and this one was a big hit. Quarter small waxy potatoes lengthwise. Toss them with a little bit of oil and a pinch of salt. Spread them over a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in the oven at 425 degrees F for about 30-45 minutes until fork tender and lightly browned. Meanwhile, cut fresh vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, and carrots I usually cut baby carrots in half lengthwise and cut stalks of broccoli into slimmer pieces to maximize the surface area and help them all cook at the same time. Toss the vegetables with a little bit of oil and a pinch of salt. Roast them at 425 degrees F for about 20 minutes until lightly browned, stirring halfway.
Because reheated chicken breasts tend to be dry, I used a moist cooking technique in the slow cooker. Simply place a few chicken breasts in the slow cooker and add reduced sodium chicken broth to almost cover the chicken. Cook at high heat for 2 hours or low heat for 8 hours. Remove the chicken and set aside for a few minutes to rest. Use two forks to easily shred the chicken apart.
To assemble the meals, fill half of each lunch container with vegetables, 1/4 with roasted potatoes, and 1/4 with chicken. Vary the flavors by packing a little container of your favorite sauce such as teriyaki, barbecue, curry, Asian Ginger, pesto, or any other flavors that you like. Try to choose sauces that are lower in sugar, fat, and salt and have ingredients that you can recognize.
Easy Roasted Vegetable Frittatas
Eggs are an easy and inexpensive protein source. We made them portable by baking them in muffin tins with roasted vegetables. Serve them with Blueberry Banana Oatmeal Cups and Fresh Fruit.
Lightly coat a 12 cup muffin tin with oil. Silicon muffin trays work really well with this recipe to help the frittatas release easily. Pour a few tablespoons of vegetables into each muffin cup. I used finely chopped roasted broccoli, roasted bell peppers (red, orange, yellow), and roasted red onions. This is a great way to use up leftover cooked vegetables.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 10 eggs with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour the egg mixture evenly into the 12 muffin cups. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes or until the eggs are set and cooked through. These frittatas can be made ahead and simply reheated in the microwave each morning for breakfast. Serving size: 1-2 frittatas.
Blueberry Banana Oatmeal Cups
Oatmeal with a bunch of blueberries and a few almonds has always been a big hit with our FUEL participants. This easy make ahead version is perfect for individuals on the go.
In a large bowl, mash 4 ripe bananas. Try to use really ripe bananas with little brown sugar spots on them so you won’t have to add any additional sugar to the recipe. Add 4 cups of old fashioned oats, 4 lightly beaten eggs, and 1 cup of 1% milk; stir to combine. You can sweeten the mixture slightly with a little bit of sugar, honey, or maple syrup but I usually don’t find it necessary. Lightly oil a 12 cup muffin tin (I used a silicon tray but muffin liners would also work nicely). Divide the mixture evenly into the muffin cups. Sprinkle a few fresh blueberries on top of each cup and press them down gently into the mixture. Top with a little bit of shredded coconut and/or slivered almonds. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes until lightly golden and cooked through. Leftovers can be served cold or warmed in the microwave for about 30 seconds.