I spend some time as a "lifestyle" consultant, helping people seeking to live a healthier lifestyle in whatever ways my talents and training allow. It has only recently occurred to me that in this frantic world, too many people, even and sometimes especially those trying to get healthier, just don't plan their evening meals! And apparently, that's when dietary disaster can occur. They may go out for dinner - and really have no idea what they are eating, or choose a convenience food that is loaded with hidden extra calories.
So what are good strategies to avoid these mishaps?
For people employed full time, it must start on the weekend. Take time to put your dinner menus on paper. Look at your week ahead. For nights when you know you'll need an "instant" dinner, plan something to be made ahead after you shop but also consider what you may already have in your freezer that could be a quick meal.
Here's an example: I work until 8 pm every Monday. My husband is willing to wait and have dinner with me when I get home. He'll have a big salad late in the day, and then "get dinner ready." That means I took something from the freezer, that was previously prepared in large quantity but frozen to 2 person portions. He will have it ready for final assembly when I get home. A favorite is spaghetti with meatballs and sausage (recipe to follow). The sauce and meat will be hot, the water will be ready for the pasta, and he'll have prepared a large salad for me when he prepared his own. While I'm eating my salad, the pasta cooks and dinner is on the table 15 min later. There are many dishes like this, I'll feature them over the next several entries.
Meatballs and Sausage Sauce
2 lbs ground beef, the leanest you can find(I can get 93% lean)
2T Parmesan cheese
old (dried out) bread or commercial breadcrumbs(plain or Italian flavored)
1 to 2 T brown mustard
3T fresh parsley, snipped
1 T onion powder or more to taste
salt and pepper
Soak the bread ( 2 to 3 small slices, or 1 to 2 old rolls) in warm water. Let it get very soggy, then squeeze out excess moisture. If you are using bread crumbs, use about 3/4 cup and add warm water to make them gooey. Mix either thoroughly with the other ingredients above. The mixture should be very moist, if not, add water or your meatballs will be hard and dry.
Finely chop 1 onion, 2 stalks celery and 1 peeled carrot in a food precessor, or by hand. Heat a little olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan and saute the veggies until soft. Add 4 or 5 cans of crushed tomatoes in puree (buy the cheap ones) and stir well, bring to a simmer. Add 2 T garlic powder (or more, to taste), 1/4 cup dried basil, 2 to 3 T oregano, 3 bay leaves and a shake of parsley.
Put in a heaping tablespoon of sugar, then bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Into the simmerring pot, add small meatballs made from the meat mixture, stirring occasionally and carefully until the meatballs cook and get firm (no, you don't have to brown them). Then add a pound of lean sausage (I prefer Longhini pork sausage, it is quite lean and very good, but may be hard for you to find. Chicken or turkey sausage is fine, but it does need to be tasty). Unless the sausage links are very small, cut them in half before adding to the pot.
Let the pot simmer for an hour or so, then taste. You will probably want to add some salt and pepper, and may more herbs and garlic.
Let simmer a couple more hours, then cool and put the pot in a refrigerator for a day or to to "age." Freeze in portions for your family. For adults with hearty appetites, I allow 2 meatballs and 1 sausage per serving, and lots of sauce to really cover the pasta. If you spot the bay leaves, remove tem.
The active cooking time for this recipe is actually no more than 30 minutes, and you have made several dinners.
It always amazes me when people order meatballs and spaghetti in a restaurant! It is so easy to have at home, and the sauce is way better than most restaurant versions.