Too busy to cook? I have the answer! Read on to find out how you can prepare delicious, healthy meals for your family in no time at all. It’s all in the art of food assembly.
When people tell me they are too exhausted or time poor to cook, that they are lacking ideas and inspiration or that they just can’t cook to save themselves, I can’t help feeling just a little bit guilty. You see, I’m not the world’s greatest cook either! I am a busy mum and I take a lot of short cuts. I prioritise healthy, home made, whole food for my family but I’m not making any promises that it will be something different every night or that it will involve technique.
Food assembly is the busy mum’s secret weapon.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Have a well stocked pantry
Having plenty of whole food pantry staples on hand makes life much easier to pull together a meal fast. Things like good quality tinned tuna, spelt pasta, brown rice, nuts and seeds, coconut milk, organic tinned beans, lentils, stock can be life savers on busy week nights.
2. Have a go-to shopping list
Have a list of items you can run in to the supermarket and pick up at 5pm with tired and starving children after swimming lessons that you know how to prepare quickly such as Mountain Bread wraps, eggs, avocados, lemons, free range cooked chook, pesto, hummus, baby spinach, halloumi cheese, sauvignon blanc…
3. Grow herbs
Seriously. Have at least parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary in the garden to add to an omelette, pasta with garlic and the zest of a lemon or a quick lentil soup.
4. Choose an element of the meal that you will cook and prepare it ahead of time.
Cook a pot of beans, quinoa or rice on a Sunday afternoon to store in the fridge for a dinner during the week. Roll out some meatballs before you collect the kids from school, marinate some chicken tenderloins in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and herbs (from your garden!) or hard boil a few eggs for an instant protein hit. Anything you can do ahead of time will be so well appreciated later.
5. Use what you’ve got
Take your one prepared element and use what you have to build a meal around it.
Rice, quinoa or beans – dress up a quick chopped salad, add some substance to a pot of veggie soup, make a quick baked beans to top some nachos and guacamole.
Boiled egg – mash with a fork and stir through a tablespoon of good quality mayonnaise and some chopped chives (from your garden!). Toast a piece of sour dough (you have pre-sliced and have on hand in your freezer) and spread it thick with avocado, then top with the egg. Finish with a spoonful of organic kim chi which you have conveniently bought at a good whole food shop and have waiting in the fridge for an opportunity just like this!
Meatballs – When making meatballs, do a double batch and have some stored in the freezer for a busy night. Cook them gently in passata (sauce) and serve with chopped raw carrot and cucumber, make a meat ball sub on a fresh, whole wheat roll with lettuce, grated tasty cheese and a good quality tomato relish or, bake in the oven at the same time (and tray) as some quartered baby potatoes and large cherry tomatoes, (drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh or dried italian herbs) and serve with some quick steamed greens.
Baked Chicken Tenders – These are great to have in the freezer because they thaw out super fast. Marinate them during the day, then gently fry or bake them to use in salad and tzatziki wraps, on top of rice with a quick and tasty peanut dressing and some raw or steamed baby spinach, add to pasta with herbs an some roasted cherry tomatoes, put in the school snack boxes with chopped veggies for a sustaining and healthy lunch.
These are just a few examples but you get the idea. This is how simple meals are at my place most of the time. Once you get the hang of having a well stocked pantry and fridge, a delicious, fresh and wholesome meal is only minutes away.
Crunchy chicken lettuce wraps + quick tzatziki
This is a quick, tasty and nourishing meal that my kids love and that can be whipped up fast, for those kinds of nights.
500g free range/organic chicken fillets
1 1/2 cups of your chosen crumb – bread crumbs, rice crumbs and quinoa flakes all work well.
1/4 cup grated parmesan (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cos lettuce, leaves removed but kept whole and washed well
Veggies to serve depending on what your kids like and what you have on hand. We had organic tomato but grated carrot, sliced cucumber, snow peas, baby corn or sliced capsicum would all be great. Go crazy!
Slice the chicken into about 16 strips. Place the egg in a shallow bowl and beat lightly. Place the crumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper in another shallow bowl. Dip the chicken first in the egg and then in the crumbs covering well. Place on a plate and cover with cling film. Store in the fridge until required.
Tip: Kids love this job (but it is a bit messy, sorry!).
Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the chicken strips until golden and cooked through, only a few minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate.
Prepare the meal by putting the lettuce, chopped vegetables or salad and some tzatziki on a platter and let everyone serve themselves.
Tip: If your kids are starving you could roast up some potato wedges or sweet potato chips to go with this – yum!
To make a quick tzatziki, simply spoon some good quality natural yoghurt into a small bowl and add some diced (seeds removed) cucumber, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt and if you like, half a clove of crushed garlic. Stir and serve.
What are your busy-night go to meals? Are you a fan of the art of food assembly? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S – My first book, Kids in the Kitchen which is all about simple, fast, healthy food for kids is turning one this week! Keep your eye out on Facebook for a special, 2 for 1 sale and stock up for Christmas presents!
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