There are probably thousands of articles on the internet for quick meal prep ideas. But as a mom, the struggle to get a healthy dinner on the table quickly is real and every little bit of insight helps. My daughter is much more interested in getting into the compost bin or trying to crawl under the couch than letting me prepare dinner. But we have to eat! And it’s important to me that we eat well, so my strategies have had to change. Although I’d like to continue to make everything from scratch like I did in my pre-mama days, I’ve learned that sitting down and eating together is far more important to our health and well-being. And if it’s helpful to know, the research actually shows that just sitting down and eating with people, in a thoughtful and undistracted way, tends to lead to good nutrition and overall wellness, in general–no matter what you’re putting on your fork. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s what’s been working for me these days.
Tortillas can make a taco out of anything:
I eat egg tacos for more meals that I’d like to admit, but I never tire of them. They’re versatile, high in protein, and super satisfying–and not just because they’re a vehicle for my favourite hot sauce. The mighty mushroom sautés up in minutes for a veggie-focussed wrap. Balance it with pungent aromatics, wilty greens, and easy canned beans for more flavour and substance. Alternatively, stuff some sauteed peppers and onions into a tortilla with cheese and avocado and you’ve got a quesadilla. Of course, meat can be added to any of these. We buy our share of rotisserie chickens to have something for just these moments. If you’re struggling to make leftovers exciting the taco is your answer. Toss meat, grains, beans, and/or vegetables into a soft corn shell with a homemade salsa and green sauce and voila, a perfect re-do meal.
Have a no-cook component:
I don’t mean carrot and celery sticks (though those will do in a pinch). Thinly shaved cucumber tossed with a dollop of yogurt and generous pinch of kosher salt (herbs, olive oil, etc., if you have time) make a lovely, 5-minute salad. A batch of your favourite dressing or sauce turns any leafy green into a salad as well, but also makes way for a myriad of shaved vegetable and fruit dishes that can be assembled in minutes. It also means that throwing together a pasta or bean salad can happen in a cinch. Zucchini, beet, carrot, apple, pear, cucumber, any many more all make simple veggie or fruit noodles that can be eaten as a base to something you’re cooking or tossed with the above dressing for some crunch. Good quality yogurt, a batch of creamy hummus, or baba ganoush adds substance and richness to a meal that might be otherwise be lean. A batch of slaw can last for days. And I know you already know this, but avocado is life.
Have a few go-to meals that you know and love:
Mastering a handful of quality meals is a talent that will take you far in life. For me it’s tacos and slaw; spaghetti with meat sauce; Julia Turshen’s indecision grilled chicken or curried lentils with coconut milk; any other type of lentil soup, dal, or chickpea curry; roasted or grilled veggies with quinoa, yogurt, and sauerkraut; and eggs all ways.
Keep of few key things prepped and on hand:
I may be stating the obvious with this title, but I stand by this recommendation to be even a little bit prepared. A roasted squash or sweet potato can be easily blended into a soup or a creamy pasta sauce–or turned into a taco (duh). Cooked grains or beans round out a meal nicely or make way for a hearty salad. Roasted peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and onions toss nicely into grains or pasta with goat cheese or feta. And they can all be done on the same sheet pan together. A whole cooked chicken or pork tenderloin can give you meals for a couple of days. Also, a well-stocked fridge/pantry are worth their weight in gold. I always keep on hand fresh and frozen fruit and veggies, sourdough bread, nuts and seeds (and their butter versions), cheese, yogurt, a favourite salsa, sauce, and a few cans beans, a few different flours, firm tofu, oats and other grains, lentils, coconut milk, butter, olive/coconut oil, a robust selection of dried herbs and spices, and something fermented for good (gut) measure. All of these are a great starting point to an endless supply of delicious meals.
Consider frozen options:
Frozen food has come a long way. There are so many options for close-to-fresh freezer finds. Fruit and vegetables are picked at their peak and flash-frozen so you can find options where flavour and quality aren’t compromised. Frozen vegetables, in a pinch, add more nutrients to a soup or smoothie, they can be tossed into a stir-fry, pasta, or grain bowl, or just cooked up as a side. (Plus, my kiddo loves to pick at peas. Maybe this will work for yours, too!) Frozen burgers–meat or veggie–make a meal in 20 minutes. And frozen fish is really the only way I eat fish these days since getting it fresh isn’t always doable for me. That’s one reason why I was happy to partner with The Saucy Fish Co. Their fish is tasty, they have a responsible approach to sourcing, and I really love the fact that it can go “from freezer to fork” in less than 30 minutes. For this salmon noodle bowl you can literally prep the remaining ingredients while the salmon is cooking. The best part: it can be eaten hot, cold, or at room temp. And I love me a sweet chili sauce with salmon!
Exploit the nap for all it’s worth:
Non mamas, hear me out! If you’re anything like me, you have too often caught yourself zoning out on your phone when you have some down time. That’s ok once in awhile, but wouldn’t you much rather be doing something productive with your time–even if it’s resting. If I’m thoughtful about my day, I can usually carve out 15-30 minutes to do a bit of prep like cut up some veggies, wash greens, marinate something, measure out some spices, roast a tray of vegetables, whisk up a dressing, get a loaf of banana bread into the oven, cook some grains, or even rinse and drain a can of beans if that’s all I can muster! That way, when my next meal rolls around I’m better equipped at getting it cooked before the baby is cranky and we’re all hangry.
*This post is sponsored by the Saucy Fish Co. Thank you for supporting my paid work opportunities. As always, all opinions are my own and I only work with brands that are in line with my values.
Salmon Noodle Bowl with Chili, Lime, and Ginger (print recipe here)
Serves: 2, but is easily doubled
Notes: If you can’t find The Saucy Fish Co. Salmon, sub in salmon that you top with a sweet chili sauce (the Saucy Fish Co.’s will just be easier). I bought my Saucy Fish Co. fish at Fortino’s, but you can find the products at a range of stores listed here.
1 package Saucy Fish Co. Chili, Lime and Ginger Salmon (or plain salmon, plus a sweet chili sauce)
Half a red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
Half a yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
Half an English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 small green onions, thinly sliced
Half a package (170g) of long, thin noodles of your choice (spaghetti, soba, etc.)
Black sesame seeds and chopped cilantro for garnishing
Half a small shallot, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
Half a small red chili, finely minced
2 tbsp fresh lime juice, approximately one lime
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp tamari
Cook salmon according to package directions. Place the sachet of sauce in a pot of simmering water for 4 minutes.
Make the dressing and set aside aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.
Drain pasta and put back into the pot. Immediately add the dressing and toss to coat the noodles. Add in vegetables and toss again.
Take salmon out of parchment envelope and brush with chili sauce.
Top bowl of noodles with salmon and sprinkle on black sesame and chopped cilantro.