Fast and healthy dinner on a weeknight? Tips from a meal-prep pro

WASHINGTON — It’s a tall order to get a healthy, homemade dinner on the table on a weeknight — especially this time of year when back-to-school schedules are back in full swing.

But Shana Greenbaum has a few ideas that can help.

The owner of the local meal delivery company, Healthy Fresh Meals, built a business on preparing perfectly portioned meals for Washingtonians on the go. And when she is not in a commercial kitchen prepping turkey chili and tikka masala for others, she is whipping up meals for herself and her family at home.

Here are some of her best tips for getting flavorful, healthy meals on the table fast:

Marinate your meats  Marinating was one of the first tricks Greenbaum discovered when she learned how to cook. Not only does marinating add flavor and tenderize the meat, but it also helps the leftover protein reheat without drying out. (Your sad desk lunch is looking a little happier, already.) Greenbaum’s go-to is to throw some chicken (or another source of protein) in a resealable bag with fresh herbs, a little bit of olive oil and a little bit of acid (lemon juice, vinegar, etc.) early in the morning. When she comes home from a long day at work, she’ll bake it off, grill it, or cook it in an electric pressure cooker, such as an Instant Pot. “It’s already done. You don’t have to come home and season something,” she said. Using a marinade also cuts down on calories because it’s less likely the protein will need a finishing sauce or an extra pad of butter once it’s plated. (Courtesy Shana Greenbaum/Healthy Fresh Meals) (Courtesy Shana Greenbaum/Healthy Fresh Meals)
This Jan. 26, 2015 photo shows rotini with creamy burger sauce in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead
Veggies, veggies, everywhere Vegetables don’t always need to be steamed or appear in salad form. Instead, get creative in their use. Greenbaum likes to sauté cauliflower rice (you can find this in the freezer aisle of most grocery stores) with onion and spices to alter its flavor and texture. Pile stir-fry over top, or cook the cauliflower with ground beef and stuff the mixture into bell peppers for a low-carb take on classic stuffed peppers. Greenbaum also likes to “sneak” veggies into her pasta sauce. She blends carrots, celery, onion and tomato for a rich and hearty gravy — no side of greens required. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) (AP/Matthew Mead)
This July 22, 2013 photo shows a recipe for herbed wild rice salad with apricots and blueberries. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
Rely on rice Rice is a quick and easy staple that can accompany almost any weeknight meal — and Greenbaum isn’t just referring to white or brown. “There’s black rice, there’s wild rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice,” she said. “Get creative with rice.” Cut down on cooking time and make a big batch at the beginning of the week that can be used for several meals. Some brands make quick-cooking or frozen versions; an electric pressure cooker also speeds up the process. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) (AP/Matthew Mead)
Batch and freeze  One of the most popular meals Greenbaum’s clients order — and friends and family members request — is her turkey chili. The recipe, which calls for beans, tomatoes, ground turkey and spices, is a perfect example of something that can be cooked ahead of time (lazy Sunday afternoons are the best) and enjoyed throughout the week or batched out and frozen. If you find you’re still grazing on chili (or whatever one-pot meal you prefer) a few days after you make it, Greenbaum said that’s even better. “The more it sits, the better it gets,” she added. (Courtesy Shana Greenbaum/Healthy Fresh Meals) (Courtesy Shana Greenbaum/Healthy Fresh Meals)
This December 2017 photo shows tangy citrus salmon in New York. The bright flavors of lemon and orange are a nice complement to salmon’s richness, and they appear in both the marinade and the citrusy sauce that accompanies the fish in this recipe. (Lucy Beni via AP)
Fish is your friend A lot of people fear fish because they don’t know how to cook it. But Greenbaum said the diet-friendly protein can be a lifesaver on busy days. Many stores sell fillets individually wrapped and frozen, so when it comes to prep, all the fish needs is a quick thaw under some room-temperature water. Drizzle each filet with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and top it with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Then, wrap the fish in parchment paper or foil and bake it until it’s done, or throw it on the grill to cook. Greenbaum said she has even seen (and purchased) frozen fillets that already have a lemon-herb butter on them, so all you need to do is pop them in the oven. (Lucy Beni via AP)
 Dedicate a few weekend hours to shopping, planning, prepping  Finally, Greenbaum said plan as much as you can on the weekends by getting your shopping and basic food prep out of the way. Have an idea of what you want to eat during the week and take care of any steps that can be done in advance. “Food is just a centerpoint to everyone’s day and you don’t realize how much time you waste thinking about it or planning it, so if you take a day and [go to the grocery store and prep], you’ll realize how much time you save,” Greenbaum said. (Courtesy Shana Greenbaum/Healthy Fresh Meals) (Courtesy Shana Greenbaum/Healthy Fresh Meals)
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This Jan. 26, 2015 photo shows rotini with creamy burger sauce in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead
This July 22, 2013 photo shows a recipe for herbed wild rice salad with apricots and blueberries. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
This December 2017 photo shows tangy citrus salmon in New York. The bright flavors of lemon and orange are a nice complement to salmon’s richness, and they appear in both the marinade and the citrusy sauce that accompanies the fish in this recipe. (Lucy Beni via AP)

 


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