Just picture this day: You go to the supermarket, place only the best foods in your cart, come home and create a delicious meal in minutes for your family. Then, everyone sits down at the table together to share a hot meal and heartfelt conversations and then everyone helps you clean up.
While that scenario is but a dream for most of us, you can still enjoy the most important part — sitting together at the table over a meal and conversation — without spending your day food shopping or attempting to show off your cooking skills.
A Stress-Free Holiday Gathering
First, try to keep certain staples in your pantry, fridge and freezer to rely on when you don’t have the time or inclination to shop. You also don’t have to feel the pressure of being creative or traditional — there’s nothing wrong with throwing together a quick meatloaf or pizza or having breakfast for dinner.
Go for pre-packaged fresh ingredients, too. Although slicing, dicing and chopping salad ingredients is like therapy to me, there isn’t always time to take advantage of those techniques. Several companies sell salad in bags that are already assembled for you, and include add-ins like nuts, seeds, cheese and dressing. Check the labels to be sure you’re not getting lots of extra ingredients, like sugar and sodium (from dressings, crunchy noodles, candied fruit and so on).
Finally, keep in mind that it’s better to spend a little extra money, if need be, on ingredients that are conveniently cut up ahead of time rather than to buy the whole form of the fruit or veggie and then waste it because you didn’t have the time or desire to prepare it. I’ve thrown away many whole heads of cauliflower and mangos that started out with the good intentions of cutting them up.
To make your job even easier, try to enlist others to help you with the meal prep steps and whip up one of these meals you can throw together in minutes — without any stress.
Italian-Inspired “Turkey” Dinner
Buy a rotisserie chicken
, frozen vegetables (squash and green beans keep things seasonal) and a box of pasta. Lightly sauté the veggies in a little olive oil and garlic, add some chicken broth and cut the chicken into small pieces. Boil the pasta, drain it and add it to the vegetable and chicken mix. If you can find some fresh basil — chop up some for the topping. Done.
Just top your favorite salad greens with some protein like your favorite cheese, canned tuna or salmon, or canned, rinsed beans (rinsing ditches almost 40% of the sodium). Jazz up this dish further by adding some dried cranberries, sliced almonds and a squeeze of balsamic glaze to create a DIY salad bar at home.
Nothing fills the belly and warms the soul like a classic meatloaf recipe. To follow mine, which you can find at BetterThanDieting.com, combine 2 cups of chopped mixed vegetables with your favorite seasonings (garlic powder, onion, smoked paprika and chili powder work well), 1/2 cup panko, 1 egg and 1 pound of lean ground turkey. Coat the muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray, fill each cup three-quarters full and bake it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes.
The recipe makes 20 muffins and can be served with oven-roasted potatoes and a salad or veggies. These mini meatloaves freeze well so you can save some for a quick week-day dinner.
Hawaiian Holiday Shrimp
Sauté fresh or frozen shrimp, frozen veggies, shelled edamame, a few tablespoons of crushed pineapple, cut mango, chopped nuts and just a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce in 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil. Serve over cooked quinoa.
Deviled Egg Appetizer
Boil eggs in water for about five minutes. After running them under cold water, peel, wash and slice them in half length-wise. Pop out the yolks and mash them with a variety of chopped veggies, 1 teaspoon of grainy mustard and 1 mashed avocado. Stuff the mix into the egg whites and serve them with a big salad and multigrain pita chips.
‘Tis always the season for pizza. Buy pizza dough (preferably whole wheat) at a local pizza shop and heat a stone or cookie sheet in the oven ahead of time. For a Christmas-colored pie, combine baby spinach, sliced mushrooms, chopped fresh tomatoes, shredded mozzarella cheese and crushed garlic in a bowl. Remove the pan from the oven, spray with cooking spray, stretch the dough over the stone or pan and top it with the veggie mixture. Bake it in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.
Easy Salmon Burgers
Warning … these are not your mother’s salmon burgers! Although my mom used to make these all the time, her recipe was pretty basic, yet delicious nevertheless. My patties are more veggie forward to add color and pack a punch of nutrient value.
And here’s a fun fact: did you know that most of the salmon that’s packed in cans is wild salmon, a treat that you can’t necessarily find all year through in the fresh version. The price of canned salmon is generally lower than fresh, it’s easier to store and you still reap the benefits of those heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
As with most of my recipes, you don’t have to follow the directions exactly, and these burgers are a great opportunity to clear out that vegetable bin in your fridge. All you’ll need is 1 (14.75 ounce) can salmon (skinless and boneless, drained and flaked), whole wheat or plain panko breadcrumbs, chopped onions, garlic, bell peppers, broccoli and combine with 2 eggs, mustard, horseradish sauce, lemon juice and your favorite seasonings. Form into patties, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and cook patties until browned on both sides. You can find the full recipe here.
And at the end of a good meal, there’s nothing like sitting around and playing some competitively friendly board games. Some of our family’s favorites include Catch Phrase, Code Names, Pictionary, Cranium, Taboo, Scattergories, Monopoly, Scrabble, Poker (without betting) and our newest addition, Poetry for Neanderthals.
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