Monday, August 24, 2009

Cooking ahead

"What's for lunch?" is often a more difficult question for me to answer than the usual, "What's for dinner?" Dinner (or supper, if that's what you call it) means cooking for my family. Dinner is why I comb through cookbooks and magazines in my spare time looking for delicious and healthy meals that fit with our clean-eating lifestyle. Dinner is eating with other people, so it's fun (for me, anyway) to plan for and look forward to.

But lunch? Lunch is lonely. It's something to get through on the way to my son's naptime, or eaten in a hurry at my computer while I try to get some work done once he's down. Lunch is usually leftovers, if The H hasn't taken them to work. Lunch is boring. A hurdle to jump over on the way to a delicious dinner.

Enter cooking ahead. Determined not to have boring lunches all week, I decided to make things from my clean cooking resources that The H wouldn't appreciate as much, or can't eat because of his allergy. Cooking ahead saves time in the long run, which is always nice, and something I've heard readers asking about lately. It doesn't take a lot of time, promise.

Tonight's dinner was one of our old standbys, a CrockPot casserole-type thing we call "chicken-salsa-rice." It's really a hands-off dinner, since the only real prep is pouring a jar of salsa over frozen chicken and turning the crock on low. Closer to serving time, cooked rice and shredded cheese are added, and sour cream if you want. When I made the rice this afternoon during snack time, I figured I might as well make a big batch to keep in the fridge for lunches or another dinner later this week.

After dinner, once the baby was fed, bathed, and in bed (by 7:30) I got to work in the kitchen. I'd had a package of Trader Joe's extra-firm tofu staring me in the face every time I opened the refrigerator and figured I should use it--the tofu burritos from Tosca's family & kids book were a perfect fit. The H has also been asking for hard-boiled eggs, so those needed to get made. And then there were the chicken breast tenders I wanted to use for dinner tomorrow (chicken taco salad). Sounds like a lot! But you know what? I was done, with the dishwasher running and my pans hand-washed, sitting in front of my computer before 8:45.

First, The H (never turn down free help!) put the eggs in a pot and started them cooking. He also laid out all the chicken tenders on a baking sheet and drained the tofu for me. And then it was my turn. Onion, garlic, jalapeno, bell pepper and tofu got chopped. Canned tomatoes were drained; juice was saved and labeled. Oil heated, veggies added, tofu stirred in. Mixture seasoned and simmered. Eggs done and cooled. Burrito filling container labeled and filled (I love my label maker), burrito pan washed. Egg pan rinsed and dried. Chicken checked, not done, timer set for another 10. Then I went to shower (ran a quick 3 miles before dinner) and came back to put the chicken away. Chicken pan rinsed, dishwasher started, the end! Whew.

Now I have a fresh (as in not left-over) option for lunch. I can add brown rice to the tofu filling in my whole-grain wrap, or use some plain tenders + rice + whatever seasoning for a different flavor, in a wrap or not. I can make a clean egg salad to eat on Ezekiel bread. My son can have an egg with his morning fruit-and-waffle. If The H doesn't take dinner leftovers, those are still available, too.

Tomorrow I will make a batch of oatmeal-egg-white wheat-free pancakes (would have made them tonight but didn't feel like washing the blender) to freeze for another breakfast or lunch choice. And you know what else? I haven't gone grocery shopping since last Sunday. All of this was made with ingredients I had hanging around! If you ask The H, or even my son's sitter, they'd have likely told you there was nothing to eat. Surprise!

I love cooking ahead. It might even help me love lunch.


  1. I love the idea of cooking ahead. I often find myself scrambling for a healthy and satisfying lunch option in the mornings before leaving for work. But it would be nice to have something prepared that I can be excited about eating.
    What are some of your favorite clean eating meals? Or are you always changing it up with magazines and cookbooks?

  2. I love trying new recipes, so it might seem like we never eat the same thing twice, but I do actually have some favorites. A green monster for breakfast is one, and black bean "lasagna" for dinner is a new staple. The chicken-salsa-rice I blogged about here has been a standby for quite awhile; same with the big dinner salads mentioned a few posts ago. But since we are kind of new to clean eating, new ideas are always great! I hope my tofu burrito filling turns out well; I can see that becoming a cook-ahead regular.

  3. Cooking ahead is one the one and only thing a person can do to help them eat better. It's there, waiting to be eaten and with no or little cooking time. I do this with my veggies and fruit.