A sound criterion for busy meals is: fast and few steps, few courses, inexpensive (consistently sensible), and few but complete and healthy components. Components are not the same thing as ingredients, mind you, and steps done simultaneously, I count as one. Among them, is this favorite:
Follow the directions for a bag of steam-in-the-microwave frozen mixed vegetables – usually a mixture of zucchini, squash, broccoli, peppers, and long beans, often includes noodles. Typical cost is $1.29-$1.69. – serves two. Meanwhile heat a teaspoon of oil and a moderate amount of precooked frozen chicken or shrimp in a pan. Usual cost is $6.20-$9 for an average of 5 dinners for two. When ready, combine in the pan with seasonings (especially sweet basil – try paprika, coriander, etc) and cook a little longer (until the vegetable broth is absorbed). Two components, two steps, $2/person, and something like a dozen healthy ingredients, and It’s under 10 minutes. Low carb, high protein, and always tastes fantastic. If you have to have a side (I usually don’t), add a few pennies worth of steamed rice (also available in steamable microwave pouches, if you don’t have a rice cooker). Goes nicely with large quantities of cold barley tea.
Vegetarian tip: substitute firm tofu for the chicken. Check out the local Vietnamese or Chinese grocer for the home-made variety. It doesn’t last as long, but it’s better.
It’s not perhaps the cheapest meal, but it’s not expensive, and it ensures that I eat right more often than not. Makes me feel energetic and lean. Of course, this is just one of several I keep up my sleeve. Most times, if you’re working, you need to be smart without letting food dominate your life. I need to knock out meals with hardly any effort, minimal planning, but a significant payoff with consistent health benefits, and conserve funds because, even if I could afford not to, it’s just and wise to do so.
I watch people spend hours in the AM pondering lunch, only to fill it with fast food, or over-priced sit-down fast food disguised as high-end fare (TGI Fridays, the Chinese buffet, Tex Mex) – same as if they’d put NO thought into it. Then either they make a production out of cooking at night, or else eat expensive, unhealthy, prepared garbage, similarly full of brain-killers like MSG and other glutamates – or else it’s back to the yuppy fern bar for the same set of ingredients you find in frozen entrees.
If you’re a gourmet, or just love cooking, or are doing it as a mitvah, perhaps it’s worth it to devote time and money, but it’s almost never worth it to consistently short your health. I can’t rightly do any of these things. Recently got a knock on the noggin from the doc about some bad eating she caught me doing these past couple of years. Now it’s no more cheating. 🙂 Bad eating is bad for the brain, bad for the mood, and bad business.