Dietitians of Canada nutrition tip: Make meal plans, cook big batches
TORONTO -- University students preparing food for the first time and empty-nesters who suddenly have fewer people at the dinner table face a similar dilemma: cooking for one or two can be a challenge.
But as with families, planning can go a long way to help make easy meals that are delicious, says Shannon Crocker, a registered dietitian based in Ancaster, Ont.
"Have a plan and then stock your kitchen with basics to make those simple meals."
"The nice thing about cooking for one is that you only have to please your own taste buds. Have fun for yourself and take a little bit of time to cook for yourself," says Crocker, who is a spokesperson for the Nutrition Month campaign held annually in March and spearheaded by Dietitians of Canada, the national professional association, for more than 30 years.
"Healthy eating when you're cooking for one needs to be simple if you're not all that keen on cooking but also affordable and delicious."
Prep batches of items that can be reinvented over the course of the week.
"If you've made up some roasted vegetables, for example, a big tray of them on Sunday, you can have them in a pasta on Monday, a frittata on Tuesday and on a pizza on Wednesday and you've had three totally different meals based on one main ingredient," explains Crocker.
Those who don't want to forgo their favourite large-batch recipe can split it in half (where the recipe is easily divisible) or make up the full amount and refrigerate or freeze in meal-size portions.
Chili could be made with rice for Monday. On Tuesday, wrap it in a tortilla, top with cheese, bake it and you have a quick enchilada. Then give it some zing with other favourite ingredients. Try it with barley or quinoa, add black beans, corn or avocado, or boost the flavour with a squeeze of lime juice.
To save time, cook whole-grain pasta, rice or barley at the beginning of the week and reheat it other days. "These are things that are filled with fibre and easy to combine with other nutritious ingredients fairly quickly," says Crocker. "Saute the pasta with a little bit of basil and garlic, add some low-sodium crushed tomatoes, a little bit of Parmesan cheese on the top and something maybe like some roasted vegetables or use goat cheese instead and you've got a pasta that's whipped up in no time."
The chili and the roasted vegetables and goat cheese pasta are also ideal to tote to work or school for lunch.
Crocker says one of her favourite easy tips is breakfast for dinner. "I think that breakfast foods are usually pretty easy to make and really versatile and you can make it in 10 minutes and you've got a simple supper," says the mother of two.
"Pancakes with almond butter on them and a fruit salad on the side or I love the soft poached egg idea and instead of putting it on toast, put it on top of a baked potato. You take some frozen or fresh spinach or saute some frozen spinach or kale, for example, along with some mushrooms, put it on a baked potato with a soft poached egg and you've got dinner in minutes and it's fantastic."
Replace the poached egg with black beans and salsa for an entirely different meal the next night.
A frittata is also "a perfect dish for inexperienced chefs and it could be a good one for using up those leftovers but reinventing them in a different way. And it doesn't take a lot of tools or skill. You just add in your favourite, even leftover, vegetables, you season them up, you add in some eggs, you spread everything in the pan along with a little bit of milk, sprinkle it with some cheese and you've got a great meal ready to go in minutes."
Crocker encourages seniors to eat with friends. "They're more likely to eat better and get more nutrients. Just invite a friend over for dinner and now you've got reason to cook."
Or start a small cooking club or soup swap. "You can connect over creating a dish together if you invite a few friends over who are like-minded and you plan to make three or four easy meals together. Now you've got a whole week's worth of meals and you've just spent an afternoon hanging out with your friends."
With the soup, each person makes a batch. Keep a portion and exchange the rest with a few friends. You each end up with different soups that can be refrigerated or frozen for a quick meal.
Stock your pantry with staples like canned black beans, diced tomatoes or light chunk tuna.
Having a variety of different frozen vegetables on hand is a great idea for singles or couples. "Pull them out of the freezer in small quantities that you want and then you can get a variety of tasty veggies and it's a great way to get the nutrients that you need," Crocker says.
"Frozen is just as nutritious as fresh. When they pick veggies to freeze they flash freeze them, locking the nutrients in and so you know you're going to get a good nutritious choice when you get a plain frozen fruit or vegetable," she adds.
Or buy just the amount of fresh vegetables you need for a recipe, such as a handful of brussels sprouts or three carrots rather than a large package to reduce waste.
Purchase packages of prewashed mixed salad greens. "Over the course of the week you can use a big handful of that and then add in different ingredients and you've got different salads three different days of the week." They can be used in stir-frys, omelettes and sandwiches.
Cut-up butternut squash or other root vegetables are also convenient. However, these and the prewashed greens can be more expensive so weigh whether the convenience is worth the extra cost.
Dietitians of Canada is serving up some online resources. Cookspiration, a free iPad and iPhone app, is expected to launch Tuesday. "It's going to offer up unique meal ideas for what to make any time of the day or the week. It's going to have a wide variety of recipes and there will be nutrition details with all the recipes as well as photos," says Crocker.