Even though many of us cook and eat on the fly, at least some of the time, the June Cleaver-era idea of what dinner looks like still manages to linger in our consciousness. A roast, potatoes, two vegetables, dinner rolls, dessert. I love a good roast as much as the next person, but that’s an occasional weekend meal…not a weeknight staple (although the leftovers might be!).
Some new vegetarians have a hard time breaking free of the notion of meat at the center of the plate, with side dishes as the supporting players. I think it’s a similar mindset when you’re really busy, but you want to prepare a healthy dinner for yourself or your family. “How am I going to cook a proper entree and side dishes when it’s 6 p.m. and everyone’s starving?”
I can count on three fingers the weeknights when I have a proper entree and side dishes on my table, and that’s because on two of those nights, Jeff’s doing most of the cooking and I break away from my textbooks long enough to toss a salad or pull some roasted vegetables out of the oven. Other nights, I am much more liberal in my interpretation of dinner, provide it follows three simple rules. It must include:
- Abundant vegetables
- A serving of healthy protein
- A touch of healthy fat
Grains are optional, and primarily depend on how many grain-based carbohydrates I had at breakfast and lunch. Don’t forget, vegetables are carbs, too, full of fiber and richer in nutrients.
Eggs are a favorite. They aren’t just for breakfast anymore! It takes about a minute to wilt some spinach, kale or other greens in a pan with a little olive oil. Add the eggs, scramble, add some salt and pepper and a little feta or Parmesan cheese, and you’ve got dinner. I always have mixed salad greens on hand (big tub from Costco), so while I keep one eye on the eggs, I can focus the other on tossing a quick salad.
Speaking of salads…I eat a lot of salads. Big, main-dish salads. Tossed with homemade vinaigrette, topped with cherry tomatoes, chunks of bell pepper or cucumbers (I try to pre-chop a few and keep them in the fridge) or leftover roasted vegetables. For protein, I’ll add leftover chicken or steak, if I have it, or a big dollop of hummus. Or a veggie burger patty. For the healthy fat, I’ll add avocado or walnuts (if I need some grains, I’ll toast a piece of sprouted grain bread and use the avocado as a spread). I may add a touch of blue or feta cheese.
Soup and a salad. A tuna or turkey sandwich and a salad. Fish sticks (high-quality ones, please) on a bed of shredded cabbage topped with salsa, avocado, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, and maybe a touch of shredded cheddar cheese. Or swap canned beans and leftover rice for the fish sticks. You get the idea…and I’m sure you’ll come up with you own ideas!
What I won’t do is eat cereal for dinner, mostly because I am so busy that I don’t even want to start down that road, because it might become a crutch. The only frozen “convenience” foods I keep in the house are veggie burgers, fish sticks, and occasionally some ravioli. And yet I feed myself healthfully and well every night…even when I am so busy I think my head might explode. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…that’s all I’m saying.