HEALTHY FOOD BITES TO GO: If You Can Heat Rice, Healthy Delicious Food on the Cheap is a Piece of Cake
It is too easy at the end of a busy day to fall into the habit of grabbing take-out meals or pulling ready-made convenience comfort foods from the freezer. They often come up short on nutritional impact. Lack of time and budget restrictions are common excuses for missing the healthy eating mark and what’s on our eating plate gets the short shrift.
What if there were cost effective, time-sensitive ways to get a healthy meal on the table, or at least some of the 21 plus meals consumed weekly. Every bite of every meal every single day is an opportunity to nourish and coax the body into performing at its peak. Don’t just settle for simply getting by on convenient junk food when inexpensive, easily prepared, delicious meals promise smarter, more productive and mood boosting benefits.
GET INTO THE KITCHEN AND PRETEND TO COOK
Even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, you might consider doing what cooks do – assemble some ingredients and plate them. Play around in the kitchen. Cooking food, even the simplest recipes with few ingredients (all nutrient-rich) is the cornerstone of eating for health. More energy, less cravings and a mind that wanders less are just some of the benefits of controlling the prep of the food that crosses your lips.
RICE IS NICE
With a desire to provide a few easy recipes for readers to execute a cook more mission, the goal is then to select a staple ingredient familiar and appreciated by most. While different cultures and countries have different food staple preferences and traditions, cooked rice is considered the most common and consumed dish on the planet, feeding almost half of humanity, according to Wikipedia. Whether stuffed into a burrito, nested underneath Asian delights, mixed with beans, packed into a pudding or glistening in a bowl on its own, rice is a wildly popular and a best-loved food staple. Don’t believe the hype that rice is boring.
Since white rice is considered a refined grain which goes through a milling process that can result in a significant loss of vitamins and minerals, brown rice is usually considered the healthier whole grain. The bran and the germ of the grain left intact.
In an effort to speed up and simplify healthy food prep, brown rice is now available in microwavable pouches and fully cooked for reheating. Inexpensive rice cookers allow you to set it and forget it – perfectly cooked rice every time.
The first rule of action is to Cook Once, Eat Thrice. Depending upon how many you are cooking for, you are encouraged to double or triple a grain recipe like rice, even if you are cooking for one, to save time in the kitchen. This technique involves having enough leftover rice to repurpose it over the course of multiple meals – breakfast, lunch or dinner. Think stir-fry, tacos, porridge, chili, greens and grain bowls and more.
Staple Basmati Rice (aromatic with a nut-like fragrance)
1 ½ cups Brown Basmati Rice (or your favorite rice preference)
3 cups water
1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped or sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon EVOO or extra-virgin olive oil (Using vegetable broth for a No-oil sauté instead, is optional.)
1 tablespoon bouillon powder (Knorr’s Vegetable bouillon is a favorite for seasoning grains.)
Keep a 2:1 ratio of liquid to rice when cooking. Doubling the recipe would require 6 cups of water and 3 cups of rice, and so on. Rice will last several days in the fridge in an airtight glass food storage container.
Sauté the onions until translucent with the garlic in a big fry pan over a medium flame. Toss the uncooked rice over the cooked onion/garlic mixture, along with the bouillon powder. Add the water and cover the pan with foil to continue cooking, until the water is absorbed. Check the pan after 20 minutes. When water is completely absorbed the rice is cooked. Your flame will influence the cooking process. Keep an eye on it.
Grilled Chicken (or Chicken-free Strips for meat-free eaters) and Vegetable Rice
Markets are now carrying pre-cooked chicken strips available in either the refrigerated or frozen food sections.
Basmati Rice recipe previously provided, or pre-cooked rice from food market freezer section
Frozen mixed vegetables
1-2 tablespoons EVOO or extra-virgin coconut oil
1 bag of grilled cooked chicken strips, or chicken-less strips if meal is meat-free*
Pepper and salt to taste
Optional seasonings: Jarred sauces and onion, garlic or other seasoning powders.
*The amount of chicken (and rice) will depend on how many mouths are being fed.
Heat up a non-greased pan on a medium flame. Add frozen mixed vegetables (peas, stringed beans, broccoli, carrots, corn etc.) to dry them out slightly. Move the vegetables aside in the pan and add 1-2 tablespoons of oil to the pan**.
Season the rice mixture with onion or garlic powder, low-sodium tamari (soy sauce) or a spoonful of a jarred Hoisin or Peanut sauce.
**Less is more (oil), in terms of keeping calories low and allowing the flavor of the vegetables to be more prominent than the oil in which they are cooked.
Black and Kidney Bean and Veggie Chile
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 ½ cups tomato sauce or puree
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Two 15-ounce cans black beans
One 15-ounce can kidney beans
1 ear of corn, cooked and shucked
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon chili flakes
A few shakes of sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of EVOO or coconut oil (for beef-less crumbles)
Beef-less beef crumbles (Trader Joe’s are a favorite!)
Brown rice, to serve
Toppers: Dairy-free cheddar shreds, dairy-free sour cream and salsa.
Prep beef-less ground beef in a pan with oil, and set aside prior to cooking chili.
Place carrot and garlic in large, heated saucepan until chopped carrots are cooked. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, beans, pepper, chili flakes and paprika to pan, along with salt and pepper to taste. Add ‘beef’ crumbles.
Cook chili for 10-15 minutes on low to medium heat. Stir well, until it’s all mixed together and looking warm and wonderful.
Serve over rice.
Top with dairy-free cheddar shreds (available at the supermarket) or dairy-free sour cream and Pico de Gallo.
We know prepping food at home offers a better chance for eating healthier and saving money. The more you practice cooking the more it become second nature. Cooking can become like a meditative practice and slow you down amid the rigors of daily life. The chopping and stirring can relax the body while home-made food may comfort the soul.
I grew up eating from my mother’s perpetually stocked freezer. It was an easy draw for this non-cook. But once I learned that plant-centered, whole food preparation was quick and delicious, I started to prepare and build an arsenal of simple, budget-friendly recipes. Now I cook and Instagram (@Wholefoodieronna) what I eat. My freezer is now my own convenience store.
Be fearless and cook something.
Cook to feed creativity. Cook because new ingredients can feel like a new toy. Cook because you love food. Cook because you can feel like an artist. Cook because it unleashes your inner chef.
Cooking food and nourishing our deepest self matters most. It makes us rich.