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What to cook when it's just you and the cats. Or that cute little dog.

Posted by BJ Roche  November 2, 2011 06:00 PM

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Have you lost your cooking mo? I have. I used to love to cook; now there's always something more interesting or important to do.

Time is one factor: weeknight commuting takes a lot out of you, and when there are no kids around to feed, a big meal seems like more labor than it's worth. Can you say Kentucky Fried Pizza Bell?

The problem is that all that fast food starts to add up, and the way you eat in your 40s and 50s sets you up big time for your quality of life in your 60s, 70s, and 80s. Reports the Centers for Disease Control:

Three behaviors — smoking, poor diet, and physical inactivity — were the root causes of almost 35% of U.S. deaths in 2000. These behaviors are risk factors that often underlie the development of the nation’s leading chronic disease killers: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

Everybody knows they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but those all take too much cooking and cleanup time on a weeknight. Here are a few workarounds I and my friends have come up with. They take some planning, and some work on a Sunday morning, but the payoff is that you come home to some healthy meals on your weeknights.

Soups and slaws: On Sunday morning, make a pot of soup -- it can Ziploc to work for lunch, and with a salad and bread or quesadilla (see below), works for dinner. Try butternut squash and apple bisque or beef and vegetable. I've also been trying out different slaw mixes from the produce section -- broccoli slaw is an easy-to-make add-on, or do-it-yourself coleslaw keeps for a few days.

Roast some vegetables: Winter squash, red onions, red peppers, carrots. Sweet potatoes work as well; try things out. Here's a basic recipe, but you can play with your own herbs and spices. Make a double batch for later to toss with pasta and olive oil, couscous or rice, or in a salad.

Try a new grain or bean: If you're near a Whole Foods or a locally-run food co-op, check out the grains in the bulk section and try a few out. Wheatberries, rice, quinoa, and couscous can all be cooked ahead and used hot or in salads during the week. You can also add kidney or black beans to a lot of salads or other dishes.

Find some new inspiration: This post sent me back to America's Test Kitchen's Cooking for Two Cookbook, which offers a nice compendium of recipes from the publishers of Cook's Illustrated, developed for smaller households. I love the French Style Pot Roast recipe, which provides leftovers and recipes for two other meals. The book even offers a shopping list.

Author and Harvard School of Public Health researcher Stephanie Bostic has a new cookbook out called One Bowl: Simple Healthy Recipes for One; her blog also has some great tips for small-batch cooking.

You might also try anything by Mark Bittman, but particularly his book, Kitchen Express, which offers dishes that can be cooked in 20 minutes or less. Have you checked out The Pioneer Woman? She's not a low-fat, high-fiber gal, but her recipes and food pix are gorgeous.

If you're really up for it, try The Fresh 20, which will plan your menus for you, right down to the shopping list.

Grill, baby, grill. I love my little Cuisinart Griddler, which has removable panels that enable you to grill foods or use as a griddle. Get a good loaf of bread, some goat cheese, your grilled vegetables, and a jar of artichoke hearts and you have the makings of a great panini.

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What's your strategy for healthy eating for one or two on a weeknight? Share it on the Fiftyshift.com Facebook page. For more content about caregiving, careers and midlife, check out fiftyshift.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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