Throughout my childhood, my mother cooked fresh, homemade meals almost every night. Dinner was the highlight of my day, and the question, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” was uttered before breakfast had even been consumed. You see, I love food, and have since I was a wee one. Aside from a brief stint as a baby when I couldn’t gain weight, I’ve always been ready for seconds or a fourth cookie. Fortunately, I was also a thin girl and no one was concerned when I could finish an entire adult perch dinner (two fried fillets). While I attribute some of this to my fairly stellar metabolism I inherited from my mom, I also attribute it to the healthy, balanced meals she fed my brother and me. Dinner always included a protein (chicken), a starch (potatoes or rice), a vegetable (yes, I ate them as a kid. In fact, “beets” was one of my first words!), and possibly a salad and/or some nice crusty bread. No frozen fish sticks or KFC buckets on our dinner table.
When I moved out of the dorms and into my first college apartment, dinner continued to include multiple components. The difference was, instead of those components being family-friendly, they were catered towards the cheap, busy college student. On any given evening, “dinner” might consist of a can of green beans, an english muffin, and a yogurt. Maybe throw a piece of chicken on the george forman grill if it was a good night. Not exactly what I’d call an appetizing meal. Fortunately, things took a turn for the better when I graduated and started working an 8-5 job. With more built-in structure, I started cooking real meals – ones that slightly resembled the coveted ones of my childhood.
Cooking for one is a tricky thing. You don’t want to overbuy at the grocery store for fear of having to throw away food, but if you buy too little, you end up eating out because your fridge is bare. For the same reason, it’s tough to have a wide variety of foods. But after seven years of cooking for one, I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what I will and won’t eat. I’ve also gotten pretty good at knowing how to whip up a tasty meal in a hurry. For 2.5 years, I worked full-time and went to grad school at night, which didn’t leave me with a lot of time for leisurely culinary adventures. And although I’m now back to my pre-grad school lifestyle, I haven’t found myself wanting to cook elaborate meals quite as much as I used to. I eat out more than I’d like to admit as a way of socializing, but I very rarely get takeout. Instead, those nights that I do eat dinner at home, I prefer to make a simple, healthy dinner that can maybe double as lunch the next day. But one thing for sure hasn’t changed – I’ll still spend an entire yoga class thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner. What can I say – old habits die hard.
So what are some of my go-to dinners?
- Salads with interesting protein: Think an over-easy egg, veggie burger, or my current favorite – meatballs in spaghetti sauce. Yep, you read that right. I always like to have meatballs in the freezer (homemade – they freeze well). I’ll take out a few, heat them on the stove in some sauce, and in the meantime build the rest of the salad. I like to massage the lettuce in a little EVOO and balsamic, then add whatever veg I have on hand, some blue cheese, and banana pepper rings. They just go well with the meatballs. Serve with a nice piece of crusty bread (some things never change).
- Mac and Cheese: Oddly enough, I was not a fan of mac and cheese as I kid. I was a bit of a food snob at a young age, and turned my nose up at anything that belonged on the kid table. But as an adult, I’ve discovered the amazing-ness of boxed mac and cheese. Of course, I’m still a food snob so I purchase the organic kind, then add some cooked chicken sausage and frozen peas to the mix. Add some hot sauce and you’ve got a well-rounded meal.
- Lazy-Woman’s Stir Fry: This is what I had for dinner on Sunday and lunch today (leftovers). I’m not a vegetarian by any means (hello, bacon?), but I LOVE tofu. Especially when it’s cooked well – in big cubes, a little chewy but not overdone. I’ll stir-fry some tofu cubes (drained and pressed all day in the fridge using the fifth Harry Potter book, my least favorite) in a pan with some coconut oil (my new favorite trader joes discovery), then add some broccoli, peppers, onions, shaved carrots – whatever I have on hand. I’ll add some trader joes red curry sauce from a bottle, cook up some trader joes frozen brown rice in the micro, and viola – a stir-fry is born. Thanks, Trader Joes. Top with bean sprouts, lime, and peanuts.
- Veggie Burger & Fries: One of my longest lasting go-tos. You just can’t go wrong with a Morningstar Farms black bean burger with avocado, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. Pair it with some oven baked sweet potato or regular fries, and you’re good to go!
- Beans and Rice: Courtesy of my favorite blogger, this beans and rice meal is one of my favorites. My version is slightly different – I use yellow rice (the cooking time doesn’t bother me – I use the time to unload the dishes, prepare the rest of the meal, etc.). I chop some garlic and an onion, throw it in the skillet, maybe add some sliced pepper, then add a can of red kidney beans (rinsed), a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, some jarred jalapenos, and a pinch or two of cumin and cayenne (to taste). I usually add some spinach at the last minute for good measure. Serve the bean mixture over the rice, and top with sour cream (I like Daisy Light), avocado, and pepperjack cheese. If you have tortilla chips, add them for some crunch.
- And When All Else Fails: There is always Northstar Cafe!
What are some of your go-to dinners?