Making Your Own Fast FoodSimple ideas for healthy one-handed cooking
by christine talyor
After a long, busy morning, your kids are hungry and cranky. They’ll need lunch as soon as you walk through the door, but your baby does not want to be put down and your toddler is tuning up the whining siren. Making something from scratch with both hands is not an option likely to keep the peace. These are the times when we turn to convenience foods or hit the drive-through, although we all know these options damage our budget and health. What if, instead, your freezer was stocked with healthful “fast food” that’s ready in 2 minutes, even if you only have one hand free? This lunchtime nirvana requires about an hour a month in advance preparation and will save you hundreds of dollars a year over nutritionally questionable processed foods. In addition, you can customize ingredients and portion sizes to suit each member of your family…including yourself!
After you prepare these nutritious, kid-friendly meals, portion them individually. My favorite way is to use microwave-safe paper plates and bowls stored in freezer bags. Then, I can just grab a meal from the freezer, microwave, and serve. Freezer bags can be reused, and paper plates and bowls can be tossed, recycled or composted. For equally efficient sides, cut up apples and pears once a week (toss in a little lemon juice to prevent browning), or have grapes washed and ready to go in the fridge. You can even pour a few days’ worth of milk or juice into your kids’ sippy or straw cups in advance. You’ll have a complete meal with a side and a drink on the table in two minutes.
Here are some of my favorite suggestions to prep for one-handed cooking. Use low-fat milk and cheeses as appropriate for your family:
MAC & CHEESE
Whole grain pastas have improved greatly in the past several years. You don’t have to stick to macaroni; try cavatappi, penne, or corkscrew, too. Cook the pasta al dente, as it will soften slightly in the freezing and reheating process.
YIELDS: Approximately 6 adult, 12 toddler, or 24 baby portions
1-16 oz box of whole grain pasta
1 T Smart Balance or butter
1 T flour (such as Wheat Montana’s Prairie Gold)
1 C milk Salt & pepper to taste
16 oz your family’s favorite cheese, shredded, crumbled, or in slices OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS (to increase nutrition, flavor and color): 1/2 C tomato sauce
1 jar baby food carrots
1 T catsup or barbeque sauce
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika and/or turmeric
One or more BOOSTERS (see sidebar)
Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente consistency. Drain well and set aside. In the same pot, melt Smart Balance or butter over medium heat; whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps; simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened, whisking occasionally. Turn heat to low. Whisk in salt, pepper, cheese and any optional ingredients until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Remove from heat. Add pasta and stir until coated. Fold in BOOSTERS as desired. If consistency is too thick, add a splash of milk and stir over low heat. Let cool. Portion in microwaveable paper bowls placed in freezer bags or use individual freezer-to-microwave storage containers.
When assembling your quesadillas, prevent ingredients from spilling over the edge of the tortilla so that they won’t overflow when heated later. Local company Trevino’s makes terrific whole-wheat tortillas available in Billings at Good Earth Market or at either Van’s IGA location. Simply fill each tortilla with the following:
1/4 –1/3 C cheese (such as Kraft’s 2% Mexican Blend)
Any BOOSTERS your family likes
Fold filled tortilla in half. Place each one on a microwavable paper plate; stack several in a large freezer bag.
2 T tomato sauce.
2-3 T cheese (try ricotta and mozzarella)
Spread sauce on one side of pita and spread cheese along with boosters on top. Place each pita pizza on a microwaveable paper plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap and stack on top of each other inside a large freezer bag. These pita pizzas are also terrific baked in a 425o oven for 8 (if fresh) to 15 (if frozen) minutes.
Get the kids involved! Set up an assembly line with a variety of ingredients, and let your kids make their own pita pizzas, quesadillas, and personalized mac & cheese bowls. In addition to the above suggestions, you can simply freeze leftovers of your family’s favorite stews, soups and casseroles in individual, freezer-to-table portions. You’ll thank yourself all month for one-handed cooking that will nourish your children, save your family money, and restore your daily sanity.
Christine Taylor is the mother of 2 young children (Sophia, 4 and Sean, 1) who can't wait for the Farmers' Market to start again. She has also been a web and graphic designer for 12 years.