It is Murphy’s law of nutrition- the times when it is hardest to eat nutritiously are the times when it is most important. Pregnancy is a fantastic example of this. Currently, I am about 11 weeks pregnant. I. Feel. Terrible. But, you know what makes me feel worse? Not eating well. But, eating well is hard because… I. Feel. Terrible.
I need to be eating the best I can (and supplementing my diet) in order to feel the best I can, as well as getting the nutrition my baby and I need. But, between nausea, exhaustion, and some continued health problems not related to pregnancy- it is hard to feel up to cooking. The solution? KISH- Keep It Simple Honey. Note: this rendition of the KISS acronym must be said with a southern accent. No exceptions.
I like simple. We get along very well. My family things I overly complicate things- and I do sometimes. It makes me realize just how much I appreciate simplicity. Right now we are best buddies.
When I was first married I made really fancy meals and spent tons of time making messes in the kitchen. Over the last few years including 3 pregnancies, 5 moves, special diets, and chronic health problems I think I have learned a thing or two about still being able to put a homemade meal on the table without spending the mass amount of time in the kitchen that I used to. I have also learned that ordering in pizza once in a while is not the end of the world. At least not for us. I actually did so tonight after snuggling a sick baby all day. Just want to be real- but cooking is the point of this post. Cooking simple foods.
Here is a very condensed version of what I have learned.
Fix foods that are inherently simple to prepare.
Here are some of my favorite simple foods to prepare in the main food groups.
Ground beef (preferably from a good source especially as it has so much surface area)- Ground beef is so easy to fix! It requires no prep- other then thawing if it is frozen.
Beans- Beans are so very easy. We actually like them for a protein rich breakfast. I put soaked in the crock pot for 6 hours on high for a perfectly textured bean. Sometimes I do not even soak them, but that is far from ideal nutritionally.
Whole chickens- Cooking a whole chicken in a crockpot is a simple way to get chicken for several meals. You then can make chicken stock (in the same crock pot!) to have on hand for another simple meal- soup. When I do this I do it similar to this but I always cook my chicken stock on high in my crockpot as a very small simmer is good for getting gelatin out of bones. I also usually use the bones more then once.
Chicken thighs or legs- Thighs and legs are very simple to fix when you are wanting a chunk of meat. However I end up seasoning them I bake them for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. This is actually my favorite fool proof recipe for them. Just use butter instead of margarine and whole wheat flour.
Eggs- If all else fails… scramble some eggs. If you want a more balanced meal, serve it with some grape tomatoes or pickles. If only I could stand scrambled eggs this pregnancy! Boiled eggs are also simple and can be made ahead for snacks.
Frozen peas! Frozen vegetables in general are simple to fix, but peas are probably my favorite. You can add them to just about any sauce or mashed food and they will cook in a few minutes. I rarely even dirty up a pan just for them. Most frozen vegetables I do not care for as well as fresh but frozen peas are actually more nutritious and flavorful unless you can get them ridiculously fresh.
Frozen Spinach- While I never cook frozen spinach as a dish in of itself (neither Mark or I would eat it) it is simple to add to soups and sauces as a vegetable element. When energy is really low I can make spaghetti and marinara and throw in a bag of spinach. Better then not cooking at all!
Sweet Potatoes- Baked sweet potatoes are as simple as they come as no peeling or cutting is necessary. You just have to wash and prick and back at 350 for about an hour. You can also bake them overnight in a crockpot or set them to cook an hour before you get up if you have that setting on your stove for a nutritious edition to breakfast. Serve with a pat of butter and you have a great vegetable dish.
Quinoa, millet, rice or any grain you can cook whole.
Potatoes- A lot can be done with a potato, the easiest is to bake them at 350 for an hour. One way I simplify in the kitchen is to not peel potatoes. This helps nutritionally too. Since I do not like russet skins I rarely buy them. I’d rather pay the extra for Yukons to have a potato I like better, and is fine with the skin in.
Most fruits require no prep (except maybe washing) to be a great snack or an edition to a meal. I always feel more up to cooking when fruit is around because I can grab it as a quick snack, so I can feel up to making myself a snack, so I will be able to make dinner.
Take advantage of quick (but real) flavorings.
Just because a dish is simple does not mean it can’t be flavorful. In fact I try very hard to not make bland food. Otherwise I get bored before I have eaten the crazy amount I need from having a fast metabolism chasing toddlers, and being pregnant and nursing.
Here are some of my favorite ways to add flavor to my foods without having to rely on tons of time.
Garlic plus good press, Minced Garlic, or Garlic Powder- A few months ago I had never used garlic powder. Never. Well, I do now. No, it is not as good as real garlic, but since my garlic press broke it has been a quicker solution. I can also use it in spice mixes.
Onion Powder- This I also refused to touch until recently. Well, it does add quick flavor to foods. I still love to cut up a real onion, but onion powder is very quick and my husband LOVES the taste of it.
Balsamic Vinegar- This stuff is amazing and as easy to use as opening the bottle. I love to use it as a simple flavor for baked chicken along with garlic.
Canned Tomatoes- Yes. Canned. They add good flavor to soups, stews, and a pot of beans will never be worse of with them. No, it is not health food but it might make making healthy food more doable in rough times.
Homemade Spice Mixes/Seasoning Blend- You do not have to worry about what is in them and when your brain is dead you can reach for a homemade seasoning blend and know your food will have a good flavor.
Soy sauce- This is a tasty edition to a plethora of meals. If you use it, think of me. I can’t seem to find a corn free version.
Utilize your freezer.
When you do feel up to cooking- do so! There will be times when you really appreciate it. Even if you do not make whole meals for the freezer prepping foods and freezing them for later can save you a ton of times. I love to have chopped and shredded vegetables in the freezer, these freezer biscuits, frozen beans, and frozen shredded chicken is always a blessing.
Some of my favorite simple meals:
I did not figure this would be complete without sharing some of my favorite quick meals. This barely scratches the surface as a lot of my standbies are just in my head.
Hamburger and peas (meat, sauce, peas, and starch)- One of my favorite standbys is to cook ground meat with salt, onion and garlic powders, and then to add peas and cook a little more. I add chicken stock or whatever other flavorful liquid I have and thicken it with arrowroot or flour and then serve the peas and meat over potatoes or rice. I know it can be done (if I use white rice) in 30 minutes and the hardest thing I do is stir. Basically this with peas added and served over rice.
One Pot Spaghetti- This was the first recipe to make it into the Mark is willing to cook it box. By itself it is not really a balanced meal, but serve it with a side vegetable. DO NOT add peas to it. Not even sure what I was thinking when I did that one. I have used white, wheat, and rice noodles just keep an eye on the water level and cook longer if needed.
Sausage Filled Squash - I have fixed this several times since Justyn first wrote about it. I thought it would be good- but boring. No more exciting then serving sausage over a vegetable, but the squash and sausage come together beautifully into a composed dish. You scoop at the squash with a bit of the sausage and it is the perfect little bite. I hope my husband does not tire of it any time soon.
Marinara with spinach- I just make a tomato sauce to serve over rice or rice noodles and add spinach to the marinara. Having meat makes it a more protein rich meal, but sometimes I just serve it with cheese and call it good.
Vegetable Soup- Whatever vegetables I have plus some canned tomatoes if I have them cooked in chicken stock almost always hit the spot. With beef added it is more exciting, and nutritious but the chicken stock does add some protein and a lot of flavor.
Spanish Tortilla- I love this! I have even made them with butternut squash instead of potatoes so I did not have to worry about another vegetable. I do have a mandolin which means the prep time practically does not exist.
Bacon Beans (pictured)- One of our favorite ways to serve beans, onions (could replace with onion powder for simplicity) and bacon make this a very tasty meal.
That barely touches the surfaces of the simple meals I make, but most of them I do not have recipes for. Sorry.
A few more tips:
Consider making breakfast ahead of time- Here is a list of ideas to do so.
Utilize your crock pot! If you need a source of healthy crock pot recipes check out Stacy Makes Cents each friday and her new book Crock On.
Keep the kitchen as clean as you can. When you do not feel up to cooking there is nothing worse then going into a messy kitchen.
Menu plan realistically. Don’t worry about putting fancy dishes on your menu plan you will not have the energy to make.
I really wish I could sit down and write everything I have learned over the last few years. I used to spend so much time cooking it was crazy. I thought in order for a meal to be good it needed a ton of elements and ingredients. I still enjoy big full meals that take more then 30 minutes to prepare, and do them when I have the chance. But, instead of either going all out for a meal or eating out, I have learned a bit about balance. How to be able to cook at home when my energy is low and even if stress is high. I look forward to learning more over the years, but home what I have learned so far is a blessing to you.
What are some of your favorite ways to simplify cooking?
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