When I was in college, I existed on pork and beans served over rice.
I loved it, and I didn’t care who thought it was gross or inedible. It was fast, cheap, filled me up, required no cooking (I didn’t know how), didn’t spoil, didn’t require refrigeration and lasted all year in the cupboards.
I wasn’t the only one with a cringe worthy favorite meal. Most students had a “go to” fast, cheap and easy meal that hit the spot, even if it lacked culinary charm: canned potatoes or ANY other canned vegetable with salsa on top, canned corn, frozen peas, tuna, peanut butter, and mustard.
Everyone seemed to go crazy with salsa and mustard. The local Safeway would run out of both when they went on sale and the entire campus would stock up.
College age kids and health insurance, thoughts for getting them off parent’s plan.
My pork and beans meal and my roommate’s canned potatoes topped with salsa remained the butt of many jokes until my senior year when I took a nutrition 101 class and learned what foods are good for you and what foods are not. It was then that I realized that our fast and cheap meals were really, really good for us.
To this day, as a busy mom, I rely on the freezer as a pantry for healthy, inexpensive meals that can be prepared in minutes. That is why I was so glad to see this week’s cover of Time Magazine devote a story to the merits of frozen and canned foods.
I concur with Dr. Oz’s assessment that certain terms are confusing what is healthy and necessary: organic, sustainable, farm to table. Let’s face it; freezer to table is what works for most of us. And, there are many ways to keep those freezer meals healthy. Below are some ideas that I regularly use to make those simple, inexpensive, healthy, quick foods more delicious and grown up. And, read food that I want at the drive thru!
- Things to keep on hand: parmesan cheese, soy sauce, chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, salsa, salt, sea salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, dried thyme and oregano, olive oil, butter – yes real butter, a half of a tablespoon adds unbelievable flavor and viscosity for 50 small calories; garlic and onions. You could also use garlic and onion powder, in place of fresh.
Family health insurance, child only health plans, click here for a free quote.
- Frozen brown rice. Brown rice is so good for you, but takes an hour to cook and even the best rice cookers do a marginal job with it. Prepared frozen brown rice is a revelation, and when paired with a frozen vegetable, has made healthy eating much more manageable for this busy mom. I knew that I was onto something when my daughter asked me if she could have my rice and peas for lunch. The possibilities are endless, affordable and require very few trips to the grocery store, just pull the bag out of the freezer and microwave a cup or two of rice together with your favorite frozen veggies for a five-minute lunch or side dish. I have seen frozen brown rice at Costco, Trader Joe's, and virtually every grocery store that carries the birds eye steam in a bag brand. Here are some winning combinations (stir in the flavorings after microwaving): peas, rice, salt, pepper, red pepper, dried thyme, ½ tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of parmesan cheese; corn, rice, salsa (maybe some black beans); shelled edamame, rice, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. In the summertime let the rice cool to room temperature and mix with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for a rice salad.
- Frozen spinach. So packed with nutrition, but so difficult to thaw and squeeze the water out of, so don’t! The last two minutes of boiling pasta, throw in that block of frozen spinach and a clove or two of garlic. Then you can drain everything together, mash and stir in the garlic with some olive oil, salt, pepper, dried herbs and parmesan cheese and it is a quick pesto. You can also cut the block of spinach into cubes while still frozen and throw it into a blender for smoothies. Nutritious ice.
- Canned beans. Black beans heated up with a little salsa can easily be converted to black bean soup. Or poured over brown rice. Navy beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans … they are all very easy to doctor up a million ways, including using chicken broth to turn them into a quick soup. They also go on sale a lot at the stores, and last for a very long time. Refried bean burritos are a “meatless Monday” favorite in our house.
- Frozen edamame in the pod microwaves in five minutes, so do green beans. If you sprinkle it with sea salt, it feels like you are in a fancy Japanese restaurant. It is great, but frozen green beans work just as well, done the exact same way, and they are easier to find and less expensive. It is always shocking to me how fast the kids eat them. Put a bowl out right before dinner and the vegetables are eaten before the dinner even starts, without arguments.
- Frozen fruit is easily converted to a quick dessert (top with granola and bake until bubbly), and popping frozen berries, particularly blueberries, into your mouth is delicious. My friend’s kids eat corn that way, frozen, straight out of the bag on a warm day. Why not? It is clean, simple, does not break the bank or burn time in the kitchen. That type of convenience speaks to all of us and makes healthy eating much less onerous. Thank you, Time Magazine and Dr. Oz, for reminding us that good, healthy food is not fancy or expensive.
And when you eat out, check out these tips by clicking here.