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Faster food (but not Fast Food)


shaeon

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So I've found that a setback that often gets me is I run out of time, and I get takeout. 

Or maybe not takeout, but something from the freezer section of the store. 

 

Or a canned something, that is quick to heat up.

 

At any rate, usually not good choices. 

 

Recently I discovered the Simple Green Smoothies site through this Nerd Fitness Blog Post, and although the idea of grinding up leafy greens and fruit and then drinking it never sounded appealing to me before, I thought "what have I got to lose?" and made one. Now I'm often eating fruits that I almost never ate before, like pineapple, mango, and bananas, getting a LOT of greens, and I love it. Making smoothies is fast. Cleaning my blender is easy. I didn't even need to buy a fancy new one; my old Hamilton Beach blender that I got back in my 20's when the only green I was putting in it was margarita mix does the job just fine.

 

So, that's one problem fixed. 

But what are some other shortcuts? What are your fast tips for meat? What about other preparations for vegetables that are fast? I know lots of Rebels are paleo, but what about those of us that eat whole grains? What do you do to make things easy when you don't have much time to spare, in order to avoid fast food or prepared food? 

 

 

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For meat/protein, I like canned pacific salmon.  You can also buy wild caught pink salmon filets at target, of all places, that are pretty good, and thaw quickly in water.  I'm also a fan of crock pots - braising a large hunk of pork shoulder and feeding off it for 3 days or so, if not longer.  Other shoulder/tough cuts should work - look for braising and slow cook recipes, and cook ahead on quiet nights or weekends.   If you're near a library or book store that lets you linger and read, you might check out back issues of Cooks Illustrated, and the books by the same company.  You can also search Saveur's recipe index online (lots of ads though).  And of course there are a lot of recipes on the forums.

 

If you're just after protein, maybe some whey in your smoothie? 

 

One think I've done recently that's nice is roasting a bunch of sweet potato or other root veggies, and having lots left over that I can reheat or crisp up a little in a skillet for a fast side. 

 

For grains, I've seen some overnight recipes for pin oats that look interesting, but haven't tried yet.  I like them in savory use, actually, and will mix in garlic, olive oil, and a protein (usually scrambled egg).  You can also find pre-cooked grains in the freezer section that are quick to reheat or add to a soup or stock.

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Good point on roasting the veg. When I get Brussels sprouts, I briefly boil more than I'm going to eat that night, and then saute one serving in a skillet and store the rest for later in the week. I need to roast a good bit of veg as well!

 

Whey in a smoothie sounds good, although I am not looking to just do smoothies for all meals. Chewing is nice sometimes. ;) I do need to get over my issues with canned meat and try canned fish. I need to apply that same "what have I got to lose?" attitude to more things, like I did with smoothies. 

 

I do love to use my slow cooker, and I've done things like slow cook a roast, save it for food throughout the week, freeze some of the meat. I've made some really great shepherd's pie with the leftovers. I definitely need to look into more slow cooker recipes.

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I have the same problem as you.  Convenience is king, which in turn saves time.

 

I found that the key for me was bulk cooking on the weekend.  If I have all my meals planned and ready then all I need to do is pop it in the microwave and start eating.  The hardest part of that is finding recipies and food ideas that are tasty, store/keep well, and still fit your eating plan.

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I am Paleo so have no advice on the grains part...I pre-plan and shop on Sunday for the week, makes it a lot easier to know exactly what I'm going to have which night...sometimes I'll even cook up some in advance, depending on what it needs...for instance I have a salad I make that calls for bacon and chicken, I'll precook that and throw it all together so all I do is dish it up that night...frozen veggies that can be cooked in the bag are your friend, put that with some protein such as chicken thighs or a hamburger, viola, you have a meal...;)

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I have the same problem as you.  Convenience is king, which in turn saves time.

 

I found that the key for me was bulk cooking on the weekend.  If I have all my meals planned and ready then all I need to do is pop it in the microwave and start eating.  The hardest part of that is finding recipies and food ideas that are tasty, store/keep well, and still fit your eating plan.

 

Drashnar, the biggest issue I have isn't the planning ahead - it's the getting bored with what I've got. If I don't plan ahead with a number of meals, I will get sick of whatever I planned ahead on and that will put me back in trouble. One thing I did recently that opened up a few options is cooking meat with little or no seasoning in advance, and then freezing it. For example, I cooked a whole chicken, divided it up into single servings, and tonight I made a stir fry with one of the servings. I also did a roast, and other than making shepherd's pie with the leftovers, I could serve it with basically anything that the roast would taste good with. I have little dishes that I can put in the oven for single servings of shepherd's pie, because I can quickly get bored with leftover anything. 

 

I am Paleo so have no advice on the grains part...I pre-plan and shop on Sunday for the week, makes it a lot easier to know exactly what I'm going to have which night...sometimes I'll even cook up some in advance, depending on what it needs...for instance I have a salad I make that calls for bacon and chicken, I'll precook that and throw it all together so all I do is dish it up that night...frozen veggies that can be cooked in the bag are your friend, put that with some protein such as chicken thighs or a hamburger, viola, you have a meal... ;)

 

I used frozen veg tonight for the stir fry, and I was just thinking about pre-cooking bacon as well. I think I really need to start being less closed-minded about what I can precook, and especially precook and freeze. 

For the smoothie makers, what do you do with the bananas? They get brown so quick, and I know they don't do well in the fridge. I'm basically just buying two bananas every other day to make my smoothies. 

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So far my quickest solutions to this are to cook a variety of things which I can freeze, or to cook meat that I can do diverse things with and freeze it (it's mainly the meat that I want the variety with, too. Meat has always seemed like the star of whatever I'm having for dinner). 

 

But I'm also not looking at it as a black and white, solve this problem for me discussion. I'd definitely love for this to just be a conversation about how we all deal with the time issue, because I'm sure it's a problem for all of us at least some of the time.

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Re: grains

 

Rice freezes very well for months!  I make a big rice cooker full and freeze in single portion baggies.  When I need some grains with my meal, I dump the rice onto a place and microwave.  And as for getting bored, it's easy enough to dress up depending on what you serve it with. ^_^  Buckwheat, while not technically a grain, also freezes well and serves the same purpose on your plate.

 

Otherwise, I tend to cook in big portions and freeze.... then pick whichever frozen homemade thing sounds good on any given day.  Keeping a modest variety in the freezer is good in a pinch.

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I too am in the gets bored of something if I bulk cook camp. I really really want to get a vacuum sealer so I can cook slightly more of each thing and freeze a few helpings and eat a few helpings right away. I've done the bulk cook and then freeze a bunch of it and then I just never eat that because I got burnt out on it. And when I get burnt out on something it can be from a few days to months before I will want to eat it again. Or in extreme cases years. Whee! And when it's that long anything you have frozen and not put in some sort of vacuum sealed bag is now freezer burned beyond belief and EWW.

 

I honestly have found for me that until I set up that method I have to be able to have some quick options to buy and eat with almost no effort and prep. I tend to keep bags of a handful of different types of pre-washed, easy to eat raw veggies in my refrigerator (tho prewashed and easy to cook would work too I suppose).  I cook up a lb or so of some kind of meat and split it up into baggies. I then sort of mix and match those things together by throwing baggies of different things into my lunch bag to bring to work with me.

 

I also do eat out pretty often, which I am actually pretty good about remembering to go places that have actual veggies. I sort of have a running list of places I can grab food that is pretty decent and in my city we are blessed with a lot of places with decent salads that actually have a good protein AND veggie ratio. I go to these if I forgot to go grocery shoping/was too busy to go grocery shopping which can happen to me a lot because I book my schedule really tight with lots of after work activities!

 

I find right now I am substituting at least one meal/snack a day with a 12-16 oz or so protein shake. I really like the Optimum Nutrition gold standard whey powder. It comes in a massive container and you can get it in like 23 flavors or something. I like the double rich chocolate one because its not too sweet. I mix it with milk and it's like a protein chocolate milk. Nom nom nom. I recently got a Blender Bottle to make this in and I can throw in milk, powder, shake and go in the morning and WOO it means I actually have time for breakfast every day and don't have to worry about my lunch bag being too small to fit all the food I would need to actually feed myself 2 meals ( I'm starting to eat a lot more these days. Wheee!  I think lunch bag upgrade is imminent!)

 

I also always have bags if nuts to snack on at work and at home that I can grab a quick handful of that plus handful of snap peas or something and BOOM decently healthy snack!

 

I think regardless of what route you go with it'd be a good idea to start yourself a list of decent going out type food options sometime when you AREN'T in a need food right now sort of mood so you have a game plan when you get hungry. (I have some serious hanger problems so this is crucial for me. When I hit hungry I need food NOW and I don't need to get stuck in figuring out what to eat dilemma and getting more and more grumpy and unable to make decisions until I'm like F THIS GIMME FAST FOOD AAARGH.)

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I keep a large bag of frozen chicken tenderloins on hand. I'll throw a couple in a baggie and put them in water on the counter while I'm at work or class and they're thawed by the time I get home! I tend to cook with similar spices, but I'll change the way I present it. Stir fry is quick, baked chicken is quick, cooking it in a pan takes like 10 mins. I also like adding onion to it when I cook it and eating it like that.

 

I also keep a single large meal cooked in the fridge, and some canned soups and chilis (watch sodium and calories on these) that I can use to mix it up. Quesadillas are quick too, and I use high fiber low carb tortilla wraps.

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actually you can refrigerate bananas, the skin will turn brown but the fruit is okay.  If you want you can also freeze them; when you unfreeze you'll get banana goo, but if you're making smoothies with them, that works fine.

 

The average person rotates between 5 to 15 dishes, so if you learn to fix that many, you're golden.  I go through phases, like a week of eating Japanese food and then a week of Mexican.  Having a "phase" is useful because you can get the special ingredients (miso, coconut milk, stuff like that) and then actually use them up.

 

With the exception of tough cuts that require braising, meat cooks pretty quick.  The time consuming part is cutting and cleanup, because raw meat requires extra careful sanitation.  Once it's cut, you can throw in bags (with or without seasoning) and refrigerate or freeze, then pull out and cook up portions as needed.  I also do this with fresh veggies if I'm not going to be able to eat them before they spoil.  Frozen veggies, of course, are prepped already.

 

My go-to dinner is toast, egg or canned fish, and whatever veggies I have to hand.  Most of my non-salad veggies (spinach, green beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc.) get the same treatment: roast or skillet fried with olive oil and caramelized onions, salt and pepper.  If I'm bored I'll add sriracha, furikake, miso dressing, lemon juice, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, garlic powder, sesame oil, or whatever else I have laying around.  

 

Dinner is just a matter of starch + protein + veggies + seasoning, you can mix and match with a little practice.

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I'm loving all these suggestions. This is going to make me start looking out for what I can freeze that I'm not currently freezing. I also need to reconsider canned food. I stopped getting things like canned soup, but I could always check the labels, especially at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, where the options tend to be better. Of course I can also make a couple of soups and freeze them in single servings. 

 

Speaking of freezing, I'll share a tip I use that works for freezing any liquids - I make my own chicken stock. When I'm prepping it to freeze, I set up a number of bags with a cup of stock stock in each of them, then set them in a metal baking pan and stick that in the freezer. I can manipulate the liquid in ways that they freeze in a flatter, easier to store shape, and once they've frozen I store the individual bags in a larger bag, so that they are all together and they are more protected from freezer burn due to the two layers of protection.

 

This works for freezing pretty much anything that has a flexible shape; soups, raw meat, etc. I like this technique because I don't have a very big freezer, and even without the problem of having to pry frozen things that shaped around each other apart, it's nice to have things in a flat shape so that I can just stack things in the freezer. 

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With the exception of tough cuts that require braising, meat cooks pretty quick.  The time consuming part is cutting and cleanup, because raw meat requires extra careful sanitation.  Once it's cut, you can throw in bags (with or without seasoning) and refrigerate or freeze, then pull out and cook up portions as needed.  I also do this with fresh veggies if I'm not going to be able to eat them before they spoil.  Frozen veggies, of course, are prepped already.

 

^This.^ I think people often overestimate how long it takes to make a basic weeknight meal. My typical dinners take no more than 15-20 minutes of total prep/cook time. When I buy packages of meat, I'll separate them into meal portions and freeze for use when I feel like having that. Most preparation takes minimal effort, and most meat really only needs some salt & pepper seasoning. I'll either pan sear it or bake it. If I'm feeling especially industrious, I'll mix up some hot Thai chili sauce and hoisin and brush it on salmon or mahi mahi (a fairly small amount -- don't "douse" it). For other meats, I might sprinkle on some herbs depending on my taste. Then I'll make a side salad to go with. Or maybe just slice up an avocado and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. 

 

I used to buy a lot of frozen veg, but my freezer has limited space and I use it for meat and storing homemade broths. There is a grocery store chain here called Sprouts that has amazing prices on fresh veg, so I'll pick up some every week during my weekly grocery run. (I like spinach, and it's super fast to wilt some and toss with a little ponzu sauce.)

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Yeah, we have a Sprouts too, very near my home. I've only been there a couple of times, but I like that they have things like plain cooked meat (that isn't full of preservatives) without any added seasoning, etc. It's good if you need a fast meal but want control over what goes into it. I should go there more often for veg, and see how the prices stack up. 

 

One thing I've been working on is simplifying for time's sake. There are times I make choices about how to cook something that takes longer, but it doesn't taste better - or at least not significantly better - than a faster option. 

 

Basically, right now I'm questioning a lot of my choices to make sure the way I'm prepping my food is the best solution for me, and trying to keep a "what have I got to lose?" attitude when trying new things. :)

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I love my Sprouts. I spend less now than I did shopping at Kroger/King Soopers and Publix/Safeway (depending on where I lived). They have an online shopping list generator so you can scan through their sale items and make a list to take with you. 

 

You might also look into slow cooker recipes if you have one -- toss a bunch of stuff in and then it's ready when you get home. I know I'm far more tempted to go out to the diner on nights when I'm at the gym past 7pm. 

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This is definitely going to make me go to Sprouts more, and start using their web site. Thanks!

 

I do love the slow cooker. I like making things either on my work from home days or on the weekend, and then freezing the excess. 

 

In fact, I'm planning to make this recipe this weekend. You can alter it in obvious ways based on your needs (don't serve it on white rice, skip the cheese), or in less obvious ways (add other veg to it instead of beans and corn, depending on your dietary needs). It's a pretty good general recipe for it I'm craving Mexican food - I can make quesadillas or burritos with it, and since I eat whole grains I can also just serve it on millet or brown rice for something very simple.

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My roommate and I both do a lot of cooking and freezing. What we do currently is a lot of "cook a lot, freeze for later," but we want to move into "prep now, freeze now, dump into slow cooker later" stuff as well. Here are some of my favourite recipes that can be frozen and later microwaved or tossed in a toaster:

And don't forget about slow cookers (also known as crock pots)! You just dump stuff in and go to work, them come home to awesome dinner. I've made pot roast, mashed potatoes, bean and barley and veggie soup, and tons of stuff in them. And this website has a ton of recipes that you prep and freeze in big freezer bags. You thaw (in the fridge overnight) the one you want for dinner the next day, dump it in the slow cooker in the morning, and are all done.

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If I've completely run out of time and no time to go home and cook something quick, this works for a healthyish grocery store meal: 1 oz of beef jerky they has at least 10g of protein and less than 10g of sugar (usually means the "plain" jerky types), a small piece of firm cheese (sometimes the deli will let you buy an ounce!), and a 6oz pkg of blueberries.

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My roommate and I both do a lot of cooking and freezing. What we do currently is a lot of "cook a lot, freeze for later," but we want to move into "prep now, freeze now, dump into slow cooker later" stuff as well. Here are some of my favourite recipes that can be frozen and later microwaved or tossed in a toaster:

And don't forget about slow cookers (also known as crock pots)! You just dump stuff in and go to work, them come home to awesome dinner. I've made pot roast, mashed potatoes, bean and barley and veggie soup, and tons of stuff in them. And this website has a ton of recipes that you prep and freeze in big freezer bags. You thaw (in the fridge overnight) the one you want for dinner the next day, dump it in the slow cooker in the morning, and are all done.

I really need to freeze some burritos. That sounds awesome. 

 

If I've completely run out of time and no time to go home and cook something quick, this works for a healthyish grocery store meal: 1 oz of beef jerky they has at least 10g of protein and less than 10g of sugar (usually means the "plain" jerky types), a small piece of firm cheese (sometimes the deli will let you buy an ounce!), and a 6oz pkg of blueberries.

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I'm liking all the grocery store meal suggestions. Always good for when you're short on time. 

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Recently I was wondering if I still have some leftover pot roast in my freezer, and pulled a lot of things out to check that situation - and then I found that I had a whole lot of other frozen cooked food that I had completely forgotten I had put in there, from only about a month ago. 

 

I figure this is probably a common problem. I personally find even the best efforts can only result in so much organization in a freezer. Mine is the type that's just a rectangular box above the fridge with no shelves in it, so things just end up in stacks despite my best organization efforts. Things work their way to the bottom, and get forgotten.

 

So I pulled everything out of my freezer and set aside the pre-cooked food, and then made a list on the small eraser board on my fridge door of all the cooked frozen food I have. This way it's pretty easy to just erase one line or add new things. 

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I too am in the gets bored of something if I bulk cook camp. I really really want to get a vacuum sealer so I can cook slightly more of each thing and freeze a few helpings and eat a few helpings right away. I've done the bulk cook and then freeze a bunch of it and then I just never eat that because I got burnt out on it. And when I get burnt out on something it can be from a few days to months before I will want to eat it again. Or in extreme cases years. Whee! And when it's that long anything you have frozen and not put in some sort of vacuum sealed bag is now freezer burned beyond belief and EWW.

 

Put food in a plastic container.  Get a sheet of plastic wrap about 2-3x the size of the container.  Put plastic wrap over the food, so it's directly touching it, then drape the remaining plastic wrap over the sides of the container and put the lid on.  That will prevent freezer burn.

 

I do really well with lunches:  Cook a big batch of stuff, freeze, and throw it in a bag for work.  Soups and chilis are great for that!

 

My problem is snacks.  I need a healthy, reliable, inexpensive calorie stick that I can throw in my purse so I don't get desperately hungry and hit up a drive-thru.

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What's your snack profile, Girljen? What are the snacks you tend to reach for? 

 

When I'm at home, I usually snack on fresh produce.  I'm a huge fan of sugar snap peas, carrots, apples, bananas, and berries.  But those things either require refrigeration or create waste that I don't want to shove in my purse until the next time I see a trash can.

 

I've tried a few different granola or snack bars, since they can go with me in my purse.  So far, KIND bars are my favorite.

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Don't think its been mentioned before but you can freeze meat in their marinade so buy chicken, marinade different portions in different marinades, freeze and then that way if you want mexican, get out mexican chicken etc.  

 

The other thing to reduce actual cooking time is to make the meat "thinner" either by cutting it into thin strips of butterflying it open making it large flat portion.  This will cook very quickly helping speed things up.

 

I don't really like preprepared veggies from a packaging point of view, but they do speed things up and better for you than pre prepared cream cakes!  

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