This is a guest post by Barbara Fernandez, the Raw Rock Chick.
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I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I pass the ‘convenience food’ aisle in the supermarket (aka frozen ready-meals), I often catch myself smiling (smugly, if I’m honest).
“That won’t be me,” I say to myself. “Ready meals full of who-knows-what chemicals? No thanks!”
And yet there have been times when this was far from easy.
When my children were small, I was tempted by the frozen chicken nuggets and fish sticks for an occasional change — but I held fast.
Instead I found myself spending ages making complicated ‘children’s meals’ from scratch — which may have been healthier, but was a bit time-consuming.
Have you ever made your own chicken nuggets? They take ages! And try getting fish to form neat little rectangles that won’t fall apart when you dip them in eggs and bread them…ha!
I prefer to spend my time doing other things than cooking…including being with my children.
So I embarked upon a personal odyssey to teach myself how to make ultra-fast healthy food (more about that at the end of this article).
And part of this process included learning what I call ‘kitchen hacks’, some of which are below.
These time-saving kitchen hacks will enable you to whip up healthy meals in minutes, without a lot of extra effort.
You’ll be proud of the food you’re eating, without feeling frazzled or stressed. And I’m sure you can think of a million things to do with the extra time, right?
Kitchen Hack #1: Embrace Your Ice Cube Trays
You can make ‘food cubes’ out of just about anything, to have quick soups, stews, fruit and veg purees, smoothies and just about anything else you can think of, all week long!
Instant Baby Food
I discovered this trick when my son was a baby and he would eat pretty much anything I put in front of him (oh those were the days!). I wanted him to have healthy, home-made baby food as much as possible, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my sanity in the process.
My health visitor, who must have seen that I was looking a bit sleep-deprived, took pity on me and recommended this trick.
Here’s what you do:
- Steam a big bunch of your chosen veggies. I used to put three different kinds of veggies into a large multi-level steamer to save time.
- Pop the steamed veggies in a hand blender jug, a pan or other large container, and puree them (Mine is a very simple one that I got ages ago, pictured below with its chopper attachment. You can now get a Cuisinart hand blender for next to nothing).
- Pour the pureed food into ice cube trays, and freeze.
- Once the food is frozen, pop out the cubes into large labeled freezer bags (‘broccoli’, ‘carrot’, etc).
- Take out a few cubes as needed. You can change your ‘cube combos’ to create any mixture you like — a cube of broccoli, a cube of carrot, 2 cubes of potato, and presto! Instant baby food.
Instant Grownup Food Too
Of course the same principle applies to any kind of puree, or even soup. Rather than freeze large portions (although you can do that too of course), you can fill your trays with different kinds of soup, and then when someone says “I want tomato” and someone else says “I want split pea”, you can keep them both happy!
Fruit purees work too. Have you got a lot of produce from your garden? Or found a great deal on super ripe bananas in the market?
Here’s what you do:
- Prepare your fruit by peeling, coring and/or removing seeds (where applicable). Any fruit you would peel, core or deseed before eating needs to be prepared before it’s frozen (eg bananas, as anyone who has had the misfortune to freeze a banana with the skin on can tell you).
- Pop your fruit in a jug or container and puree it.
- Pour the puree into the trays.
- Once the food is frozen, get out your freezer bags and label them ‘bananas’, ‘apples’, ‘pears’ etc.
You’ll now have lots of great puree on hand to whip up a pie or compote in minutes, like this Pear Compote.
(Note: If you’re unsure which foods you can freeze, I have written about that in detail here).
Kitchen Hack #2: Gotta Love That Large Glass Bowl
OK I know you probably think I’m nuts with this one. But wait! Read on!
Every week I make what I call my Massive Mixed Veggie Bowl. I like to use a glass bowl because glass is better (and healthier) than plastic for preserving flavors.
My Massive Mixed Veggie Bowl is basically a mixture of veggies that I can dip into all week. Here’s what it looks like:
Here’s what you do:
- Get a selection of fresh veggies, and roughly chop them (peel/core/deseed as needed). Think sweet peppers, carrots, green onions, broccoli, bok choy, kale, endive, corn, sugar snap or green peas, etc. You want nice and crunchy veggies (so not cucumber or tomato, as those don’t keep as well).
- Pop them into your food processor and push the button. Or use the chopper attachment of your hand blender. Or chop by hand — it’s all quick and easy!
- Drizzle over some olive oil and the juice of half a lemon (the lemon will help the veggies stay fresh).
- Mix well, cover and pop in the fridge.
Your veggies are now ready to use, and will keep for at least 3 days.
How you use your veggies
You can use them to:
- Enhance salads (add a handful of mixed green leaves, some cashews and avocado for an instantly filling salad!). Lots more salad ideas are here.
- Add a tasty healthy touch to curries or other rice dishes (add a spoonful per person before adding the sauce, or mix into the sauce directly before serving)
- Make up a lunch on-the-go: pop some in a small container, grab a jar of sauce, and you’re all set! Works for kids too as part of a healthy lunchbox (more great kids’ lunch tips for children, and free printables here).
- Serve as a quick appetizer with some tasty cheese or a dip (I’ve got two non-dairy, gluten-free, super delicious nut cheese recipes for you here).
Kitchen Hack #3: Get Out Those Freezer Bags
Freezer bags? Yup, these can be life-changing…for the simple reason that they allow you to buy certain foods in bulk and then freeze smaller portions for later use.
Costco can be your new best friend! My mom does this all the time — she buys large quantities of food and then puts portion sizes into the freezer (labelling them of course, otherwise it’s easy to forget what’s what when everything is white and frosty!)
Here’s what you do:
My mom buys meat and then freezes individual portions. I freeze fruit and veg mixtures or pieces that won’t fit into ice cube trays — so chunky soups, pieces of mango, berries, and more.
You can even organize your freezer drawers so that you’ve got a ‘veggie’ drawer, a ‘fruit’ drawer, a ‘soup’ drawer…well, you get the idea.
You can also make double the amount of food, and freeze half, as Emily suggests (along with other life-saving tips for your week!)
And if you want to save food over longer periods of time, you can invest in a Seal-a-Meal Vacuum Sealer (currently priced at $29). This handy gadget removes the air from your bagged food so that it will keep for longer. Plus the bags will take up less space in your refrigerator, freezer or kitchen cupboard.
OK, these are great, but what do I do next?
Pick a hack and get to it! Each one only takes a few minutes.
Which one of these appeals to you most?
The veggie bowl?
The freezer bags?
The ice cube trays?
Whatever it is, choose one and test it out today. Before you know it, you’ll be an expert at super-fast healthy meals!
Barbara Fernandez, known as The Raw Rock Chick, has been creating easy, delicious raw meals for ten years. Asked to open a restaurant, she replied, “Not yet!” She loves teaching, so she shares her recipes and techniques with other super-busy people who want more raw in their life — but who don’t want to join a commune or a “movement,” or wear tie-dye t-shirts. Her meals are super-quick and easy to prepare, and have been ‘yum-certified’ by the whole family. She blogs at rawrockchick.com, and shows you that raw food can be way more than carrot sticks and salad! On her website, you can grab her free family-friendly menu with recipes, videos and shopping list called 5-Minute Raw, and start making ONE quick, easy, delicious and crazily tasty meal for EVERYONE!