One of the habits we practiced in the Lean Eating for Women program I completed over the past 12 months was to take some time to focus on preparing food for the upcoming week, typically on a Sunday. Ahhh, the restful reset of a Sunday…what’s not to love about that? Now, of course doing food prep for the week can be whatever day works best for your family and work schedules. No hard and fast rule about having to do it on Sunday…that day just seems to work for most of us. The mindset is “What do I need to do to set me up for success for the week ahead??” It could be anything from chopping vegetables and getting them all stored up in Tupperware in the fridge to making sure your gym bag is packed and your workouts are printed out and ready to take with you to the gym. And yes, I actually DO do all those! I typically work out after work, so by the time I’m home and showered I’m pretty tired…and the thought of having to chop a few veggies for my omelet just seems like too much effort. BUT if I have a few veggies already chopped up and ready to go in the Tupperware…ta daaa! Super easy and quick dinner.
Even though the food service at my new job is absolutely stellar, I’m still bringing my own lunch. I may eat out on Fridays, say, but I’m just barely two weeks into this gig and still getting the routine all sorted out. I’m really enjoying my location on the campus…it’s right smack in the middle of everything…there are great places to meet up, and I run into people I used to work with in past engagements ALL the time. Love it! So I definitely don’t feel isolated and hidden away. Being around people is absolutely essential to my well-being. That’s why when I’m out of work and pretty much at home on the computer here I get depressed. So when that phone rings or that new email pops up…ahhhh, I’m connected to someone! And happy!
What’s my typical meal prep like? Well, I dice up a red bell pepper for starters. I LOVE red bell pepper (green notsomuch) and it’s yummy in an omelet or egg scramble or tossed in a salad…or just a crunchy side dish! Next, I slice up some (white) medium-sized mushrooms. I might sauté some with olive oil and oregano and thyme and marinate them in a little balsamic vinegar, and just keep a few plain to use in omelets or salads. I also make a batch of quinoa – red and tan mixed. 1/2 C of each in 2 C of water…bring to a gentle boil for 15 minutes and then let sit for about 45 minutes (covered and off heat) until all the liquid is absorbed. I absolutely ADORE quinoa and use it in my egg scrambles and salads. It’s even great as a hot side dish with a blob of pesto. A nice alternative to rice and pasta.
I also fire up my broiler and line the broiler pan with aluminum foil. I drizzle a little olive oil on it and slice up a tube of polenta. Broil for 10-15 minutes or until the slices are just slightly brown. I’m absolutely falling in LOVE with polenta, because it goes with just about everything. It’s great as a side dish or even diced up and tossed in a salad. And yes, those egg scrambles too which are my post-workout dinners. Are we detecting a pattern here?
Now, if this sounds like a lot of work, remember many of these food prep tasks can be done in parallel. I can dice up a bell pepper and some mushrooms while the quinoa is coming to a boil, and while the quinoa is in final prep and off the stove heat I can get the polenta sliced up and under the broiler.
Chicken breasts are another easy “neutral” food you can spice up however you like. Two chicken breasts on a foil-lined broiler pan, drizzled with lemon juice. and some garlic salt roasted at 420 degrees F for 25 minutes is about right. Be sure to cut to test and make sure the meat is not pink inside. If it is, it needs to roast a few minutes longer. You can add other spices before roasting, like paprika or tarragon…have fun experimenting! I may slice up one to take with me to work for lunch and dice up another to use in an egg scramble.
My typical work lunch is a few leaves of fresh, organic spinach, some red/tan quinoa, a couple of slices polenta and a few of the mushrooms and diced bell pepper. I’ll add a small blob of hummus or guacamole and a sprinkle of pine nuts…and a tiny amount of pink Himalayan sea salt. Sounds a little weird but it IS delicious and satisfying! A hearty and nutritious “salad,” fivenineteen-style. And I bring along an apple for a mid afternoon snack too.
Now, I know for those Paleo fans out there, the polenta is a no-no because it’s corn (grain) based. I’m personally not Paleo or vegan (although plant-based meals are a big part of my lifestyle now but not 100%). I’ve found that I can digest polenta just fine and it doesn’t leave me feeling that weird “empty but bloated” way I am after eating white rice or pasta. And speaking of polenta…here’s a fantastic (vegan) tomato sauce that is a perfect accompaniment to it!
Immunity-boosting tomato sauce with mushrooms (makes 5-6 cups)
- 1 T extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 C sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1/2 C packed fresh basil, chopped
- 1 28-oz can whole or diced tomatoes, with their juices
- 6 – 8 T tomato paste
- 1/2 to 1 tsp fine-grain sea salt, to taste
- 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 T chia seeds (optional)
- 1 C cooked lentils (optional)
- In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir to combine. Sauté for 5-6 minutes until onion is translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the mushrooms and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until much of the liquid released by the mushrooms has cooked off.
- Add the basil, whole peeled tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, salt, oregano and thyme. Stir to combine. With a wooden spoon, break up the whole tomatoes into chunks, bigger or smaller depending on how chunky you like your sauce. Skip this process if using diced tomatoes. Add the red pepper flakes, the chia seeds and lentils, if desired, and stir to combine.
- Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the sauce, stirring every so often, for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over pasta, polenta or spaghetti squash and enjoy!