One of the hardest times to stick to eating healthily is midweek, after a busy day at work or with the kids. Cooking from scratch can feel like a chore. However, if you make sure your cupboards are stocked at the start of the week, it is not difficult to have a home cooked meal on the table in 30 minutes or less.
1. Quick prawn or chicken stir fry without the shop-bought sauce. Chop some veggies, such as onion, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers or mange-tout and fry in a wok with the chicken or prawns and some chopped fresh ginger, garlic, chilli, lemon or lime juice, a handful of cashew nuts and (reduced salt) soy sauce. Add a sprinkle of fresh coriander and serve with rice or noodles. If you’re cooking for children, reserve the chopped chilli until after you’ve served the children’s meals. Either add to the wok and cook for a couple of minutes longer or for a spicy blast, sprinkle on raw.
2. Thai curry. For another quick Asian dish, buy a Thai curry paste. Chop and cook veggies such as onion, peppers, mushrooms, carrots and courgettes in a pan. Add the curry paste and a tin of coconut milk, and add cooked chicken or prawns, some bean sprouts or baby spinach for a few minutes at the end of cooking. Serve with rice and a sprinkle of coriander.
3. Spaghetti with sardines in a tomato sauce. A good tomato sauce can be made very quickly by frying in olive oil some onions, garlic, green (or red) peppers, mushrooms, courgettes and halved cherry tomatoes with tomato puree and a dash of white wine. Cook for 15 minutes and add the sardines towards the end. For fussy children (or adults!) who won’t eat sardines, you could add bacon or prawns.
4. Sausages in a tomato sauce with cous cous. Make a tomato sauce as above. Stir in some cannellinni beans and basil and pour over cooked sausages. Serve with wholegrain cous cous.
5. Pork or lamb chops or steak with roasted veggies. Chop a sweet potato into wedges and sprinkle with olive oil. This takes about 45 minutes to cook, which is longer than other vegetables, so set a timer and add any other veggies, such as pumpkin, parsnips, carrots, courgettes and peppers to cook for about 30 mins. Sprinkle everything with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and herbs, such as rosemary or thyme. Technically this takes a bit longer than 30 minutes to cook, but once you have the veg in the oven, you’ve got time to do other things before coming back to cook the meat. Pork chops go well with a dash of lemon juice and a dollop of pesto sauce smeared over them to liven them up.
6. Chicken pilaff. Chop leftover chicken from the Sunday roast (or a shop bought chicken) and stir it into my warm rice salad recipe for a very quick and tasty chicken pilaff.
7. Salmon or white fish in lemon and caper sauce. Grill or pan fry fish in olive oil. Melt 1-2 tbsps butter in microwave together with juice of 1/2 lemon. Stir in some capers, chopped basil or parsley and a bit of pepper. Pour over the fish and serve with steamed veggies and potatoes or a slice of crusty bread.
8. Chicken salad. If you’re completely exhausted and can’t face cooking at all, buy a pre-cooked chicken from a supermarket (or chicken shop in Australia) and serve with a salad of rocket, avocado, chopped peppers, carrot, sweetcorn or whatever you have in the fridge. To make it more filling, add a baked potato (cook for a few minutes in the microwave then transfer to the oven for 20 mins to crisp up), some boiled new potatoes or a slice of wholegrain bread. Better than a ready meal and you’ll probably have leftovers for the next day.
9. Double portion casseroles. Cook a big casserole or chilli on the weekend and freeze the leftovers. Just remember to get it out of the freezer the morning you want to eat it, so it’s defrosted in time. There’s nothing like coming home to a home cooked meal without having to make it!
10. Invest in a slow cooker. If you have time in the mornings but are rushed in the evening, these can be ideal. Simply chop veggies and meat and place with stock in the slow cooker before you leave for the day. Arrive home later to amazing smells and a fantastic home cooked casserole.