Tuesday, September 25

healthy eating strategies for the busy mom, pt 1

my simple salad, with corn and black beans

As a stay-at-home mama of a busy toddler, eating solid, sustaining food is a non-negotiable: I need the fuel to keep up with him. Also, since I tend towards getting hangry--meaning that when my blood sugar plummets, so does my mood, often dramatically so--eating early, often and well is key to keeping our days flowing smoothly. Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks that help keep me full and happy all day long. (Well, most days, anyway.)

Have a go-to meal  This comes in handy when arriving home around lunchtime, hungry. There isn't a lot of time to think about or prepare food, so it helps to have one thing you can make that 1)  will be quick, 2) will make you happy, and 3) you most likely have all the components already in the house. For me, this is avocado on toast. Toast piece of bread (I am partial to this one), butter it, rub the cut-side of a clove of garlic on buttered toast, top with a sliced or mashed quarter or half avocado, then sprinkle with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Eat. Sometimes I will do this atop an egg-in-the-basket. It also works well on half a whole wheat pita. Or a tortilla. You get the idea. Often this will serve just to tide me over as I prepare a salad or noodles, and feed the boy.

Dress it up  Homemade dressings are one of the most important tools in my arsenal. On any given day I'm likely to have 2 or 3 in the fridge to choose from. I have many favorites. (Often appropriated from other recipes for my own purposes.) I use them on salads, but also on rice or quinoa bowls, with noodles, or to add zing to leftovers. Salsa fits nicely into this category as well. Here's another standby, a Thai-inspired, fat-free sauce from a most beloved cookbook:

Spicy lime sauce (adapted from the re:bar cookbook)
1 cup hot water
4T brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1t sambal oelek (or chili-garlic sauce)
4T fish sauce
2T soy sauce
6T lime juice 
Dissolve sugar in water, and let cool. Blend in other ingredients. Especially loves to mingle with rice noodles and quinoa-edamame bowl. I got hungry just typing that.

Dress it down  Often when I make a cole slaw or quinoa salad, I store it in the fridge, undressed. This gives me the option of using one of many dressings I may have on hand, and it stays fresher and more appetizing (read, less soggy) for a while longer. It also makes it easier to make compound meals out of various elements in the fridge: I might cook some black rice noodles, mix it up with a simple salad, and toss the delicious mess with some shredded spinach, all of it drenched in spicy lime sauce (see above.) Yum. Is it lunchtime yet?

Shred it  Seriously, once I started thinly slicing up baby spinach before adding it to salads, it got a whole lot more mileage. I will eat way more sliced spinach than I will whole-leaf. Who knew. Also? Mandolines are amazing. (I have this one.) I can't believe how much inferior cole slaw I painfully and made without one. Never again. Cole slaw is one kick-ass, zesty way to get crispy veggies on your plate. And, cole slaw with rice noodles and peanut sauce? Stellar.

Blend it  If the answer to the agonizing question of "What can I eat nooooow?" isn't avocado toast, it's likely a smoothie. Smoothies are my favorite form of nutrient delivery. Extra bonus points for being portable. My two main standbys are the green smoothie with protein powder (search on Google or Pinterest and watch it explode with recipes; I am partial to pineapple) or the following:

PB banana "milkshake" smoothie
3/4c vanilla or chocolate unsweetened almond milk
1 scoop protein powder
1 banana
1T peanut or almond butter
2-3 ice cubes 
Combine first 3 ingredients in blender in order listed; blend. Add remaining two, and blend again. Share with toddler. (In lieu of protein powder, a few tablespoons of oatmeal and/or chia seeds add a nice thickness to this one. I bet a frozen banana would be awesome, too.) Please note: this won't make a very sweet smoothie. Add agave nectar or maple syrup to taste.

Get a head start  This one kinda goes without staying, but eating well fast on weekdays is so much easier when you've done a bit of legwork on the weekend. It's a very happy week when I've taken time on the weekend to replenish a few of these staples: dressings (see above), base salad (undressed!), plain cooked quinoa or rice, hummus, granola, muffins.

Make more  Another easy score: when cooking staples like quinoa or rice, make more. Extra quinoa gets thrown into salads or noodle bowls for an easy protein kick, or gets folded into muffins. Same goes for rice, although leftover rice most often gets the fried-rice treatment. Fried-rice-style quinoa? Get outta town.

The bowl principle  A favorite restaurant of mine, The Steeping Room, serves a fantastic meal called The Buddha Bowl: it is made up of kale, sweet potatoes, tofu, with the grain of the day, and the bean/pulse of the day, and the dressing of your choice. I'll often do riffs on this with two or more of the following: quinoa, simple salad, cole slaw, edamame, spinach, rice or buckwheat noodles, tofu. Or, a cool-weather favorite: sauteed onions, brown rice, kale, lentils. And what to say of rice, refried beans, avocado, salsa and tortilla chips? You get the idea: Gather ingredients. Put in bowl. Dress. Eat. Post a picture to Instagram. (Also: the glory bowl.)

Please note: my 20-month old lives, despite my most valiant efforts, almost exclusively on bananas, crackers, cantaloupe, peanut butter sandwiches, and yogurt and granola, none of which need a whole lot of preparation. Your mileage with children who eat like regular humans may vary.

Check back later this week for my favorite sources of inspiration, pantry and fridge staples, and meal planning strategies. Also, I'd love to hear some of your go-to recipes and tricks! Please share in the comments. Or, better yet, link to your Pinterest food board!



  1. love this. and the mandolin, totally buying it because mine met it's demise at the hands of a certain 9yo almost 3 months ago and needs to be replaced. why have i never thought to cook the quinoa, etc. and have it ready in bowls so i can just throw together salads? genius. totally genius.

  2. Love reading your posts :) FYI those who are on the market for a new mandolin, feel free to order from my virtual pampered chef party!! http://t.co/hPBurWpn

  3. I use extra rice to make low fat, baked rice pudding. My boy loves it!


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