Nutrition at the ready

If you make sure to have fixings for hearty and simple quick meals in the fridge, you can meet multiple mealtime challenges with grace.
If you make sure to have fixings for hearty and simple quick meals in the fridge, you can meet multiple mealtime challenges with grace. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)

For quick and healthful meals for a schedule-scattered family, stock up on quick and healthful basic foods.

Posted: September 27, 2013

As the leisurely rhythms of summer give way to the more frantic routines of fall, those responsible for feeding a family have the challenge of navigating mealtimes around multiple schedules.

I have always felt, and research bears out, that sitting down to eat, even for a few minutes, is better than eating in front of the fridge, or in the backseat of the car. Sit-down meals with others promote better eating habits, better relationships, and even better grades.

So how can a busy family manage to eat healthy home-cooked meals here in the real world of competing priorities and overfilled schedules?

The first meal of the day is often the most fraught with time constraints. It is the rare teen who will choose an early alarm in exchange for a sit-down family breakfast.

Gathering everyone around the breakfast table might not happen, but a seated pit stop on the way out the door can be facilitated with a few healthful options at the ready.

Blended smoothies of fruits and/or veggies, yogurt, or milk (dairy or not) are the easiest way to get a head start on daily nutritional needs. Frozen berries or peaches, with an optional banana or honey, milk, and/or yogurt, blend to make a meal in a glass that's thick, sweet, protein-filled, and rich in antioxidants and fiber. Throw in some kale or a few almonds for a vitamin or protein boost. Add a homemade granola bar or a breakfast cookie for a toothsome crunch.

If time doesn't allow for whipping up a morning smoothie, assemble individual breakfast parfaits the night before. A few layers of simple ingredients in a pretty glass - yogurt, fruit, granola or nuts, more yogurt, jam or honey to taste - is simple food dressed up and enticing. Frozen blueberries are especially easy, needing no washing or slicing, while being rich in fiber, flavor, and fabulous color.

Homemade whole-grain muffins, scones, and leftover weekend waffles can be kept in the freezer and warmed in the morning for a fresh-baked feel. Serve with sliced banana or an apple with peanut butter or fruity yogurt to dip.

While a bowl of whole- grain cereal with fruit cannot be ignored as an easy, well-rounded breakfast, warm-cereal lovers can save time by cooking oatmeal (or other whole grains) the night before and rewarming on the stove or in the microwave with a little milk.

Eggs are also a classic go-to choice. In addition to the easiest hard-boiled or soft-boiled eggs, a large vegetable and potato frittata can be sliced and served over several days, at room temperature or rewarmed.

Dinnertimes pose equal challenges to shared time together - though it is worth making an effort to find several evenings to dine as a family. Some nights when dance rehearsal and soccer practice both fall in the middle of what should be dinnertime, my kids eat a substantial after-school meal and we get together much later for "family dessert."

If you make sure to have fixings for hearty and simple quick meals in the fridge, you can meet this multiple mealtime challenge with grace.

Besides random leftovers and soups ready to reheat, I try to stock some combination of roast turkey or chicken; cooked grains; various flavorful cooked beans; and grilled, roasted, sauteed, and raw vegetables, which can be made into hot and cold sandwiches, salads, and stir-fries for nourishing quick meals. A teen with a modicum of direction can easily assemble many mini-meals on her own.

Bean spreads and dips such as garlicky chickpea hummus, white bean-rosemary spread, or lentil-walnut pate can be spread on toast or scooped with crackers or pita or crudites.

Fresh vegetables, washed, peeled, sliced, and left in the fridge, are much more likely to be eaten. I blanch broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans, and cut up carrots, peppers, celery, radishes, and fennel slices and leave them raw. Get in the habit of making extra roasted or grilled vegetables to have available to add in or serve alongside.

Burrito-style rollups with combinations of the ingredients above are always a popular choice at my house. Tortillas with rice, beans, vegetables, and often cheese, sometimes with shredded roast turkey, are a weeknight standard.

Quesadillas and other iterations of grilled cheese are also part of the hearty afternoon-meal rotation. Open-faced, bubbling from the toaster oven, or panfried, grilled cheese sandwiches can be made with any combination of cheeses: cheddar, goat cheese, Gouda or Gruyere, to name a few. Tuck apple slices or tomatoes or leftover grilled vegetables in the middle, or serve sliced apples or cut-up carrots alongside.

Organize the refrigerator so things are easy to find and well labeled. Leftovers will languish rather than nourish if stuck out of sight.

It's not a bad idea to make suggestions on notes, to let people know what's available if you will not be part of the assembling process.

And don't forget to sit down for a nourishing meal yourself.

And then plan a time to gather the clan together around a table for a warm, just-out-of-the-oven dessert, like these apple crumb bars.

Turkey London Broil, Various Ways

Makes 6 to 8 servings plus leftovers

1 whole boneless turkey breast, about 4-5 pounds (you can split it into two individual breasts through the midline and prepare with different marinades)

For garlic herb marinade:

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

½ teaspoon fresh thyme or rosemary leaves, minced

1 tablespoon fresh parsley or cilantro, minced

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup white wine

¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes

½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds (optional)

1. Mix marinade ingredients together in small nonreactive bowl.

2. Use your choice of marinade or rub on either half.

3. Place each turkey breast into a baking dish (such as Pyrex) and coat with marinade. Let sit in the marinade for 1 to 2 hours (up to overnight).

4. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover the turkey lightly with foil and cook 40 to 65 minutes (depending on weight and thickness of breast), or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees.

5. Let sit at least 10 minutes prior to slicing.

- From Anna Herman

Note: For an alternative marinade or a spice rub, follow the recipe above and use these ingredients. Ginger Teriyaki Marinade: ¼ cup tamari or soy sauce, 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon freshly grated peeled ginger root,1 teaspoon aged balsamic or sherry vinegar. Spice Rub: 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, ½ teaspoon ground dried chipotle pepper, ¼ teaspoon celery seed, 1½ teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme.

Per serving (for garlic herb rub): 297 calories; 39 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 8rams sugar; 10 grams fat; 98 milligrams cholesterol; 230 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.

Yogurt Fruit Smoothie

Makes 2 8-ounce smoothies

¾ cup yogurt

1 banana, cut into chunks

1½-2 cups frozen berries or peaches

1/3 cup fresh orange juice or milk

1 tablespoon honey

1. Place all ingredients in the jar of a blender.

2. Puree until smooth.

                              - From Anna Herman  

Per serving: 236 calories; 9 grams protein; 46 grams carbohydrates; 38 grams sugar; 2 grams fat; 9 milligrams cholesterol; 82 milligrams sodium; 4 grams dietary fiber.

Easy Apple Crumb Bars

Makes 12 to 15 bars

3 cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups old-fashioned oats

2 cups packed brown sugar, divided

¾ cup walnuts or pecans (optional)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1¼ cups cold butter (2½ sticks), cut into chunks, divided

5 to 6 cups peeled, thinly sliced assorted apples, tossed in juice of one lemon

1½ teaspoons cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Put the flour, oats, and 1¼ cups of the brown sugar, nuts if using, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process for two or three quick pulses to mix. Add 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter in chunks to the blender and pulse until the butter is mostly blended but with some pea-size pieces of butter remaining visible.

3. Press half of this crumb/dough into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake this crust for 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Meanwhile heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining butter, apple slices, and remaining brown sugar. Allow to cook until apples are soft but intact, and the liquid is caramelized and thickened. If apples are dry add up to ½ cup of water to prevent scorching while apples are softening.

5. Spread the caramelized apples onto the par-cooked crust. Mix the cinnamon into the remaining flour mixture. Crumble this remaining dough on top of the apples and press gently. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until lightly browned. Cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

6. Serve warm for dessert. Leftovers make a great afternoon snack or breakfast treat.

- From Anna Herman

Per serving: 350 calories; 5 grams protein; 49 grams carbohydrates; 23 grams sugar; 20 grams fat; 41 milligrams cholesterol; 216 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.

Veggie Fried Rice

Makes 4 to 6 servings

¼ cup tamari or soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon rice wine or other mild vinegar

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, sliced thin or 4-5 scallions, minced, reserve green tops

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1 to 2 cups assorted vegetables cut into small pieces, such as broccoli, cabbage, red peppers, asparagus, peas, green beans, carrots, etc.

2 to 3 cups cooked rice (leftover rice is actually best)

1 egg, beaten

Minced scallion greens or cilantro (optional)

1. Mix the tamari, sesame oil, and vinegar in a small nonreactive bowl and set aside.

2. Heat large saute pan or wok until quite hot over medium to high heat. Add oil, onions or scallions, and garlic and stir briefly; add ginger and chopped vegetables and cook, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes until veggies are softened, browned, and almost cooked through.

3. Add the rice and egg, and continue cooking until the egg is set. Add the tamari mixture, turn off the burner, and stir well until the mixture is evenly seasoned. Add chopped scallion greens or cilantro if using.

Note: This recipe can be adapted to almost any combination of vegetables and leftover rice.

- Anna Herman

Per serving (based on 6): 310 calories; 8 grams protein; 54 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar; 7 grams fat; 27 milligrams cholesterol; 701 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.

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