Simple Dinners for Stressful Weeks

22 Jul

So, with my upcoming graduation and mounting nerves over my speech, I am feeling a little stressed this week. In addition, I’ve been pretty busy getting odds and ends tied up before my parents arrive on Friday. It’s during weeks like this, when there are million things to do, that making dinner seems like an arduous task. It often feels easier to open a can of soup or call for takeout than face the kitchen, and indeed, many people do just that (me included). In addition, we tend to crave comfort foods most when we’re stressed. For many of us that means chips, soda, burgers, fries, pizza etc. However, it’s during periods of stress that our bodies most need proper nutrition. When we’re stressed our immune systems tend to wane, chronic conditions (insomnia, anxiety, depression) tend to reappear or worsen. Adding a diet of pizza and fries to that is only going to make us feel more worn out, tired and sick!

So, to combat the diet of frozen pizza that occurs when most of us become busy, I’ve put together a very simple way to eat healthy without taking too much time out of your already jam-packed schedule.

One pot meals – So these are pretty much a godsend for me. I often prepare these using my crockpot on a Sunday night. I’ll generally make a batch that is big enough to feed me and my husband lunch for an entire week. The formula is simple, but effective and delicious!

1. Choose a whole grain. Some examples include brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet, teff, bulgur and amaranth. When time is of the essence, opt for the grains that cook quickly, such as quinoa, which only takes twenty minutes from start to finish.

2. Choose a legume. Where would I be without beans? I love them! I usually try to buy dry beans and soak them because it’s cheaper and healthier, but when I’m in a pinch I’ll grab canned beans instead. If possible, find an organic brand. The possibilities are endless here: black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas (my fave), adzuki beans, white beans, and on and on…

3. Choose 2-3 vegetables. This is a little more difficult because it may involve doing some shopping. This is another reason why the CSA box is so useful. I always have veggies sitting around ready to be used. I usually try to choose one cruciferous vegetable such as broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, collard greens, or cabbage. These are rich in vitamins and minerals and have been linked to reducing the risk of some cancers. Plus, they’re delicious! Carrots are another popular choice because these keep forever and go well with anything. Remember to remove the green tops before storing, or the carrots will soften rather quickly. Other veggies I like to choose are sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, beets, beet greens, arugula, chard, and of course spinach! Choose vegetables that you like and that you know you’ll want to eat.

4. Cook the grains according to cooking instructions. Quinoa is always my first choice ‘quick and easy’ grain and it cooks like rice with a ratio of 2 cups of water/broth to 1 cup of grains. Bring it to a boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork when done. If you’re making something to last for a few days, you may want to double this amount. If plain, boiled grains are a little bland for your taste, feel free to add some spices to the water before cooking. Often I’ll throw some chopped garlic into the cooking water, maybe a bay leaf, or some rosemary–whatever I have on hand that will lend a little flavor.

5. Prepare the veggies. Throw a pot of water on to boil, and steam the veggies over it while your grains are cooking. For vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squash, dice these and throw them in the oven to roast, or in the water to boil. Most vegetables steam pretty quickly and you’ll find that these will usually be done before your grains.

6. Stir in the beans. I’m assuming most people are using canned beans when they’re totally stressed and busy, which is perfectly fine. Cooking with dried beans takes a little more preparation and is something I’ll address further later.

7. Mix vegetables + beans + veggies and serve! At the final stages I like to add embellishments if I have them. Sometimes a dollop of salsa or hummus will do the trick. Other times, I like to drizzle flax oil over the concoction. Hot sauces can be great here, if you like your food a little spicy. Tamari is another excellent seasoning. Chopped onions, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, scallions, nutritional yeast, olives, capers, and fresh herbs are all excellent ways to spice things up. My favorite is to throw an avocado or some guacamole on top. The possibilities are really endless. Just use what you have and remember: it doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to taste good!

Tonight, I chose brown rice, black beans (a classic combo), fresh salad greens and leftover corn and tomato salad from the weekend. When the rice was cooked I added the beans, stirred in a little salsa, then added some guacamole and chopped red onion. I drizzled flax oil over the salad greens. It took very little time, almost no thought, and I was able to make enough to last for a few days. Perfect!


Still craving comfort food? Then follow up with some dark chocolate and a hot bath!

Instant stress relief!

Instant stress relief!

I hope this helps you figure out ways to eat well, even when everything else may be completely insane!


5 Responses to “Simple Dinners for Stressful Weeks”

  1. pearsandplums July 22, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    I love this post! I always wonder how you make those wonder meals… I plan to come back here regularly.

  2. Chx July 28, 2009 at 9:35 am #

    When’s the next post? Your audience is hungry!!!

  3. Jessica July 30, 2009 at 7:46 pm #

    I can’t agree more that during stressful times it is most important to eat healthy. When we are stressed and rushed at our house we pull out the beans for protein and make some quick veggies with a bit of Himalayan sea Salt. We get ours from Sustainable Sourcing and have been really pleased.

    • sunandmoonandstars July 30, 2009 at 10:22 pm #

      What a great resource! Thanks so much for the tip!


  1. Friday Night Throw Together Meal « - August 14, 2009

    […] I’m learning to throw leftover refrigerator things together more, after much inspiration from this: Simple Dinners for Stressful Weeks. […]

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