Food & Fitness After 50: Assembling Healthy Meals

Eating well coverI’m often asked if I develop recipes. The answer is no. I am great at following other’s recipes and I enjoy cooking, but I most often assemble meals. With basic cooking skills anyone can assemble a great tasting and good-for-you meal. I was happy to see the that the latest issue of Eating Well Magazine was called “The Convenience Issue” because it paired convenience foods with ingredients most of us have in our kitchens. As I talked about in a recent blog, frozen meals can be used for convenience and as the base to assemble a quick meal.

Today, I’ll share four meals that can be quickly assembled. These are favorites in my house.

#1          Thanks to my brother-in-law, Lew, for this meal assembly hack. I’ve modified the sauce to make it a bit lower in calories and saturated fat (I eliminated the cream and butter, sorry, Lew!) but it is still delicious and easy to make. Start with refrigerated ravioli (like Buitoni spinach ricotta, spinach artichoke, butternut squash, or mushroom agnolotti) and make a fresh tomato sauce. For the sauce, dice 2 fresh tomatoes, mince 3 cloves of garlic, and shred some fresh basil leaves. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan and add tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Cook down until tomatoes and garlic soften and add a little white wine; cook some more. Add a dash of milk and a squeeze of fresh lemon.  As the sauce cooks, boil water and cook the ravioli according to package directions. Plate the ravioli, top with tomato sauce, sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese and more fresh basil. Pair with a big green salad and enjoy!

#2          I love stir-fry, and this is so easy. I have an electric wok (I know, probably not Lean Beef Stir Fryauthentic, but it works for me). Thinly slice chicken breast or lean steak (if partially frozen, it makes it easy to get thin slices).  If you like a beef stir-fry, click on this link for the best stir-fry cuts. Clean out your refrigerator veggie bin…carrots, bell peppers, onion, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms…..whatever you have will work. Chop veggies into bite-sized pieces before starting to cook. Heat oil in wok (I like peanut oil because it has a high smoke point) and when oil is hot, quickly add meat and stir-fry until done….it only takes a couple of minutes. Remove the meat from the wok, heat up a bit more oil and toss in the veggies and stir-fry until tender crisp. Add the meat to the veggies and toss all together. If you want a sauce, mix a teaspoon of cornstarch in cold water and add a bit of soy or teriyaki sauce, some grated fresh ginger and minced garlic and add the sauce at the end of cooking. Push the veggies and meat to the sides of wok and pour in the sauce and let it get bubbly. Then toss everything around to get it all mixed. Serve over brown or white ready rice (a super speedy way to cook brown or white rice in the microwave is to use the pouches of ready rice). And, if you don’t like brown rice, that’s ok…. the recommendation is to make half your grains whole.

channa masala#3          This next one is a yummy vegetarian dish, that my friend Lisa Carlson made last spring when I was in Chicago.  Start with a package of Indian Channa Masala (you can find it in the Asian or Indian section of your grocery store). Break up a head of cauliflower and broccoli and steam in the microwave until the veggies have lost their crunch but are still firm. Mix steamed veggies with the package of Channa Masala (it is a blend of chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, and spices) and add a can of drained, rinsed chickpeas to the mixture. Spread on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until the veggies are done. If you want to add protein and make it a meat-based dish instead of a vegetarian dish, stir in some cooked chicken. You could serve it with rice if you want to but the added chick peas make it a hearty dish without the rice.

#4          Have you ever thought of grilling watermelon? Sounds crazy but grilling brings out the sweetness of the melon. For this dish, use frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp and cubes of watermelon. Thread the shrimp and watermelon on skewers and drizzle with olive oil. Grill over medium heat, turning skewers frequently to get an even cook. It only takes a few minutes per side to cook the shrimp and grill the melon. When done, place the skewers on a plate and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and fresh mint. Serve with favorite sides, such as an ear of grilled corn, roasted new potatoes, quinoa, or coleslaw.

grilled-watermelon-shrimp-skewers-su

All of these meals are easy; experiment with cooking times and seasonings and you can’t go wrong! I’d love to hear your favorite quickly assembled meals, so please share!

For more ideas on food and fitness, check out Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: How to Add Nutritional Balance to Frozen Meals

chris-hs-1969
Senior HS Photo

Fifty years ago, I graduated from high school in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Nutrition was my chosen college major and under my high school yearbook photo it reads “future dietitian” (and, I was the scorer for the baseball team which may have led to my love of sports nutrition!) I was delighted to receive a scholarship from Stouffer’s, yes, the Stouffer’s of frozen food fame. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a Mrs. Stouffer and she ran a restaurant in Cleveland in the 1920s. Her meals were uber-popular so much so that customers asked for take-out meals. In the front of the restaurant stood a freezer chest so customers could take home a frozen lasagna or meatloaf to feed their families.

stouffersSo, I was delighted when Nestle (who purchased Stouffer’s in 1973) invited me to Solon, Ohio to learn more about frozen meals, from conception to freezer case, and join with their team of chefs to experience the creative process. In addition to working with the chefs to create spice blends used for developing global flavors and reducing sodium (like the one below), we toured the innovation center to see how recipes are developed and tested for scalability (i.e., taking a homemade lasagna recipe and scaling it to make thousands of them). The recipes created in the kitchen used the same ingredients you would use at home, they just use a whole lot more of them!

 

For many, “processed” foods are to be avoided, but let’s face it, we are not going back to the days when every meal was home cooked from scratch, nor should we. There has been a lot of talk of reducing what has been termed “ultra-processed” foods. A recent study found that when people ate a diet of ultra-processed foods (the foods that are calorie-dense, taste good, and gobbled up by many of us) an extra 500 calories a day was consumed. This was a small study, but well controlled, and it gives us some insight into one of the contributors to obesity (note, I said contributing, not causing).

Tamar Haspel, writing in the Washington Post , details the problem of ultra-processed foods and notes that maybe the answer from the food industry is “better processed food.” Innovations to reduce sodium, saturated fat, and increase veggies and whole grains are a good start but the catch is….we have got to buy the products. It made me think of Trix cereal; parents demanded natural colors instead of the neon-colored cereal nuggets, but when the change was made using natural fruit dyes, the colors were not as bright and guess what? Cereal sales dropped and parents wanted the original cereal back in the aisles!

Nestle-My-Plate-e1366123280768So, bringing this back to my visit at Nestle, we talked a lot about their program to Balance Your Plate. The website and program shows how a busy family (or a single who doesn’t want to cook) can enjoy a frozen meal or a frozen pizza, but the entrée can be balanced with sides and salads to round out the meal. The portion size can be modest when other things on the plate…. a fresh fruit salad, a green salad, or grilled or steamed veggies, balance the meal, contributing to nutrient intakes and keeping you feeling full.

I also came away with a new respect for frozen foods; we tasted a few Lean Cuisine entrees, California Pizza Kitchen, Sweet Earth, and Wildscape products that were delicious and healthy. Pairing some of these products with a side of brown rice, a serving of chickpeas, or roasted broccoli or cauliflower makes an easy family meal.

So, next time it’s 5 pm and you have no dinner plans and are tempted to drive through a quick service or fast food restaurant, rethink your meal and try the frozen food aisle instead. Some data show that frozen meal eaters have better diet quality than those who rely on quick service meals.

Me with box
Me, 50 years later

During our visit, we were asked to bring the box of a favorite frozen meal and explain why we chose the item. I had to pay homage to Mrs. Stouffer and show a frozen lasagna box. I make a great spinach lasagna, but sometimes when I have a big family gathering, I get tired of cooking and on the last day of their visit I pop a frozen lasagna in the oven…. but I always balance the plate with huge salad and a slice of crusty bread!

 

Disclosure: My travel for the one-day trip to Solon, Ohio was paid for by Nestle, but I was not asked to or compensated to write this post.

 

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.