Hello, friends! Over the years, I have developed a true love of cooking. I generally find my time in the kitchen therapeutic, and it serves as both a creative outlet and a means of providing the gift of health to my family (and myself!). I fully subscribe to the theory that the less time we spend in our kitchens, the more time we spend in doctors’ offices. Renowned food writer Michael Pollan wrote an entire book centered around the hypothesis that the increase in the obesity epidemic and obesity-related health problems in the U.S. and other parts of the world (such as Type II Diabetes, or “diabesity”), is directly linked to the decline in the amount of time we spend in our own kitchens (versus at restaurants or drive-through windows). The book, aptly named Cooked, provides a strong case for the proposition that if we only did one thing differently, i.e., cooked more of our own meals, we would be significantly more healthy. After all, do you have a bottle of high-fructose corn syrup or a can of trans fat in your pantry?
Prior to having a baby, on most weeknights – and for several hours on Sundays – you would likely find me in my kitchen, sipping a glass of wine while I put together relatively elaborate plant-based meals for The Man and me. In fact, last summer, I embarked upon a 100 Healthy Days Challenge, in which I made 103 different healthy (and often complex) meals (and finished 100 different workouts) in 100 days, chronicling my experience on Facebook.
This spring, as I entered the third trimester of pregnancy, I followed the advice of my friend and amazing vegan chef and cookbook author Tess Challis, purchased a box freezer for the garage and made double of every meal I cooked, freezing half to eat after baby arrived. I called this endeavor Operation Freeze Food Before Baby (Operation FFBB), and for the first 6 weeks or so of Beautiful Baby A’s (BBA) life, my freezer meals played a key role in providing The Man and me with nutrition, since almost all of our time was spent tending to our newborn (or trying to catch a few minutes of sleep).
As my freezer meals began to dwindle, I was faced with the dilemma of wanting to cook healthy meals at home for the two of us, but struggling to find blocks of time away from baby to do so. I certainly did not have the time to make the types of elegant meals I was putting together pre-baby. “Hacks” are defined as “clever solutions to tricky problems,” and my current tricky problem – and likely many of yours as well – has been finding the time to prepare homemade, healthy meals.
Trying to figure out a solution to this problem, I remembered a simple meal formula I first encountered in the book No Meat Athlete, in which the author Matt Frazier wrote about creating simple meals out of “a grain, a green and a bean.”
Elaborating on this concept a bit, I decided to experiment with different variations of “Meal Bowls,” using my own (somewhat less poetic) formula:
Starch + Produce + Protein + Sauce & Seasoning (or SPPS for short)
For the base of my bowls, I choose a Starch – think brown rice, polenta, potatoes (roasted, mashed, sweet, baked), oatmeal, couscous, quinoa, etc. These are generally easy to make (throw in a pot with water or in the oven and let the appliance do all of the work), and you can easily make several varieties in bulk (e.g., during one of BBA’s naps), and use them to mix-and-match meals during the week.
I then select one or more fruit or veggies to layer on top (the “Produce”). Fruit just requires a little chopping. Vegetables are often kept raw (or lightly steamed) – particularly since it is summer and there are so many glorious veggies in season (and record high temperatures make using heat in the kitchen less appealing). To make this step even easier, I have been purchasing pre-chopped and pre-washed veggies at Trader Joe’s, such as shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, brussels sprouts, etc. If you wanted to roast or steam some of your veg, you can also do so in bulk on a day when you have a little more time.
Next, I add a plant-based Protein. Some favorites are Simple Baked Tofu from my absolute favorite cookbook in my extensive collection - Tess Challis’ Food Love - (the tofu is as easy to make as the name suggests); canned beans (while I aspire to be the type of person who cooks only with dried beans, in reality I am the less-than-perfect type of person who enjoys the convenience of BPA-free canned beans); steamed tempeh; nut butters (great with oatmeal and fruit for Breakfast Bowls); veggie burgers, veggie meat(less)balls; and lentils (Trader Joe’s has pre-steamed brown lentils in the refrigerated section). Again, nothing complicated here that can’t be thrown together in a matter of minutes. If you eat animal products, in addition to a few meatless options, you might want to choose 1 or 2 versatile animal Proteins (such as chicken or ground beef) to cook in bulk once a week and use in various dishes.
Finally, you have the Sauces and Seasonings (S&S). I have been experimenting with different themes of Meal Bowls – Mexican, Italian, Thai, Indian, Burger Madness, etc. – and the theme has dictated the S&S. Pre-made marinara, salsa, guacamole, hummus, BBQ sauce, etc., are all great options on busy days, providing flavor and pizazz to your Meal Bowl. On days I have a little more time, I’ll consider making some homemade sauces and freezing them in advance. Fortunately, I still had a wonderful Thai green chile sauce and some homemade marinara left in the freezer from Operation FFBB, which came in handy this week with several of my creations.
The result is a quick and easy meal that is as healthy as it is tasty, allowing me to deconstruct some of my favorite meals and get them on the table in a matter of minutes. So far, I have mostly created my own bowl concoctions (although I also made the yummy Mexican Polenta Bowl from Food Love), but I also purchased a new cookbook called Vegan Bowl Attack! that I look forward to using to make additional bowl concoctions when my ideas run dry. These Meal Bowls have become my favorite nutrition hack as I try to navigate life with baby and perhaps Meal Bowls will become a favorite of yours as well. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts - or share your own creative Meal Bowl ideas!
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! I’m Kathleen, the Kettlebell Mama. Welcome to bells & peppers – a blog dedicated to all things related to fitness, nutrition and healthy living. As an athlete, trainer, nutritionist, cooking instructor, attorney, senior executive and new mom, I have learned how to balance my personal health and fitness goals with paying the bills, spending quality time with family and friends and pursuing a demanding career – without losing my mind! My goal is to inspire, empower and provide you with simple strategies to help you become your healthiest self in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way. Feel free to read more about my story here. Thanks for visiting bells & peppers!