Easy Meals for the Challenged Cook

I am not a talented chef. My skill in cooking is severely lacking. Ask me to bake, though, and I’m your girl! Probably because I’ve always found it easier to follow an exact recipe versus being spontaneous, which is a big part of cooking.

So it comes at no surprise that Mike does most of the cooking around the house. But these days he works 48-hour long shifts, so the cooking falls on me a few times during the week. Because of this, I’ve learned to keep a few, easy recipes on hand—my go-tos for when I’m hungry and need to whip something up with minimal work.

For the most part, we eat a very simple and healthy diet. Of course, there are days when we eat out and don’t make wise choices, but we like to eat as few processed foods as possible. Our favorite places to grocery shop are Sprouts for produce; Trader Joe’s for spreads, cheeses, wine, and healthy frozen dinners; Costco for eggs, almond milk, and chicken; and on occasion we visit Ralph’s or Von’s if they have a great deal on their meat selection.

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When we shop produce, it’s important to us that our fridge be stocked with a lot of color. And we always consider sales and which items will give us the most for our dollar. Shopping at Sprouts has always been a win for us, as they tend to have the cheapest produce for the best quality. The items we purchase can vary from trip to trip, depending both on prices and what we’re interested in eating, but we tend to always have apples, bell peppers, onion, garlic, and another fruit and vegetable on hand. These are our essentials and make up the basics of what we cook with. Once we have these items, it’s pretty easy to throw a few other ingredients together to make a meal of it all. And you don’t have to get too crafty to wind up with a tasty dish.

So without further ado, here are easy meals that I like to stick with when it’s time to cook:

Breakfast

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I’m a big fan of oatmeal and have been since I was in middle school. Most of the time when I tell people this, they either think it’s gross or can’t take it seriously. But oatmeal is super easy to make, it’s filling, and there are so many ways you can make it your own. For me, I mix together 1/4 cup of rolled oats, a few frozen strawberries, a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, and 1/4 cup of almond milk. You can either heat it in the microwave for a couple minutes or put it all in a jar and in the fridge for some overnight oats. It’s great either way, and you can always get creative by adding different fruits or a teaspoon of cinnamon and brown sugar to add more flavor.

When I need a break from eating oatmeal, my fallback is Greek yogurt. I especially like to eat this after a morning workout. Mix in some fruit and granola with a heaping tablespoon of yogurt, and you’ve got a quick meal. Sometimes after an intense workout, I like to pair it with a slice of toast topped with avocado and Trader Joe’s garlic spread, and this keeps me full until lunch.

Lunch

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When I’m home to prepare lunch, egg sandwiches are my go-to. I love breakfast foods, and again, you can get really creative with a good egg sandwich. But if I need to take a meal on the go, rice bowls are quick and delicious. Rice, sauteed veggies, chicken breast, and a sprinkle of balsamic make for a flavorful dish that you can eat at the office or at home. This is where our colorful produce really comes to play, and the more the better in my book! The amount of rice, chicken, and veggies I throw together can vary depending on how hungry I am, so stick with an amount that works best for you.

Dinner

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Our dinners usually involve a lot of chicken breast and a lot of vegetables. I’ve been debating switching to a vegetarian diet, with a goal of a vegan diet in the future, but for now the only meat I consume is chicken breast. I prefer chicken thighs, as the meat cooks less dry and has more flavor, but breast is a much healthier option so we stick with it instead.

Because I’m always worried about under cooking chicken, I like to bake it. Baking chicken at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes typically works for us, but we always check that it’s fully cooked before consuming. Time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken breast but this is a good starting point.

While our standard dinner is chicken and vegetables, it doesn’t always have to be the same boring recipe. We love to chop veggies and throw them in a dish and layer chicken, herbs, salt, pepper, and balsamic on top for a meal jam packed with flavor. Or throw the chicken in a pan and sprinkle onion and garlic on top, with a side of broccoli or brussels sprouts baked in a separate pan. Make sure to toss your veggies in oil, so they don’t come out too dry and sticking to the pan.

I’m not a huge fan of chicken, due to the fact that it’s pretty bland and comes out dry. But our favorite way to season chicken is by creating a mustard spread. Combine a tablespoon of mustard, tablespoon of olive oil, a few minced cloves of garlic, and a teaspoon of oregano, and mix it together. If you want to cover your veggies with this spread, then double the recipe. It’s our favorite way to add some life to our chicken and broccoli, and it’s really simple to make. I recommend putting your pan of veggies in the oven with about 20 minutes left on the timer—you don’t want them to overcook or burn.

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I have a huge sweet tooth, so we’re not big on keeping dessert in the house—it just doesn’t last! But sometimes I like to warm up apples slices and a few pinches of brown sugar on the stove for a quick treat. I don’t feel as guilty with this indulgence, even if it’s not the same as a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s.

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You don’t have to be a great chef to make a decent meal. You just have to have a few standard skills and fresh ingredients available. I’ve found that the more I cook these go-to recipes, the easier it becomes for me to skip measuring out all the ingredients. Now, I can just eyeball it and make adjustments for the next time, if needed.

There will always be times when my meal preparation doesn’t go as planned or my food comes out less put together than I imagined. But I’m learning to have fun with it, and I feel proud of myself for even attempting to master the art of cooking on my own. It boosts your confidence when you’re able to do something you didn’t think you could do and that, in my opinion, is the biggest benefit to cooking at home.

-Ciara

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