Sunday, February 20, 2011

Healthy Food in 5 minutes?

Last week, a commenter who knew me before I could cook* asked about healthy meals for toddlers... to be consumed within 5 minutes of the parent arriving home from work.  She said he's so hungry when she gets home that she usually just microwaves something quick -- boo her.  Here are my thoughts [I apologize if it's a little disjointed and rambling, but I wanted to respond before the question got too old]:

First, I've got nothing against microwaves and reheated dinners... it's just a matter of what you're reheating.  Whole grains win every time for having more vitamins, minerals, and protein than their white/refined counterparts, and if you make them part of your diet, you'll have them around to reheat in a jiffy.  Some of them do take 20-50 minutes to cook, but they can also be made ahead and kept for a week in the fridge or months in the freezer. 
Stewed lentils with Indian spices
My basic wholesome dinner includes:
Whole Grains:** brown rice, polenta, whole-wheat pasta,  and corn tortillas are my go-tos but wheat berries, whole-wheat cous cous, bulgur wheat, and quinoa are good to mix it up
Lean Proteins: BEANS,*^ lentils, chicken, fish, tofu, egg, lean chorizo, plain yogurt
Veggies: canned tomatoes, hearty greens like kale, and frozen green peas, broccoli, and green beans are my winter staples.  Salads are good as long as you don't drown them in dressing.
Optional Toppings: hot sauce/salsa/fresh herbs/cheese/fried egg

[BONUS: Bean and lentils -- which are a subset of the bean family -- count as BOTH lean proteins AND vegetables, but are lacking certain aminos, which is why they require a grain to make a complete meal. Beans & rice is my #1 weekday meal, and with so many varieties of beans and spices available, it never has to be the same meal twice. If you make your own hummus or bean dip (to control the fat content) and serve it with raw veggies and whole-wheat pita, that's a perfect meal, too.]
Microwave Polentta
or Eggs:
As I mentioned in my initial response, eggs are always a solid option.*^* They cook in just a few minutes and can always be topped with a little cheese, if that's a selling point.
Scramble eggs with thawed frozen veggies and serve with whole-grain toast or corn tortillas.
Stir veggies into polenta and top with a poached or fried egg and mild-enough salsa  or serve that egg over beans and corn torillas
Turn your wholesome leftovers (grains included) into a Leftovers Frittata that can be served hot or eaten cold [leftover's leftovers].
Leftovers fried rice can be done with any grain or pasta, and probably makes for less messy toddler eating since it clumps the grains together.
... and it's a great idea to have some hard-boiled eggs on hand for my next option:

Fried eggs over polenta with roasted wax beans and fresh tomatoes (summer produce)
Stall for Time When You Need It! 
A few slices of hard boiled egg, a single stick of bumps-on-a-log, a small handful of nuts, a glass of whole milk, a little wedge of whole-wheat pita with a smear of thick hummus, a low-fat string-cheese stick... anything with good protein takes a bit of time to digest and should take care of immediate hunger pangs to give you a little more time when you get home... even if that means just sitting with your toddler for a few minutes to collect yourself before starting the 5-minute dinner reheat.

A Caveat:
I do not have children. I have one in the making that feeds on my dinner through an umbilical cord with no conscious effort on my part. I do not speak from experience about feeding toddlers. I don't know if any given toddler will eat these things I've listed -- particularly if they've gotten used to pre-packaged foods that always taste a certain way -- but I don't believe in feeding children entirely separate meals based on what they prefer and if you encourage picky eating of limited foods you're doing both their growing bodies and their palates a disservice.... but check back in a few years and see if I managed to maintain my ideals.
Cannellini dip
Other Resources:
I looked for other blogs and websites that might be useful to you, but most seemed healthy but not super speedy (nothing under 30 minutes) or speedy but not healthy at all.  I thought this site might be useful.  They have a Toddler nutritional guide and a few recipes to make ahead and freeze.
My pantry bean supply.  I'm not necessarily advocating Goya, but they're usually the cheapest beans in Beantown.
Beans and rice are infinitely adaptable with whatever you have on hand, but it's nice to start with recipes. I just realized I've only posted a couple for beans and one for lentils, but Google'll give you a million and this page has some nice variations.

The commenter and the blogger, circa 1984
Our first forays into cooking were scrambled eggs which occasionally [always?] had too many additional ingredients to hold together properly and probably would have been too dry except we smothered them in melted American cheese. We would make them for the hosting parents whenever we spent the night at each other's house -- pretty much every weekend -- and were very proud of our culinary skills.

Cooking times for stovetop, unless specified otherwise.  You can make a big batch one night or weekend afternoon and it'll keep all week, or you can freeze any grain (not the pasta) in smaller portions and switch up your grains from day to day. 
Whole-Wheat Pasta - 8minutes
Whole-Wheat Cous Cous - 5minutes
Bulgur Wheat - Pour boiling water over and let site 10 minutes
Polenta [corn grits] - 10 minutes in the microwave.  
Quinoa -  20-25 minutes... the same as white rice, except it's a complete protein
Brown Rice (short grain Japanese rice is much tastier than long grain) - 50 min
Wheat Berries - 50 min 

I keep dried beans on hand, but almost always use canned for convenience  If you have a problem digesting beans, it's because your body isn't producing enough of a certain enzyme that breaks down the beans in your gut.  [same goes for cabbage, but different enzyme, I think] Keep eating them and you'll stop getting unpleasant side effects... and maybe take Beano in the interim.

My grandad's entire family lived off eggs for the most part during the Great Depression [his mother worked at an egg factory and she got to take home the fertilized eggs they couldn't sell] and it didn't stunt him in any way-- he still grew over 6 feet tall, played football on scholarship, became a rare earth chemist, and is still mentally sharp as he approaches his 90th birthday.  If that's not an ad for eggs, I don't know what is.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I inspired a post! I feel so important! Excellent info (some of it a bit over my head, i have a list of things to google). H loves scrambled eggs, usually a weekend breakfast treat. I can totally do that in 5 minutes, and will try adding in mixed veg. Also he likes black beans, but only if i make them from dried beans (beans,corn torts and spinach are my staples). And I LOVE lentils, just never thought about it for the boy. I'm actually going to the grocery store tonight and will see what I can do.