Healthy meals for hectic days

Basil Veggie Chicken
(Photo provided)

Basil Veggie Chicken (Photo provided)

The second week of February is a hectic time around here. It’s Carnival time! So what’s to eat?

The carnival includes many food events where you can dine in style: there’s the annual mixer, the dinner theater, and a variety of meals sponsored by groups like the figure skating club, Habitat for Humanity or Friends of Mount Pisgah, You can even buy some chili from the Lions Club and eat it in the quietness of your home.

After a day of busy outdoor carnival activity and winter sports, you return home tired and hungry. A hot, hearty home cooked meal is called for. It will warm you up and nourish you.

Since there is little time to cook, so it can be tempting to grab convenience foods or take-out meals. Carnival time is a busy time, and a busy schedule can make good choices difficult. But you can make fast and healthy meals at home!

Here are a couple tips, and a couple fast and easy recipes.

Keep healthy foods within reach in your freezer and pantry. Foods like frozen veggies (and fresh ones, when in season). Foods like fruit, fast-cooking whole grains, lentils and whole-grain pasta. Lean meats and egg dishes can be quickly and easily prepared. Yogurt is a quick snack and can be used to make a fast sauce or dressing. Cheese is good to have on hand to add to sandwiches, salads, and casseroles. Make sure your fridge is stocked with healthy choices.

Healthy eating need not involve exotic ingredients. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep a file of simple menu ideas and recipes. These should be focused on things you’re likely to have in your pantry, so you don’t need to run out to the store.

Understand substitutions. You can often substitute one vegetable with another, or add beans in place of chicken, or vice versa.

Look for shortcuts. Use tools that help you prepare food quickly. I love my salad shooter. A mandolin or spiralizer can also help to shred or slice.

Skillets are simple combinations of meat and veggies that can be put together quickly. The side of carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes or grains) cooks while you prepare the dish.

20-minute Basil Veggie Chicken

Ingredients:

A little fat for the pan

1 onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 cups frozen broccoli florets

1 to 2 cups frozen cauliflower florets

1 to 2 cups frozen baby carrots

2 cloves garlic

1 cup diced cooked chicken

1 to 2 Tablespoons frozen basil (or fresh, or dried)

1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheese, like Parmesan or Cheddar or combination

Directions:

Peel and dice the onion; cook over low heat with fat and salt 5 minutes or longer, to soften.

Add frozen veggies and cook, stirring every five minutes or so, until thawed.

Peel and mince the garlic. Stir into the skillet, along with chicken and basil.

When everything is cooked to desired tenderness, sprinkle with cheese and cook until cheese melts.

You can serve this over pasta, with a grain like quinoa or millet, or with mashed potatoes; either side should be done in the same amount of time, or less. Or serve with crusty whole-grain bread or a French baguette.

Serves two to three.

Chicken and Green Beans, Hungarian Style

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast

2 onions

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

1 pound French-cut frozen green beans

1/2 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons paprika

Directions:

Brown chicken in oil on both sides; remove and set aside. Add onions and mushrooms to skillet; cook five minutes, or till onions are translucent. Add French-cut green beans; cook until desired doneness. Add reserved chicken. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and paprika, and serve over pasta, potatoes or cooked grain. If you start the water for pasta or grain (or start boiling potatoes) just before you cook the chicken, it should be done in the same amount of time.

Serves three to four.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at “http://www.wordsaremyworld.com”>www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as “Author Yvona Fast.”

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