Back in the Groove

So, as mentioned in yesterday’s chicken-tastic post, I have been eating out A LOT lately.


(via Hyperbole and a Half)

This always seems to happen to me. For all my talk about how much I love cooking, I’m a bit wishy-washy about it, frankly. I go through phases of being incredibly motivated in the kitchen, wanting to experiment to high heaven and craft new, delicious, and healthy recipes. Then, for no apparent reason, I just lose it. The thought of slaving away in the kitchen exhausts me, and all I want to do is curl up with a Burrito Bowl or a styrofoam container full of takeout sushi each night. It’s been especially bad lately. Restaurants and fast-casuals have taken over my life, and it’s not doing my credit card statement much good either.

Maki

Of course, there are many, many reasons why eating out every day is not a good thing. I mean, I definitely don’t prescribe to the idea that you can never eat out if you want to lose weight. Um, obviously. I love trying new restaurants, going out to eat with friends, and I firmly believe that you can make healthy choices when eating out. That said, it does make things much more difficult. When your dinner buddy suggests splitting an appetizer of mozzarella sticks, it’s pretty hard to say no. And when your entire group orders burgers, it’s a challenge to choke out your order for a lightly dressed chopped salad.

This is Good Stuff.

I am all for going out to eat, but (to run the food analogy to the ground) I know that it should only be a side dish to my overall food lifestyle, not the main course. So, I am going to make a concentrated effort to get myself back in the cooking groove, and stop eating out so often. I also really want to move further into clean eating, not just low-calorie eating. I generally try do that anyway, but it’s still really hard not to be stuck in the dieter’s mentality of “anything with fat grams is bad for you!”. To this day, I still tend to steer towards all the non-fat, low-fat, pre-packaged kitchen-helper options when I’m grocery shopping. Even though the meal that I made Friday was fairly decadent and used things like (gasp!) butter, eating a comfortable amount (i.e. not stuffing myself silly) of real food with real ingredients left me feeling pretty good.

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I’m still calorie counting (weeeeeell, most of the time), but I definitely want to reignite my desire to learn how to be healthy and balanced without caloric content being the sole determining factor of my meals. It is a learning process, so I know I need to be careful about not going overboard, but still! After all, if calories were the be-all and end-all, I would just be volume eating spaghetti squash for the rest of my life — and where’s the fun in that?

I’m actually pretty excited about having my post-roast homemade chicken stock on hand now to do some experimenting with in terms of homemade soups and sauces (as well as any other suggestions you might have for using broth!), and I am excited to restock my pantry with fun salad toppers. I would love to hear what your “go-to” at-home meals are! You know, the kind of meal that you always have the ingredients for in your fridge and pantry. If I’m going to break my bad eating-out habit, after all, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

What’s your favorite/easiest/best go-to meal when cooking at home?

30 Comments

  1. It sounds like you put a lot of pressure on yourself in the kitchen, really — there’s no need to go all-out experimenting every night when there are go-to recipes that are simple, quick, healthy and delicious! I love to cook, but I also really love really simple recipes. 🙂

    My go-to dinner — eggs with whole wheat toast (I either scramble the eggs with spinach/other veggies or have a salad on the side). I know, it’s not actually a recipe. 🙂 Do you have Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything? If not, it’s a great resource with tons of information and great recipes.

    Good luck!

    • I got “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” for my roommate, but I’ll definitely have to check out the original! I know, I probably do put a lot of pressure on myself in the kitchen. I just get bored so easily, it’s more fun for me to want to try new things than make old stand-bys. I do find I eat eggs a lot when I’m scrambling (no pun intended) for some noms though. I had an egg on top of braised red cabbage last night!

  2. Sadly my go to options, while real homemade food, are probably not the best choices. I try to keep homemade pasta on hand as well as sometimes homemade sauce. I can whip up a pizza out of thin air like it’s my job. So many carbs all the time. I’m trying to incorporate more protein and really cutting out processed crap.

    I plan on using Sundays as a cooking day and make a bunch of freezer meals that I can just heat up during the week. Unfortunately, all of my ideas for that are more pasta. Stuffed shells, lasagna, gnocchi. I may have a slight Italian heritage.

    But with the warmer weather coming I naturally cut out the heavier foods and this year I’m going to explore the lighter side of my Mediterranean inklings. I’m thinking Whole Foods olive bar!

    That’s probably more than you wanted to know…

    • Not more than I wanted to know — exactly what I wanted to know! But I agree with you on the not-the-best-choices front. I can always whip up some pasta when I’m in a dinner pinch, but that’s not really the option I should be going-to, y’know? I’m hoping that my cravings lighten up as the weather continues to be warm too. What I wouldn’t give to just crave some salads instead of anything smothered in cheeeeese!

  3. Katesays:

    I love making chili or chicken casserole at home–easy and healthy! I also find the Jillian Michaels podcast really inspirational for living clean, I’m pretty addicted to it. (and it’s free!)

  4. our go to meal would be pasta or bbq chicken. Pasta is something that I always have on hand, and I always have chicken in the freezer and bbq sauce in the pantry

  5. our go to meal is baaadddd. Chicken nuggets on top of three cheese tortellini with pesto sauce.. oy.. it is so good though!

  6. Grace @ Healthy Dreamingsays:

    Surprisingly I get into cooking ruts too but I try to get reinspired through blogs, tv shows, websites and try to make something new. It’s easier to force myself to make an effort because I have two other people to feed.

    My go to is curry dishes and brown rice

  7. I like to stir-fry fresh green beans, garlic, and shrimp with a little soy sauce and some ginger. You can make brown rice if you have time, but I usually just double-up on the green beans or add in a sliced red pepper because brown rice takes forever to make.

  8. Jensays:

    Things I always have on hand in my kitchen- risotto, Classico pesto (goes on everything from chicken to pasta to sandwiches and eggs), frozen Morningstar nuggets, smartdogs, pasta, tortillas, shredded cheese, frozen corn, frozen peppers, baby spinach. You can make so many things with those things 🙂 also for the hubs I have frozen chicken and tuna around too.

  9. My go-to healthy recipe is pasta with a super basic homemade tomato sauce. I use whole wheat pasta if I’m trying to be healthy, and usually add some protein like frozen turkey meatballs (or whatever I have on hand). It’s quick and delicious! I also make a lot of quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas, just a little bit of cheese, and some kind of bean and/or veggie filling.

  10. Laurensays:

    My go-to food is always vegetable soup! (My fav recipe-> http://allrecipes.com/recipe/black-bean-vegetable-soup/detail.aspx?event8=1&prop24=SR_Title&e11=black%20bean%20vegetable%20soup&e8=Quick%20Search&event10=1&e7=Home%20Page)

    I also almost always double the recipe, and freeze half. Soups & chilis freeze well, and if they are in my freezer, all ready to go, it stops me from eating or or heating up a Lean Cuisine!

  11. Jane Fsays:

    As Sarah mentioned I find freezing a good strategy. I try to exploit my
    cooking motivation to make interesting, fairly healthy soup, most of which I freeze. If do it two different
    weekends it gives me a little more variety. Granted I think about this plan
    more than I put it in action. ; )

  12. My husband’s favorite, bar none, is Mexican Chicken Casserole. It’s super-basic: poached, shredded chicken breast meat cooked with onion, celery, tomato, cumin, oregano and cayenne. Bell peppers too if you feel like it. Sprinkle on a little Monterey Jack, put it in the oven till it gets all bubbly, and serve with rice or quinoa.

    Plus, the broth you get from poaching the chicken (if you use bone-in breasts and take the cooked meat off the bone yourself) makes a lovely, light, clear base for Asian-style soups. Shred some napa cabbage, cut some carrot and daikon into matchsticks, add some noodles and a little shredded chicken or ham (or both), top with scallions, cilantro, sesame oil and mild rice vinegar and you have my husband’s SECOND favorite meal!

  13. Katesays:

    My favorite go to meal is Shake and Bake Italian chicken with steamed veggies. Probably loaded with sodium, but oh so good. Nothing like chicken marinated in Italian dressing then covered in more Italian seasoning.

    Maybe I am just lazy.

  14. I am that exact same way…some weeks I’m super determined to use every. single. vegetable. in our CSA and then other weeks I’m like, “Ehhhh, it’s just wasted food, let’s go eat out!”

    My go-to is rice cooked in our rice cooker (usually white rice, honestly, cause it’s quickest, but brown rice would be healthier), either Asian-style or Tex-Mex-style. If I go for Asian, I top the rice with whatever greens I have (or broccoli, cabbage, carrot coins, etc.) that I saute with soy, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, whatever Asian-y ingredients you want. Sometimes I also add avocado to this, sometimes I add one fried egg to this (especially good for breakfast), and I allllways add a million giant squeezes of sriracha. Delicious, fast, cheap, and better for you than fast food. If I go Tex-Mex instead, I top the rice with canned beans that I mix with various spices/herbs like cumin, mexican oregano, cilantro, squeeze of lime, whatever. It would be healthier to add veggies to this version, but honestly…I usually don’t because I don’t feel like prepping any for a quick meal like this. Add some avocado or guac or sour cream or greek yogurt, plus either salsa or sriracha.

    Another thing that’s really helpful to me is to make just a little bit extra of whatever you’re cooking to save for leftovers, particularly with proteins. If we grill chicken, for example, I’ll add one more breast and then use the leftovers to cube up for giant salads for lunches later in the week. Or cook up a big batch of white beans, eat some in soup, freeze some for later, and then use some for white bean hummus. Even using your potatoes & roast chicken meal as an example, you could make a shepherd’s pie with the leftovers by mixing leftover chicken with veggies and broth thickened with cornstarch and then top with leftover mashies and bake.

    Also, if you’re feeling really lazy, I say there’s nothing wrong with a smoothie and avocado toast for dinner. My favorite smoothie tastes like a milkshake–banana, strawberry, scoop of peanut butter, scoop of cocoa powder, scoop of protein powder, almond milk, and iced coffee concentrate. Avocado toast is just toast with mashed avocado, salt, and red pepper flakes, instead of the usual butter. The meal is a little high in fat (although healthy ones), but is really filling and tasty and around 500 calories.

  15. Just thought of a few more ideas!

    We also like to take Ramen noodle soup but make it a little healthier and tastier by adding in a bunch of quick-cooking vegetables (like broccoli, green onions, thinly sliced/grated carrots and radishes, greens, etc.) and a bunch of aromatics (thai chiles, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, green onions, etc.) Then we serve it almost pho-like with bean sprouts (if we’ve got ’em), jalapeno slices, lime wedges, fresh herbs like cilantro and thai basil, and of course…sriracha.

    Annnnd lastly, a great way to use up whatever extra veggies you have is to make little fritters out of them. Works great with squash, zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, etc. For basic recipes, you can look at these two recipes: http://farmhousedelivery.com/blog/?p=1326 http://farmhousedelivery.com/blog/?p=1607

  16. Homemade pizza is our go-to meal. But it’s seriously healthy- we make crust or use flatbreads and then add tons of veggies. I love it!
    I used to go out to eat all the time when I was younger, but for the last few years (and especially after my husband and I bought our house last year) I prefer to cook at home more than anything! We go out maybe once a week- if that. And I pack my meals every day at work (Don’t have the option to do anything else except eat cafeteria food! ICK!)
    When I first lost weight, I bought all sugar-free, non fat stuff. And of course, I dropped some weight, but then it plateaued. I changed my way of eating about 3 or 4 years ago, and pretty much only eat stuff you can get at Whole Foods. Definitely embrace healthy fats! They don’t make you fat- but sugar and saturated fat sure can!
    You’ll get it, Gretchen. You’re young and vibrant and very social. Just think about how you will feel AFTER you eat, and try to make choices you’ll be proud of.
    Oh- and always order first! I find that if I wait and everyone else orders something crappy, I’m more likely to follow suit.

  17. I have the same problem, eating out is just so much quicker and easier. It’s really just about convenience, although I know it’s terrible for me to do it all the time (ugh!)

    When I do love to make sandwiches for myself (probably because there’s not much cooking involved) and I love to make breakfast for dinner. When those all fail, salads are pretty simple to put together.

    PS. Is that a Good Stuff Eatery burger and fries that I spy? That’s my absolutely favorite burger place in DC…and now I want one. Thanks!

  18. I struggle with eating out too much also…it’s hard when you’re busy, social and always on the go! I have a couple of go-to meals…I’ve been making a big pot of vegetable soup on the weekends and having that for the week, and I also like putting some cream cheese on a whole wheat tortilla and then stuffing it with lettuce, pickle, olive and a little roasted turkey for a yummy veggie wrap!

  19. I just loooooooooove leek-cheese-minced-meat-soup (I have no idea whether there is a proper name for it). It’s easy to make and it’s so delicious.

    I don’t eat out a lot. Too expensive. On the other hand, I am not the most social person in the world, so maybe that is one reason too.

  20. I’m like you I go through waves where I love to cook and then waves where I eat out a lot.

    When I’m in the mood to cook I love to cook healthy casserole things that give me yummy leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day. My favorite home cooked dish to make is spaghetti casserole followed closely by healthy (aka not breaded) General Tso’s Chicken.

  21. I just love throwing chicken or fresh fish on my Foreman Grill. As a side, I usually eat some fresh or frozen veggies. Green Giant is really good and they offer individual serving sizes. Just pop those babies in the microwave and you’re done!

  22. I roast a lot of vegetables in the oven for a quick side dish (or main, if you’re really into veggies). Just preheat your oven to 400, drizzle your favorite vegetables with olive or grapeseed oil, add spices, toss to coat, and stick them in the oven for five to fifteen minutes (depending on the type of veggie). I buy a lot of prewashed kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper, turmeric and paprika, and/or nutritional yeast. All combinations are super delicious and super healthy.

    When I was in college (and really busy/lazy), I made a lot of quasi-Mexican food. This is good way to go if you want a quick meal because:
    1. Frozen corn is cheep and just needs to go in the microwave.
    2. Canned black beans are full of protein and are just need to be drained and rinsed.
    3. Avocado if the best kind of food ever.
    I made a lot of “taco” salads (with a tortilla in the bowl) and vegan quesidillas (hummus instead of cheese! I eat dairy now, but this combination tastes so good, that I still use hummus for my quesidillas).

    Obviously, his is all from a vegetarian perspective, but I hope you find some of this helpful! Good luck with all the at-home cooking!

  23. Andreasays:

    I would say that omelettes are definitely an easy meal, you just need eggs and then you can add whatever veggies, meat, cheese and herbs you have on hand – just needs some steamed green veg or salad on the side. I’d also recommend a book called Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely is great for quick, easy and healthy dishes. Although aimed at families I find it easy to scale down the recipes for one or two people. The book is organized by season and has weekly menus with a weekly shopping list to make it even easier. Not really a fancy, aspirational cook book but definitely one to help you get into cooking everyday. I have the low-carb version and she even provides ideas for sides for ever meal and all the nutritional information per serving. As a busy student who cannot afford to eat out, get take out or even ready meals on a regular basis I have to cook everyday and I’m sure you could too! Good luck!

  24. I totally get in a cooking rut sometimes as well. I generally enjoy cooking and love trying new recipes, but sometimes I just lose it, and all I want to do is throw a Lean Cuisine or Smart Ones in the microwave (which is still better than some alternatives). My go to meal is taco salad. I always have a already cooked lean ground beef in the freezer. I just throw that into the skillet with some taco seasoning and it’s ready in about 5 minutes. I serve it with tortilla chips, cheese, beans, salsa, lettuce if I have it, and sometimes healthy tortillas. I can have it on the table in about 15 minutes and it works for company as well. I skip the tortilla chips, so it’s pretty healthy.

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