This Week: Give Lengthy Dinner Prep The Boot!

maxtrax boot

Some of you who know me know that I'm currently sporting this crazy brace - I have terrible tendinitis in my left leg/ankle and this thing is supposed to give my leg a rest and help decrease the inflammation.  The jury's still out on whether it's making any difference in the tendon, but the verdict otherwise is that it's a huge pain in the a** to wear around.  It weighs over 5 lbs. on its own, and comes up to just below my knee.

For some, takeout would be the way to go, but now, more than ever, I want a healthy meal at dinnertime.  I can hardly exercise at all, and, well, I'm "of a certain age" such that exercising is pretty much a necessity - unless I want to show off everything I eat on my lower-half.  So I'm trying to find more convenient dinners that minimize prep but which also emphasize healthy components.  And where do I go for inspiration?  Trader Joe's, of course. 

Here's what I do - I go into the store and hit the protein section first.  I check out the meat/sausage/tofu selection and see what strikes my fancy.  Note:  this is exactly the opposite of the way I usually shop: I usually have a detailed list made up, based on my menu plan for the week.  I am naturally incredibly anal. 

Anyway, I choose however many proteins I need, then double-back to cheese and pick up whatever might go with a particular protein - goat cheese is one I often buy . . . goes well with chicken, also on salads or in a quiche.  Then on to produce (for those of you who're wondering, this is the Memorial Drive, Cambridge TJ's).  Prepared green beans make life easy, as do broccoli florets.  Bagged and pre-prepared mustard/kale/spinach are super handy (although they never have this as an organic option - I buy it anyway).  And bagged mixed baby greens are a good thing to have on hand at all times.  TJ's often has bags of sweet potatoes that contain fairly small potatoes - I love these because it keeps portion sizes sane.  Also in the produce section are the packages of pre-prepped lentils and baby beets - these make great sides. 

Frozen food - there are a plethora of options here, but many have high calorie and/or sodium counts, so I steer clear of many of these things.  The one thing I get fairly regularly is frozen chicken quesadillas - they come two to a package, and one paired with a big salad makes a decent dinner.  I don't really care for their flash-frozen fish or their individually wrapped frozen chicken breasts - for me, the texture is off in both of these.  I have enjoyed some of the Asian frozen stuff in the past, but I don't buy those items regularly, either. 

Not a frozen item, but located above the frozen cases, are lots of yummy cookies and crackers, along with the genius 100 calorie chocolate bars . . . seriously, these are super.  They come in milk and dark varieties, and they might save you from devouring something huge - like a jar of that dark chocolate peanut butter madness I told you about last month.

There's nothing particularly exciting for me in the dairy section - but decent prices on yogurts, eggs, milk, etc.  I often stock up on Fage here.

TJ's has great prices on nuts.  If you stock up, store what you're not using immediately in the fridge - they won't go rancid as quickly.  And also in grocery are my favorite (yet admittedly hardcore) bran muffins - depending on flavor, either 80 or 100 calories per muffin and 12 grams of fiber.  Little fiber bombs, really.  I keep these in the freezer at all times and stick one in the micro for 1 minute to thaw.  Pair this with a bowl of Fage in the a.m. - you'll be rockin' 'til lunchtime.

So . . . what did I make the last few days?  I told you last Friday about how much I was loving the pumpkin butter - still haven't had that on anything but 0% Fage w/the toasted pecans, but it's still lighting my fire.

Wednesdays are soccer practice days for us, and we don't get home until 6:20.  That's super late when your kid needs to hit the rack by 7:30 in order to be a pleasant human the next day, so I nuked two of those chicken quesadillas for me and D and whipped out a bag of mixed baby greens, divided it between two big salad bowls, topped it with halved cherry tomatoes, sliced yellow bell pepper, some cukes on mine (D is a cuke-phobe) and topped it with a tablespoon of light ranch dressing that'd been mixed with 2 tablespoons of hot salsa.  Ole!  (L ate leftover pasta and some cubed baked tofu).  Dinner on the table in 15 minutes flat.

Thursday I topped another ginormous salad with TJ's pre-cooked balsamic chicken breasts - cold and sliced.  More halved cherry tomatoes, more cukes for me and bell pepper andcrumbled bleu cheese for D.  Used Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette on this - not sold at TJ's but a staple in our fridge.

Friday I salt & peppered organic chicken breasts from TJ's  and then basted them with a mixture of the juice of 1/2 lemon, a couple dollops of Dijon mustard, and approximately 1 1/2 teaspoons of EVOO.  I threw these in a lightly oiled baking dish and baked them in a 425 oven for about 25 minutes.  Prior to that, I washed and pricked a few of those sweet potatoes and threw them into the oven for about 40 minutes (your time will vary depending on the size of the potato).  I topped those with a little light butter (TJ's sells Balade brand, pretty good), a few shakes of pumpkin pie spice and a drizzle of agave nectar.  I teamed all this up with some steamed pre-prepped green beans topped with a drizzle of garlic EVOO (Annie's brand, from Whole Foods (formerly Conzorio)), a squeeze of lemon juice and salt & pepper.

Other side dish ideas - I've done these in the past but not this week - pair the lentils with some steamed greens and a little drizzle of melted butter and Dijon mustard and you've got a tasty little side.  Or use the beets:  quarter each one and heat them slightly in the microwave.  Then salt & pepper them and crumble a little goat cheese over the top - just delicious and so so easy.

I'll let you know what else I come up with in the coming weeks!