From Take-Out to Quick-In
September 16th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
September brings full school schedules, homework and extra curricular activities. Robin Miller of Foodnetwork's Quick Fix Meals says the answer to dinner doesn't have to be take-out. She has the strategies to have dinner on the table faster than the pizza guy can ring the bell.
Relaxed summer meals are over. It's back to school, homework, music lessons, athletic practice, and 'What's for dinner?' and 'How soon is it going to be ready?'
"It all depends on the night. For me, 20 minutes or less could be quick, it really depends on how frantic your night is. If it is 7pm after soccer practice and you have 3 very starving children and a starving spouse, then 10 minutes is quick." That's Robin Miller, host of Foodnetwork's Quick Fix Meals. For her, getting a nutritious meal on the table in under 20 minutes is very do-able. Her strategy? Make a meal kit, "it's partially assembling a meal and finishing it when you are ready. For example, you might want to pre-sauté some vegetables when you have a little time. If you are already going to sauté vegetables for dinner tonight, do a double batch. Maybe you are marinating, or making a sauce, or a dip, or a pesto, or a chutney in advance. So that when it is mealtime it is basically assembling, reheating or heating, and serving."
Once you have your meal kits, then what? Miller says bank a meal, "most things freeze very well. For example, right now I have five little freezer bags full of caramelized onions because you know how long it takes to caramelize onions, 20 minutes. So, I made a huge batch one time of caramelized onions and bell peppers and then I froze them in one cup portions. I just pull them out, thaw them, and then you put that over chicken and you have dinner. You don’t need anything else you've invested the time before."
But, we've all had the experience of finding mystery food in our freezers, so Miller says to be sure to label, date, and rotate older items with newer. But what about starchy items that often lose something below 32°, "there are two things I think that don't freeze as well as others. Number one is potatoes. The only way they freeze well is if they have been roasted. But, if they are blanched in any way, mashed potatoes they just tend to break down to mush when you thaw. And rice, unless the rice is in a soup or a stew. Everything else I say go for it. If you've made a lasagna, make two, and put one in the freezer and bank it. Two months from now, you can pull it out on a Sunday morning, go out for the day, Sunday night reheat it. It's just great to know that you have food in the bank."
Miller says you don't need a big chest freezer, a home refrigerator/freezer is fine. And start small, if week night meals are usually take-out, replacing three of those with healthier homemade meals is a big reduction in sodium, fat, and calories.