Meal planning is the key to avoiding dinner time panic attacks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When people ask me how I cook during the week, especially since I’m trying to change to a healthier lifestyle, I give the same answer every time — I cook on the weekends.

If I make spaghetti sauce, soup, rice (anything that freezes well) I always portion it out and place it in my freezer.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to have some fresh bell peppers, yellow squash and zucchini. I knew this week was going to be a busy one at work, and I would be later than usual getting home. I also knew that if I didn’t have something ready to put together quickly I would never stay on my healthy eating plan.

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So I headed to the grocery store and picked a up few items and began cooking. The first thing I did was start a double recipe of brown rice. Next, I took three large chicken breasts, halved them and flattened them some. I seasoned them well and began grilling them in my grill pan. Last but never least, I started on my vegetables. I chopped three yellow squash, one onion, three zucchini, two bell peppers and a package of asparagus. I divided these up on two plates so that I could stir fry them in batches, I wanted them to be crisp not overcrowded where they became soggy.

I cut up a bunch of broccoli florets and placed them in bowl, I covered them with a wet paper towel that I had wrung out. Then the bowl went into the microwave. I cooked them for 30 seconds on high and left them covered. This steamed the broccoli, made it a bright green and also ensured it cooked quickly in the stir-fry. I also got a handful of shredded carrots out of the refrigerator and placed them with the broccoli to be added to the stir-fry.

When my brown rice was cooked, I spread it out on a large cutting board so it would cool quickly, then I packaged some of it in 1/2 cup amounts in Ziploc bags. These went in the freezer, and the rest of the rice went into a bowl to go into the refrigerator for this week’s meals.

When my chicken breasts were cooked, I set them aside to cool, and began stir-frying my vegetables. If you don’t have a large skillet, do your vegetables in more than two batches. I let my skillet get very hot and then I put approximately 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. When it was hot I added my vegetables. I cooked all of mine until they were getting brown. You might have to add a little more oil in between batches. Try and use as little as possible, I also had some sesame oil that I used on one batch. When you are doing your vegetables don’t forget your broccoli and carrots along with all the vegetables you chopped. I added about a teaspoon of minced garlic to one batch of vegetables while they were cooking. When all of your vegetables are done mix them altogether.

So at the end of the day what did I have planned to do with these different components I had prepared? Well, Sunday night I made myself homemade fried rice, not only was it delicious, it took about 20 minutes. I heated up a little oil in my skillet, swirled it around and made sure it was coated. While the skillet was getting hot, I took an egg, and in a small bowl, I whisked it with a fork. Then I poured it into the hot skillet and swirled it around so it spread out very thinly. It cooked almost instantly, and I placed it on my cutting board, it looked like a very thin egg crepe. I then added a 1/2 cup of rice to the skillet and began getting it hot. I had to add a drop or two of oil, and when it started sizzling, I added about a cup of sautéed vegetables and a half of a chicken breast that I had chopped up. I stirred these constantly, and then right at the end I had the chopped egg and stirred it in, placed it on a plate, sprinkled it with a little soy sauce and ate it up!

One night this week I will have chicken fajitas with my sautéed veggies and chicken; another night I will pan sauté a fish fillet I have in my freezer and serve it with sautéed vegetables and brown rice and still another night will make my self an omelet with sautéed veggies in it.

In the end what it comes down to is planning so you don’t have to panic when dinner time rolls around.


Christina Hall writes a food column for The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at