A Meal for a Busy Day
Chris Xaver photo
Busy, busy, busy. It’s the mantra of families with children, trying to get from place to place, on time and with everything and everyone. Do we have the backpacks? Uniforms? The cello? The mitts and baseballs? The kids? Oh, and yes, we need to eat, too.
Trying to fit meals between games, lessons and meetings is such a challenge. On top of that, dinner happens every single night! Talk about pressure. Sometimes it just seems easier to get takeout. Zagat reports our national average for eating out is 4.5 times a week. That’s more than four times allowing others to control the amount of sugar, types of fat and amount of salt we and our families are eating. Plus, it’s costing us an arm and a leg.
But with a little planning, we can eat at home for a fraction of what it costs to eat out. And not only will it taste a lot better, it will be so much healthier, too.
But then what do we make and take? Sandwiches? Been there, done that. I propose we think outside of the bread and pack our bowls. Yup, I said bowls. Plastic bowls stack readily and can be handed out at the ballpark. I’m suggesting fried rice (or, at my house, fried quinoa) as your portable food item, a one-pot stir-fry that can be eaten hot, at room temp, or straight from the fridge. Who doesn’t love cold Chinese food?
What’s great about this meal is that it can be made ahead and in stages. I always have “rice” in my freezer made and ready to go. Let me explain why I have “rice” in quotes. I don’t eat rice. I choose not to eat foods that raise my blood sugar, so rice is on my no-no list. For many of my favorite dishes, I can simply substitute quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) for rice. So as we’re moving forward in this recipe, you decide what’s best for you and your family.
To make my busy life much easier, I cook my grain monthly and keep it in the freezer. You can cook your own grain one of several ways: on the stove, in the microwave or in a rice cooker. If you are substituting quinoa for rice, make sure you rinse it first, as it can have a bitter taste if you don’t.
Once you’ve cooked the rice, let it cool on the counter and then simply freeze. I put it in a zipper bag and then just pull it out and use in recipes all month long. That way I don’t have to wait 20 minutes to make it on a busy weeknight. It’s amazing how tiny short cuts can make our lives so much better.
So, once you have your cooked “rice” ready to go, reach into the freezer for the frozen peas. Having ingredients on hand means you don’t have to run to the store. There are certain foods that are always in my house and frozen peas and eggs (and chocolate) top the list. You can do a lot with just a few ingredients if they’re right there and available. The key is making sure you automatically put them back on your list when you’ve used them up.
Next you add your protein. Whatever you have on hand works: ham, chicken, shrimp, pork. For this recipe, I would stir in two cups of whatever protein you’d like. Make sure you chop it up small enough so it’s easy to eat with a spoon (or chopsticks, if you’re feeling adventurous). And we’re going to bump up the protein with egg. Egg is traditional in fried rice, and for good reason. A single egg adds six grams of protein. If you make your dish with quinoa instead of rice, you boost your protein even more because a cup packs eight grams of protein and amino acids, which lifts them from a grain to a “complete” protein.
With just a few ingredients in the pantry, and a couple more in the freezer, a quick fried “rice” is ready in just minutes. The great part about this recipe is you can add or subtract as your family likes. Love scallions? Put them in! If they don’t like them, just take them out. Love carrots? Add them. Broccoli? You get the point. Add or subtract to keep this recipe (and your family) fresh and flexible.
Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren.
4 cups cooked rice or quinoa
1/3 cup oyster sauce
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 large eggs, beaten with a few drops of water added
2 cups protein of your choice (cooked ham, chicken,
pork, shrimp, scallops, etc.)
½ cup chopped scallions and carrots
1 cup frozen baby sweet peas
Sesame oil, as needed
Coconut or peanut oil, for stir frying
Heat oil in a large skillet. When the skillet is hot, add the eggs and swirl so they coat the bottom of the pan. Let them cook as if you were trying to make an omelet, lifting and allowing the runny part to firm up as needed. Put the eggs on a plate to cool and then put the skillet back on the heat. Add more oil as needed. Cook scallions and carrots or whatever vegetable you like with a bit more oil until firm but starting to get tender (just a minute or so). Stir in the sauces. Add the rice. Add the protein. Chop the egg into small pieces and stir into the mix. Heat through (this should be only a minute or two). Season with a bit of sesame oil to taste. Serve.