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How to Simplify Cooking

March 4, 2014 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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March is Nutrition Month and this year's theme is Simply Cook and Enjoy. Knowing how to cook is a significant life skill and helps make it easier to get the nutrition you need. But, if you fall into the camp of people that think the words "cooking" and "simple" don’t fit in the same sentence, keep reading. 

One way to simplify cooking is by using pre-prepared ingredients. As a friend of mine puts it, pre-prepared ingredients are the "gateway into cooking".

If you're new to the idea of making meals yourself, you can ease into the idea of cooking, slowly. You may just start by adding pre-prepared ingredients together and heating them up. That's how I taught myself to cook as a teenager. The next time you might decide that you could grate that cheese yourself. Then slowly, you might decide that you could make that sauce or even roast that chicken. In any event, the skill of cooking can be learned over time. Just start with the basics.

Simple and nutritious meal ideas using pre-prepared ingredients:

Use the directions below to create three simple and nutritious meals using mainly pre-prepared ingredients. Adjust the amounts of ingredients based on the number of people the meal is for and/or if you want leftovers.

1. Pasta with chickpeas and spinach

 

Shopping list:

  • 1 package of stuffed pasta (refrigerator section) or any dry pasta noodles
  • 1 jar of lower sodium tomato sauce
  • 1 bag of prewashed baby spinach
  • 1 can of low salt or no salt added chickpeas
  • Parmesan cheese

Put it together:

  • Follow the package instructions to cook the pasta. 
  • In a smaller pot, heat the sauce on medium heat. 
  • Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add them to the sauce. 
  • Once the sauce is heated, add several handfuls of the spinach. Stir and add more spinach as it wilts down. 
  • Serve the cooked pasta with the sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

2. Baked fish with rice and veggies

 

Shopping list:

  • Some pieces of any plain filleted fish (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 package of quick cooking (low-sodium) whole grain rice mix
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill (or dried dill) 
  • Package of baby carrots
  • 1 cucumber
  • Bottle of salad dressing for dip

Put it together:

  • Preheat your oven to 425'C. 
  • Place the fish fillets on a non-stick baking sheet. Use a layer of parchment paper or aluminum foil to make clean up easier if you have it.
  • Cut the lemon in half and squeeze a bit of juice on each piece of fish. 
  • Wash and cut up some of the dill (just use the wispy part). 
  • Sprinkle the fish lightly with pepper and salt and scatter some shreds of dill on top. 
  • Bake the fish until it just flakes with a fork. Typically this will be 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness. Keep a close eye on it to avoid overcooking. 
  • While the fish cooks, prepare the rice according to package directions. 
  • Wash the cucumber and slice into rounds. 
  • Serve the fish and rice with raw carrots and cucumbers on the side and the dressing as a dip.

3. Roast chicken with baked potatoes and broccoli

 

Shopping list:

  • Pre-roasted rotisserie chicken
  • Some russet (baking) potatoes
  • Package of frozen broccoli
  • Bunch of green onions
  • Small container of lower fat sour cream (usually labeled "light")
  • Package of pre-shredded cheddar cheese

Put it together:

  1. Clean the potatoes, scrubbing off any dirt and rinsing them under water. Dry the potatoes. Leave the peels on. 
  2. Poke several holes in each potato with a fork. 
  3. Bake them in the oven directly on the rack at 400'C for 45-60 minutes. They are done when a fork slides in without resistance. 
  4. When the potatoes are almost done, put the broccoli in a small saucepan with about a ¼ cup of water. 
  5. Put a lid on the broccoli and bring to a boil. 
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 3-5 minutes until a fork just slides in to the broccoli. Drain the broccoli once it is done.
  7. On the side, wash a couple of green onions and chop them up into small pieces. 
  8. Serve a piece of chicken (discard the skin for a lower sodium and lower fat option), a baked potato cut open with a sprinkle of green onions and a spoonful of sour cream on top, and some broccoli. Top the broccoli with shredded cheese. 

These are just a few combinations to get started. Once you are comfortable with these basics, feel free to use whatever ingredient substitutions you like and make them your own.

Were you a hesitant cook that has become more confident in the kitchen? We would love to hear your story. Share it with us below or on our Facebook page.


Recommended Resources:

Dietitians of Canada: Nutrition Month
Food Skills for Families
Food Safety and You

Related Posts:
It's a Life Skill Not a Wife Skill
Greek Yogurt Dips Kids Will Love

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Comments (1)

Dean

Posted on Tuesday September 15, 2015 a 9:32am

Is 5 a magic number? I'm loving 5 ingredient recipes. No fuss, get it on the table fast. Reminds me of one of my favourite celebrity chefs, James Barber (AKA the Urban Peasant). I loved his approach to cooking, the antithesis of highbrow fuss. Thanks for the great post.

Dean

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