It’s easy for time to get away from us when we’re super busy and stressed, so the number one tip to Personal Chef Approach (PCA) success I can give you is to schedule your cook date into your week like you would any other important task. If you’re waiting until you come across that ever-elusive free time, it’s highly unlikely to happen. Both health and time with our loved ones should be high on our list of priorities. You have to make the time, and when you do, I promise the PCA will save you time getting delicious, nutritious dinners on the table in minutes the rest of the week.
Having said that, we all have crazy weeks where it is hard to carve out those 2-3 hours it takes to shop and cook (once a week). Don’t let time constraints throw you off course – even when every component can’t be from scratch, the PCA is still the healthier route. Here are some of my tricks to save time, without defeating my goal of eating healthy, and finding the time to enjoy those meals with the people I care about.
Compare products, and learn to read the ingredients list on labels! There is nothing wrong with using store bought pesto sauce or mayonnaise to save time, but learn to choose the one without, or at least the fewest, unwholesome ingredients. Watch out for high frutcose corn syrup – a highly processed chemical sweetener, partially hydrogenated – code for unhealthy trans fat, artificial sweeteners – again, chemicals not food, artificial colorings – the word artificial should be your clue, and any other word you find difficult to pronounce and your ancestors would not have recognized. Basically, you want to stick with real food, and keep some of these short-cut ingredients on hand.
Although the more whole and fresh the ingredient, the better preserved it’s nutrients will be, another short cut I’ll use when in a pinch is to buy some of my vegetables already prepped. This is more expensive, so you have to weigh the benefit of time-saving against penny wisdom, but shredded carrots and cabbage, or trimmed green beans can save you a fair amount of time and mess in the kitchen. The same goes for cheese, if the recipe calls for grated Parmesan, I will usually buy it already grated. If I only need a small amount of an ingredient – another favorite trick is to buy only the amount I need from the salad bar or deli section.
I prefer my vegetables fresh, but buying already prepped frozen vegetables is another cost and time effective alternative. It can save you so much chopping time when making vegetable soups or chicken pot pie. Speaking of which, I often buy the freshly roasted grocery store chicken to save time when throwing together a pot pie or chicken or turkey salad.
Give it a little thought when looking over your menu plan grocery list, and you’ll be surprised by how many quick but healthy shortcuts will cut down on your cook date time significantly. What are some of your favorite shortcut tips?
Asian Chicken Salad Cornucopia
My rendition of R&D’s Chinese Chicken Salad is an exotic treat you can toss together quickly with shredded carrots, red cabbage, and pre-cooked chicken without sacrificing flavor, or heating up the kitchen on a hot end of summer day. Don’t forget ingredients and heat level can be easily adjusted to suit your own specific tastes.
For the dressing
1/4 seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 limes + zest, one cut into wedges for garnish
1 tablespoon honey
3 cloves garlic, minded
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
For the salad
1 pound chicken, cooked and cooled
2 large carrots, shredded
1/2 red cabbage, shredded
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and chopped
1 12 ounce package udon noodles, cooked according to package instructions and cooled
1 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 scallions, sliced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 head iceberg lettuce, quartered
1). Whisk together the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1 teaspoon lime zest, honey, garlic, ginger, peanut butter, red pepper flakes and sesame oil. While whisking continuously to emulsify the dressing, add the peanut oil in a slow steady stream until all ingredients are well incorporated; set aside or store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
2). Toss together all of the salad ingredients except for the lettuce, and toss well with 1/4 cup of the dressing to coat, reserving the remaining dressing to drizzle over the lettuce. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
To serve, place 1 lettuce wedge off to one side on each plate (center edge facing towards space on plate), and drizzle with remaining dressing. Top from the center edge of the lettuce outward with the chicken salad ingredients, creating a cornucopia effect. Garnish with lime and serve cold.