If pregnancy exhaustion has taken its toll on your dinner routine (read: You’re eating takeout more often than not because you can’t muster the energy to make a meal) you’ll be relieved to hear a proper supper need not require hours of prep or a resume of skills. In fact, with a little help from the pros, you too can create a table-worthy feast. After all, baking a baby is no excuse to give up cooking dinner—the next nine months are nutritionally critical for both of you.
The dish on saving time: Peggy Kotsopoulos, host of Peggy K’s Kitchen Cures and author of Must Have Been Something I Ate, knows a thing or two about providing nutritious, sustainable food while pressed for time and energy. Kotsopoulos suggests strategies to make the most of your minutes:
Fall in love with your freezer. When cooking, always make extra so leftovers can be frozen into smaller portions for future use. This works for just about anything: soups, stews, chili, salmon, quinoa dishes, lasagna, burgers, etc. Later, all you’ll need to do is pull a healthy homemade meal out of the freezer, defrost and reheat it, and you’ll be good to go.
Keep healthy, convenient snacks on hand. Fruits like apples and pears come ready to eat and pack a nutritious punch. Veggies such as celery, carrots and peppers can be purchased already washed and chopped to save on prep time. Frozen veggies work great in stir-fries and soups, and frozen fruits are perfect for smoothies.
Cook all day. Not you—your slow cooker! Dump in the ingredients and let it do the rest.
Pressure cooker tomato mac and cheese
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 6 minutes
2 ½ cups chicken stock
3 cups elbow macaroni
1 cup heavy cream
1 15-ounce can diced tomato
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1⁄2 cup milk
1 ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
In a pressure cooker, add first seven ingredients and mix. Bring to a boil and place cover on pressure cooker. Once the tab pops up, turn down the heat to medium-high and allow to cook under pressure for 6 minutes. Turn off heat and release excess pressure by pressing on the release valve with a wooden spatula. Once the tab goes back down, open pressure cooker and mix in milk and both cheeses. Salt to taste, if needed, then serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
[tip] If you don’t have a pressure cooker handy, try making the meal on your stovetop instead. Boil the pasta according to package directions until al dente; strain and return to stovetop. Mix the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl before adding to pot of cooked noodles. Stir over low heat until cheese is melted and pasta is evenly coated, then serve.
Roasted salmon with veggie “sushi” salsa
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 18 minutes
1 pound fresh salmon filet (skin-on is fine)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
Veggie “sushi” salsa:
1⁄2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared wasabi paste
1 cup cucumber, peeled and diced in 1⁄2-inch cubes
2⁄3 cup diced avocado
1⁄4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1⁄2 sheet nori (toasted seaweed sushi wrap)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Cut the salmon filet into four equal pieces and place them on a foil-lined, lightly oiled sheet pan or cookie sheet. Sprinkle the lemon juice evenly over each filet then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place in preheated oven and cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until desired doneness is reached. While salmon is cooking, stir together the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and wasabi paste until combined. Add the cucumber, avocado and scallions and toss to coat. Set aside.
Slice the nori sheet into two strips. Stack the strips then cut the stack into thin slivers of nori. Add half the nori to the cucumber and avocado mixture and set the rest aside for garnish. Sprinkle the seeds into a small dry sauté pan and agitate the pan over medium-high heat until the seeds become golden brown and fragrant. Transfer into a cool dish and reserve for serving. Divide the rice among four plates and top each serving with a salmon filet. Arrange a few spoonfuls of the salsa over the salmon filet and sprinkle with sesame seeds and a few more nori slivers, if desired. Spoon any remaining salsa liquid over the salmon before serving immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Asian chicken salad with ginger sesame vinaigrette
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Ginger sesame vinaigrette:
3⁄4 cup plum sauce
1⁄2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons chili garlic paste
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup soy sauce
1⁄4 cup lime juice
1⁄2 cup sesame oil
1 cup grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely sliced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
8 chicken breasts
2 lettuce heads, chopped
4 bok choy, shredded
1 cup chow mein noodles
2 zucchini, julienned
2 carrots, julienned
8 green onions, sliced
1 red pepper, julienned
1⁄2 cup mandarin oranges
1⁄2 cup vinaigrette
In a mixing bowl, combine plum sauce, vinegar, chili garlic paste, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and lime juice. Mix for one to two minutes. Slowly drizzle in both oils while continuing to whisk until the oil has been emulsified. Whisk in the cilantro and sesame seeds. Transfer to another container.
In a large bowl, marinate the chicken breast in the ginger sesame vinaigrette for 5 to 10 minutes. (You can also marinate the chicken in a zippered plastic bag for up to 8 hours while you’re away at work for optimal flavor.) Place the marinated chicken breast on a hot grill until the chicken is cooked through. Remove it from the grill and let it rest for 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, place all the vegetables, chow mein noodles and oranges in a large salad bowl. Toss the ingredients gently with vinaigrette. After the chicken has rested, slice into strips and arrange over salad. Makes 8 servings.
It is absolutely possible to create wholesome, family-friendly meals in 20 minutes or less, says Kotsopoulos. “For busy mornings, smoothies are the easiest and healthiest way to start the day. I fill a blender with leafy greens, frozen berries, almond milk and a Vega all-in-one nutritional shake, which packs in greens, omega-3 fatty acids, plant-based proteins, vitamins, minerals and probiotics. I also plan and make key staples to last the week. For example, I’ll cook a large pot of quinoa (it lasts up to five days in the fridge) on Sunday. I might use it as a base of a stir-fry one night, heat it up with some tomato sauce, mushrooms and spinach the second night, mix it with almond milk and cinnamon for a breakfast cereal, or make quinoa cookies out of the rest.”