One of the unfortunate realities that 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic is that while sheltering at home is undoubtedly the safest way to prevent spreading sickness, the fabric of our society sometimes demands that we travel outside our comfort zones. Whether it is required for work, for doctor’s appointments, or even just to (safely) escape the feeling of cabin fever, we’ve had to adapt our lifestyles to balance safety and security with our daily demands.
Personally, I’ve lived in three cities this year alone, supporting my partner who has taken travel nurse contracts in places that are most heavily affected by the Novel Coronavirus. And when assimilating to a new area, I go to one of my safe spaces when I’m stressed: food. While comfort foods can sometimes make us feel the best because they remind us of home, sometimes they aren’t the healthiest options. Additionally, not every new apartment or hotel is going to have the appropriate resources to recreate mom’s home cooking. So I’ve pulled together a handful of healthy cooking options, and all you need is a kitchenette (or less!) to prep them.
For those of us with complicated dietary restrictions, each of these recipes is easily adaptable! Check out Mighty Well’s Cooking Hacks for more tips.
1. Curry or Stir Fry
Stir fry or curry recipes are great for three reasons: low prep/cook time, nutrient rich, and economic! Most stir fries are a combination of veggies, a grain such as rice or rice noodles, and a healthy protein source like chicken, fish, or shrimp. I found a Thai Green Coconut Curry that takes less than 30 minutes to cook from start to finish. It tastes great and only has a handful of ingredients that require limited preparation: green curry paste sautéed in peanut oil, mixed with coconut milk, chicken, your favorite veggies, and cuttlefish balls (completely optional to add texture and flavor).
However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, substitute out the chicken and add beans or eggplant and you still have a delicious combination of flavors! The only cooking utensils you need for this decadent recipe is a cutting board, knife, and a heavy pot to mix and simmer!
If green curry paste isn’t an option for you, try simply adding tolerated seasonings (ex: curry powder, cayenne pepper, or simply turmeric and salt) to the coconut milk for a simple-yet-delightful flavor!
2. Power Bowl / Salad
Sometimes after a long day you don’t want to slave over a hot stove top, and in this case you don’t have to! If you are unfamiliar, a ‘Power Bowl’ is a meal item that comprises entirely of nutritionally balanced super foods! There is no specific ingredients list for a ‘Power Bowl’ but some popular items include leafy greens like kale or spinach, a healthy protein like quinoa, salmon, or chicken, fruits and/or veggies like sweet potatoes, cauliflower etc. This amazing recipe consists of sweet potatoes, quinoa, leafy greens (including kale and arugula), apples, avocado, pecans, and dried cranberries.
While you might want to invest some additional prep time roasting your sweet potatoes and quinoa, there are pre-cooked or ‘boiled-in-the-bag’ alternatives to save on time and effort. If you skip the prep, you can put this meal together in 20-30 minutes and it can be served as a side dish, or you can increase your portions and consume as your main course!
3. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
While mom’s old grilled cheese recipe is one that hits me with nostalgia and makes me long for home, the traditional recipe is not the healthiest in the world. Butter to grease the pot, high saturated fat content in the cheese, and a high sodium intake make for a less than healthy meal (despite tasting oh-so good). However, there are healthy substitutes for just about every ingredient in a grilled cheese, without sacrificing too much taste! For example, a reduced-fat cheddar cheese mixed with a light cream cheese and canola mayo and sauteed in olive oil has 40% less saturated fat despite still having the same texture you remember. That cheese alternative paired with whole-grain bread and using olive oil instead of butter cuts your bad calorie intake by nearly half. I’ve attached the healthy alternative recipe here.
I always recommend cooking as opposed to canned alternatives, but sometimes you don’t have the time to prep all of your ingredients. For an on-the-go option, you can pair this grilled cheese alternative with Progresso’s Creamy Tomato with Basil (reduced sodium available) for a quick and hearty meal!
4. Oat Smoothie Bowl
Oat bowls are a great alternative to high fat yogurts or other breakfast options, and they also work as delectable dessert options too! This option takes the least amount of time to make, going from the kitchen into your belly in less than 15 minutes. While you can tweak some of the ingredients to fit whatever you prefer, the vegan recipe I’ve found and made calls for rolled oats, water, bananas, oat milk, peanut butter, strawberries, and vanilla extract (I subbed out the dates). You can also top it off with granola, fresh berries (I prefer blueberries) and a fresh honey drizzle.
This dish doesn’t require an oven, stovetop, or even a microwave (although you can microwave the oats for a smoother texture that appeases your palette). The great thing about oat smoothie bowls is that you can tweak and substitute ingredients that fit your preference until you find the perfect combination!
5. Tex-Mex Quesadilla
What do you think of when you hear ‘Tex-Mex’? Para mi, I always think of tasty combinations of cheese, beans, corn, and chicken, and it sometimes comes with a stomach ache later because I’ve eaten so much. That is until I found a delicious buffalo chicken quesadilla recipe. Now my partner and I share a whole quesadilla and it’s a great balanced portion! This recipe might require a little more preparation time than some of the other recipes, but it includes a litany of ingredients and flavors.
Quesadillas have a poor reputation towards being a healthy option but, just like grilled cheese, you can substitute your ingredients for healthier alternatives without sacrificing too much taste or flavor. A whole grain tortilla, portion controlling your cheese, and relying on vegetables and lean proteins create a balanced meal.
Jenny Hart is a contributing writer for Mighty Well and Friend in the Fight. Her goal is to create content to help people feel comfortable in their own skin and adapt to societal norms in stride. When she’s not writing, she’s at home with her two dogs!