Dinner Makeover: Kicking the Takeout Habit
The Challenge: ‘I Want to Kick the Takeout Habit.’
Andi Jordan, 42
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Andi Jordan calls herself the Director of Domestic Affairs: She’s the mom of three teen athletes—Meghan, 19; Rachel, 16; and Matt, 13—and the wife of Chris, 48, who works long days as a city manager. Around dinnertime, her duties get especially tricky. “Matt will have soccer practice, Rachel will have a lacrosse game, and all of a sudden it’s nine and we haven’t eaten,” she says. Further complicating matters is her flagging energy: Andi was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2007, and the debilitating illness is draining. “My best hours are between noon and three,” she says. “By evening, the last thing I want to do is think about dinner.” As a result, the family often relies on takeout: pizza, burgers, the occasional rotisserie chicken. Chris is happy to cook when he gets home, but you wouldn’t call him a friend to vegetables. “My cooking mantra is ‘Everything’s better with bacon,’ ” he says. Eating more fresh produce would help Andi’s arthritis and be healthier for her family, and she does her best—but when she gets to the supermarket and faces a wall of greens, she feels overwhelmed: “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Real Simple food editor Charlyne Mattox encouraged Andi to get a week’s worth of meals planned at one time, and to do it when her energy is up—say, on a weekend afternoon. The same goes for prep: The more she can tackle in advance, the better. Charlyne then talked Andi through the produce aisle, teaching her a few simple techniques that will make garden-variety vegetables (spinach, carrots) tasty and give her the confidence to try new ones.
Create a Weekly Plan of Attack
One reason Andi is so overwhelmed: She’s been making frantic daily grocery runs. (“The store manager gave me his cell number, because I’m one of his best customers,” she says.) Knowing what you’re going to make ahead of time is half the battle, says Charlyne. She showed Andi how to use Real Simple’s menu planner to make a master shopping list for the week, then helped her order groceries online from the local supermarket for Monday delivery. “The checkout girls might miss me,” says Andi. “But this will save me hours each week.”
Expand Your Vegetable Repertoire
Andi had always suspected that there was life beyond steamed broccoli, and Charlyne showed her the light. “Charlyne covered my kitchen table with a garden of greens—some I had never even heard of,” she says. Then her cooking coach showed her three easy-to-adapt methods that render any vegetable—from Brussels sprouts to rutabagas—delicious.
First, Pick Your Produce
Like spinach? Also try chard, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, cabbage, escarole, or broccoli rabe. They can all be sautéed. (For method, see below.)
Like carrots? Also try sweet potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash, acorn squash, turnips, beets, or rutabagas. They can all be roasted, sautéed, or steamed.
Like broccoli? Also try cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or fennel. They can all be roasted or sautéed.
Then Make It Delicious
To sauté: Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few crushed garlic cloves and the greens (trimmed and coarsely torn) or vegetables (cut up); season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until tender.
To steam: Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water and fit with a steamer basket; bring the water to a boil. Place the vegetables (cut up) in the basket, cover, and steam until tender. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil or mash with butter before serving.
To roast: On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the vegetables (cut up) with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400° F, tossing occasionally, until tender. Drizzle with a little lemon juice before serving.
Get a Jump on Dinner
Andi owned a slow cooker but rarely pulled it out, because she assumed that it was only for dishes with a lot of processed ingredients. She was thrilled when Charlyne told her that she could use it to make wholesome meals with meat and fresh vegetables—like white bean soup and squash lasagna. “It’s perfect for nights I need to have dinner ready when the kids walk in the door,” she says. And for the other times? Charlyne showed her a number of ingredients that she can prep up to a day in advance. (Click here for healthy slow-cooker recipes.)
All Hail Panini Night!
On the evenings that Andi is too busy to cook, she doesn’t have to resort to fast food. Charlyne suggested instituting a weekly panini night. With cold cuts and leftovers pulled from the refrigerator, everyone can put together his or her own hot sandwich. “And I don’t have to do anything,” says Andi with satisfaction. (If you don’t have a panini maker, you can cook the sandwiches on a lightly oiled skillet or grill pan, pressing down occasionally with a spatula.)
7 Tasty Panini Combos
Two Weeks Later...
Rachel is thrilled; Matt is not. “He’s asked a couple of times, ‘Can we not have something new tonight?’ ” says Andi. (But he does love the paninis.) “I can’t identify most of the greens in our fridge,” says Chris. “But they do taste good when Andi cooks them.” Shopping online has been great, but planning is still a struggle. “I procrastinate because I worry that Matt or Chris won’t like what I pick,” says Andi. “So I’ve been letting Rachel choose all the meals—and she’s having a blast.”