Inspire a lapsed foodie to eat healthier
December 20, 2014 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Ever since daylight saving time hit this year, I have gone from "eager and willing home chef who loves her grains, fresh veggies, lean protein, and fun but complicated recipes!" to a lazy, uninspired glutton of convenience foods. HELP.

Snowflakes/context: This is an issue ultimately stemming from fatigue and poor time management. My partner and I are both currently working very long days and not getting home until anywhere from 7 to 10pm from our respective jobs. We both leave at dark and come home at dark. His job is very physical, whereas mine is sedentary. I'm an avid runner who uses her hour lunch break to hit the company gym (in the basement, where there's no sunlight) to go for a run and get some yoga in. I also still insist on using my 15 minute break to get a brisk outdoor walk in so I can absorb at least a little sun.

But lately, work is crazy (it's our busiest time of year and, again, it's a sedentary desk job) and I have been working straight through my lunch hour in order to meet my work goals and avoid being harassed by management. I'm finding if I take a break to go to lunch, I "lose steam" and fall behind. For a little while there I will admit that I wasn't good about making sure I still went to the gym after work ended. I've started making sure I go when I get home if I don't during work, and it's helped some. But that leaves even less time for fitting in cooking.

So, despite fairly regular cardio and stretching exercise and finding a way to get a little natural Vitamin D during the day, I still arrive home feeling wrecked and am too tired to cook, let alone dump cereal and milk in a bowl. It does not help that there is major construction on the road to my work place and it now takes an hour to get home where it once took only twenty minutes (even if I take the "back ways," I still have a 30-45 minute commute home right now).

Partner and I are, at heart, foodies who really enjoy cooking - I'm more of a recipe follower, he's more experimental. I have always found cooking to be a stimulating creative release in addition to a stress reliever. However, the difference between me now and me back then seems to be 1) I was doing it after an 8 hour work day rather than a 12 hour work day, 2) I was always in possession of some exciting recipe I wanted to try and 3) I was on a big "healthy eating" kick and while I wouldn't call my diet at that time pure clean eating, I was very focused on leafy greens and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

The things that used to get me really excited to cook include David Chang levels of food creativity (y'know, turning ramen into gnocchi), episodes of Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Wini Moranville's "The Bonne Femme Cookbook", recipes I found in Runner's World, anything Mark Bittman suggests, and reading about "how use science to make the perfect __________" in Cook's Illustrated.

But right now, none of these things are helping me get off the couch.

I want to eat healthy again. I want to love to cook again. I want kale, spinach, apples, purple cauliflower and blueberries back in my every day life, but I don't want to buy them and let them go bad in my fridge before I find the energy to use them (this is what has been happening lately - I buy the ingredients in a sudden fit of "I must eat healthy again!" only to realize I'm still just too tired and then they go bad). Letting food go bad is unacceptable for a number of reasons.

It's reached the point where the food I eat is so craptastic that my workouts feel a lot less productive than normal (which is probably why even though I'm exercising, I'm not feeling as many benefits) and I don't have any energy on my weekends.

Partner has been better about using his days off to cook nice meals for us - another reason why I feel bad about this, because on nights when I've been off but he's had to work all day, it's not uncommon that he's come home to me saying we're doing cheese and crackers again. Or angel hair pasta and store-bought pesto sauce again.

I need to find a way to feel inspired to eat healthy and enjoy cooking. What should I put on my grocery list? How do I plan a menu and make sure that Tuesday's dinner builds somehow off of Monday's? Is it possible to look in my pantry and refrigerator again and think "Yes I can!" rather than turn to my partner and say, "Let's just order pizza again?"

Seriously, if we order pizza one more time, I'm going to scream.

- Used to be a passionate home cook, now either bored or overwhelmed by the idea
- Recent seasonal and work changes = less time and less energy to even want to try to cook
- Need grocery list and recipe ideas to inspire/stimulate me to cook fresh and healthy meals after work

NOTE: I am NOT looking for freezer meals - I'm not interested in a big cooking-fest on Sundays and thawing food the rest of the week, no matter how helpful that may be. My freezer is too small anyway. What I want is to find a way to make simple, healthy food during the week so I that I can eat fresh while discovering how to love the cooking process again.
posted by nightrecordings to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
You could try a service like Blue Apron - you get a week's worth of fresh ingredients shipped to you and they are portioned out so you're not buying a big container of fresh basil that you'll never use the whole of.

For me, it's a thing that seems too expensive, and I have kids who'd never eat half the stuff that comes with those kinds of recipes, but it seems like a perfect service for busy people w/o kids who still want to eat healthfully.

Definitely Google it before you buy because I see bloggers giving discount codes for it all the time.
posted by sutel at 9:11 AM on December 20, 2014

Can you get premade things at the grocery store, like salad, chicken, good bread? Then you could make assembled dinners that are quicker than pasta and pesto. Or do things like baked fish, potatoes and veg in foil parcels - just bung in the oven but relatively healthy.

Generally I think you should be looking at stuff that doesn't need much thinking about on weekdays. Part if the problem I find is that planning and deciding takes effort
posted by plonkee at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't have a full grocery list or menu of recipes for you, but I do have some suggestions:

- With a schedule that crammed, I would consider whether it doesn't make sense to try for a middle ground between cooking every night and once a month: maybe cook every second night, and have leftovers the rest of the time?
- If budget is less of a concern, I would make fairly heavy use of the grocery store's pre-cut vegetables (eg packets of "stir fry vegetables") and other semi-prepared convenience foods.
- It might help to ID a couple of zero- to minimal-effort vegetables that you can eat as a side with something that takes a little more cooking. It doesn't have to be cooked--raw baby carrots have plenty of vitamins and are literally zero effort. For us, it's steamed broccoli--both my partner and I can't get enough of it, and it's healthy and takes no thought. When I can't think of what vegetable to eat with a dish, broccoli is it.
- in the vein of minimal-thinking, try getting a couple spice mixes or prepared sauces that you can put on a piece of chicken or fish and bake it.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2014

You might like Tamar Adler's method in An Everlasting Meal. She suggests you buy your veggies for the week (lots of different greens, garlic & onions, root veggies/squash, beets, etc) and cook them when you get them home. Then, you've got a fridge full of cooked veggies and can decide to throw together a garlicky-green and pasta dish or sliced up some cooked potatoes and pan fry them and have them with eggs. I don't think I'm doing justice to her idea; her book explains it better and is rather inspiring and has some good, simple recipes. She writes a little bit like MFK Fisher (and cites her as an influence).
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:28 AM on December 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

There are now really nice bags of organic frozen rainbow chard available. If you don't have them at your store, large prewashed boxed spinach salad or boxed kale salad is great in a time crunch. It takes longer to make angel hair pasta. Just put it in a pan on the stove, add a splash of water and a splash of whatever beer or wine is around if you want, and some mustard/sesame oil/soy sauce whatver, and cook for 3 minutes. Put it over some whole wheat cous cous that takes 5 minutes to cook on the next burner. Throw in some feta and a handful of walnuts.
Seriously easier than flattening the empty pizza box for recycling.
posted by third rail at 9:30 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you like sushi? If so, if you keep cooked rice handy it's pretty quick to make once you've got your technique down. Here's a thread from a couple of days ago about non-raw-fish sushi, so you don't have to worry too much about the fresh fish bit.

Mmm, I'm going to go make sushi.
posted by XMLicious at 9:47 AM on December 20, 2014

I went through a huge number of months of eating craptastic takeout - also kind of a dark period, with respect to stressors. When I started cooking again, I started basically and with comfort, rather than trying to go immediately back to the same level I had been cooking at before. So, I'd cook trivially easy things, like mac n cheese from a box with huge bunches of kale thrown in, or rice in the rice maker with a quick stirfry of cabbage with garlic - easy no-recipe things that are comforting to me, to give me happy associations and regain my confidence in the kitchen, while being at least a modest improvement over eating out. Strangely, I think I might now be much more spontaneous in my cooking than I was before, maybe because I was cooking more with intuition and feeling than deliberation.

It can definitely help to buy pre-cut vegetables, or pre-cut them when you buy; they should last awhile. When I'm feeling stressed, I am much more willing to cook if there are already pre-cut onions, pre-washed greens, mushrooms already sliced, etc., in the fridge and all I have to do is stand in front of the stove. You can even be opportunistic about it; if you're already chopping some portion of something for a recipe, just chop up all of it and put the unused portion away for later. But basically - don't beat yourself up for it if you're feeling too crappy to cook right now. You've got a lot going on, and you'll find your way back.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 9:53 AM on December 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm the solo version of you, with the well-intentions and lack of time (and energy). A few things that have worked for me:

- blue apron, as sutel suggests. (I think I now can get you a trial week for free as referrer, if you want to me-mail me.) The meals are still about 40mins of prep on average, but they're almost always delicious, I don't have to shop, and I get the inspiration of an expensive box of food in my fridge that will rot if I don't get off my ass and cook it.

- protein smoothies. I make a big batch (enough for 2 days) in the blender in the morning before work, and bring it in to sip throughout morning and lunch while I work. My recipe is built around getting as much nutrition in one serving as I can. (Watch overdoing it with fruit, as the sugar can make you crash, I find.)

- staying away from unhealthy food, especially at work. My current studio is actually pretty good about keeping snacks and catering healthy, but the last place I worked was all about surrounding us with 'comfort' food (sweets, donuts, chips, big carb /fried catered meals) while we crunched. That shite just makes me tired, and feel disgusting.

- rest on the weekends. Sleep in, eat out. Be indulgent! Weekdays are hardcore; use the weekend to recoup.

You and the partner you mentioned are taking turns taking care of meals / each other, right? That could be a big help, too.
posted by spandex at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2014

Oh man, I feel you so hard on this. When work is relatively light (which means "8 hours for multiple days in a row"), I'll come home and bound into the kitchen and spend 2 hours making a weeknight meal and feel great when it's done. But during winter, when there's crunch deadlines for grants and holidays and I have to trudge home over snow and ice at 10 feet an hour so I don't break my neck and I've been at work for 12 hours and it's been dark for half of those, all I want to do is lie on my couch until the pizza deliverer arrives, and then eat the pizza while still lying on the couch, wondering if the people at the pizza place noticed that this is the fourth time I've ordered pizza this month. Winter is the worst.

Recipe/meal planning ideas: Winter is hard because most quick-cooking/no-cooking vegetables are out of season. Relatively easy stuff:

Massaged/marinated kale--can be made the night before or the morning of. Also can be made sitting down. Wash kale, tear it up, work in some vinaigrette, let it sit, eat. Add beans or meat as wanted. Bonus: very few dishes.

Roast chicken takes about an hour, but most of that is just leaving it in the oven. With two people, you will also have leftover meat for other recipes/lunch. You can roast vegetables alongside and they won't require much work--peel some carrots, wash some potatoes, turnips if for some reason you like turnips, etc.

Simple/fast things to cook into pasta: oil/garlic/chili flakes, sauteed broccoli rabe, soft-cooked egg, olives, good hard cheese.

Oranges and other citrus are good this time of year and require relatively little work. This recipe is a keeper. Apples--honestly, I really don't like peeling/chopping apples, but if you can get good apple cider (the nonalcoholic kind--I live in the northwest, where it's ubiquitous from late fall through the winter), it makes an excellent marinade.

Other thoughts: can you shift either recipe prep or workout time to morning before work? I find that as far as energy level throughout the day, doing something physical before I settle in for a long desk shift leaves me way less tired than the other way around.

(If you don't have a salad spinner and can spare $10-$15 dollars for one, it makes the washing-greens--especially stuff like kale, which has about a million and one crevices full of crap--part of prep so much less onerous.)
posted by kagredon at 10:01 AM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sweet potatoes can be incredibly easy. Stab it all over with a paring knife, put it in the microwave for 3 min on each side, then peel+mash with butter and salt + eat.

Massaged kale salad - rub a little olive oil, lemon juice and parm. Literally less than 2 minutes. I use bagged kale which is a lifesaver.

Sometimes when I really have my shit together I will make a fruit salad - a good one, with grapefruit and pomegranate seeds and yummy stuff - and leave it in a big bowl in the fridge. Then I add a scoop to my meals and feel virtuous.

I know you don't like freezer food, but imo it's really easy and worth it to chop up and roast some delicata or a kobucha squash then keep it in your fridge to reheat as sides.

Also - not the absolute healthiest but I bet your local co-op has locally made pork sausages (not pre-cooked) that are insanely good. Throw one of those on the stove and serve with jarred marinara. Yumm.

I'm not crazy about relying on trader joes frozen meals but my freezer is stuffed with their frozen vegetables. They also sell minced frozen single serve garlic which is absurd but so convenient.

Check trader joes produce section for interesting bagged veggie blends - they have one called "cruciferous crunch" with shaved Brussels sprouts and broccoli that we've found to be really versatile. My sister makes it into a hash with bacon and it's delicious.

On a more meta-note: I've definitely been there, with grandiose plans at the beginning of the week and mound of fresh veggies on my counter, only to have them all spoil as a live-action testament to my failure. It sounds counterintuitive but what helped me was to stop shopping for recipes - which no matter how simple were usually way too complex for me to want to deal with on a weeknight - and instead buy vegetables that looked good to me in the store (not too much). Then I rely on my own kitchen smarts (which it sounds like you have) to eat them throughout the week. This has the added bonus of keeping meals simple, which is a win-win.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2014

Nothing nicer than a steak pan-fried in butter, salad and a nice piece of crusty bread imo. I'm liking pan-fried trout seasoned masala style lately too. Pasta is always easy. All those can be done in under half an hour.

(Not really your question, but if you live in North America, you're at too high a latitude to get enough Vitamin D from the sun in winter. Consider supplementing with D3 drops. I was fatigued last winter like you are now - I'd just drop when I got home; one doc thought it was depression, turned out to be a severe deficiency. I feel better since I started with the drops.)

Also, stir fries.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2014

You can make enough for leftovers without having to freeze anything. I've been trying to make some sort of large healthy vegetarian or mostly vegetarian casserole-type thing for dinner one night, and then use the leftovers as side dishes (or lunch) for a few meals later in the week. This Autumn Millet Bake (though I use quinoa) is great on its own and also great as a side dish to pork chops, which take maybe 15 minutes to cook. I made a giant bowl of this suggested French lentil and roasted vegetable salad, which again was great on its own and then worked nicely as a side for other steaks and chops. Having a vegetable-heavy side dish already made makes it much easier for me to expend energy throwing some dried herbs on a lamb chop and cooking it in a cast-iron pan, because I just have to do the one thing that evening to have a reasonably well-balanced "real" meal.
posted by jaguar at 11:08 AM on December 20, 2014

A small crockpot can solve this problem. You get up early to do your food prep, so you still get the food prep experience, and dinner is ready when you get home after a long day. You're still eating fresh food, and although the general trend with crockpots is to make a ton of food with the aim of leftovers, there's no reason you HAVE to do that. I have a smaller crockpot (6 qt?) I picked up a goodwill and it works great for my girlfriend and I.

Here are a couple of the simple recipes I've been eating lately that are in line with what you're asking for:
Greek chicken salad
Crockpot chicken verde (make your own salsa if you like). Great for anything mexican - tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc.
posted by zug at 11:33 AM on December 20, 2014

To get inspired and excited, you need more energy, and it sounds like your energy is in short supply right now. So it may not be realistic for you to experiment with zany recipes while you're this depleted. But you can make it easier to eat healthier foods. I'd say keep it simple. Get some rotisserie chicken and salad as suggested above, and maybe some clementines. Stock up on canned tuna, sardines, dried fruit, nuts, olives, almond butter, good mustard. Stuff that can help make a meal/snack more interesting or satisfying and doesn't go bad quickly. Plus a salad can be almost anything on top of greens. An egg, for example.

And don't be too hard on yourself. I just bought myself a bunch of frozen dinners because work is exhausting, I've been sick, and eating microwaved penne with chicken is a heck of a lot better than eating popcorn for dinner because I don't have the energy to even think of what to cook.
posted by bunderful at 11:42 AM on December 20, 2014

I'm also a lapsed foodie thanks to a bonkers work/travel schedule, and a compromise that's been working is to cook tomorrow's lunch/dinner while eating a half assed dinner (cheese and crackers or a sandwich or takeout soup) tonight. This hinges on you enjoying cooking (I love to cook and don't mind doing it at 10pm, I just don't want to eat that late) and also being ok with having your meal be a sort of proto-leftover. Chili is great for this.
posted by justjess at 11:44 AM on December 20, 2014

I go through phases like this too, and I think it upsets me and you more than the average person when we end up ordering pizza and Chinese because we know that we are capable of making delicious, good-for-us food with unique ingredients and it's frustrating that we can't do it during these phases of hard work and winter blues.

So here are a few things that come to mind that might help you.

1. Slow cooker. Throw a bunch of things in in the morning, and come home to a delicious smelling kitchen. This is if you are able to get home after ~8 hrs, otherwise 12 hrs might be too much cooking for most things. But look into it! Slow cookers are my favorite thing in the winter.

2. Order food from grocery stores for pickup or delivery. It usually costs ~10% more, but still cheaper than ordering takeout every night! If you pick up some quick-cooking food on the way home from work, you might be able to muster up some energy to steam that broccoli and carve into the rotisserie chicken. Don't forget the pre-bagged salad. You need to eat some healthy stuff during this stressful time.

3. Speaking of rotisserie chicken - do you have a Whole Foods nearby or a store that has a cooked food section and a good salad bar? Pick up some fancy pre-made salads, and grab pre-cooked whole grains that you would normally love to cook yourself but just don't have time for now. You can still have fancy ingredients that your foodie self will approve of, just gotta find a good salad bar.

4. Seafood. It cooks so fast! I make a chili lime swai fillet dinner in about 15 minutes - just sprinkle salt and chili powder over the swai fillets and bake for 10 minutes, then squeeze some lime over them. Or make a foil packet of tilapia, sliced peppers and onions and spices in the morning or the night before, after you already ate. Pop that packet in the oven the next day when you get home and let it cook as you unwind. Dinner will be ready faster than you can order pizza. Shrimp also cooks ridiculously fast.

5. Make use of your mornings. Pop a sweet potato in the microwave and cook it while you brush your teeth and get dressed. When you get home, you have a cooked sweet potato that just needs some salt, pepper, and a brushing of oil and 5 minutes in the oven at 450F to crisp up and to taste good instead of microwaved. If you forget it in the microwave for the day because mornings are hectic, it's OK, it won't go bad.

6. If even steaming your veggies sounds overwhelming after work, throw some broccoli in the microwave. Then add some cheese. Voila, fancy!

7. Get some sandwich stuff. Not just crappy cold cuts, but get some good whole grain bread, hummus or pesto or a truffle/mushroom jar as a spread. Get a jar of roasted red peppers to add to your sandwiches. So quick to put together, and these are all things you can put on your grocery list for pickup or delivery, so it's minimal effort on your part.

I hope this helps! I know it's hard to make yourself get out of the funk, but I think if you put in 5 minutes of effort you will feel so much better and will be more energized as a result.
posted by at 12:10 PM on December 20, 2014

Still thinking about this and expanding a bit on what I wrote before:

So if you have some fresh greens and fruit and then a good variety of shelf-stable items, cooking dinner could be something like:

* greens from bag + drained can of tuna or salmon + handful of sunflower seeds + canned lentils + a few jarred red peppers or olives.

* warmed lentils from can tossed with balsamic vinaigrette on top of a layer of greens, with an egg on top

* rotisserie chicken + greens + sliced pear + cheese + nuts + dressing
posted by bunderful at 12:45 PM on December 20, 2014

I don't know if it fits your personal threshold for ease/quickness, but once I had to go from all day simmer-a-thons to something that could be made start to finish in about an hour (our work schedules changed such that we eat our "proper home-cooked dinner" type meal as lunch before we start working long into the night, so it HAS to be ready by a set time or else we can't eat it!), I found the (sadly now dormant) Dinner Tonight column on Serious Eats very helpful. It fits a lapsed foodie's aesthetic because it has the same basic principles of those more complicated recipes--fresh, flavorful ingredients (many you've mentioned), flavor balance, etc.--but the ingredients lists are purposely short and I really did find almost everything I chose to make from the archives could be done in under 90 minutes easy. A combo sifting/search of the DT column with your favorite healthy ingredients and paying attention to comments to know if something's likely to be a success or not might be useful. It's upfront work finding the recipes from it you think you'll like, but at least for me that upfront work paid off in spades. I'm routinely amazed at how well we eat with relatively little fuss and time thanks to all those dishes.
posted by ifjuly at 12:50 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I'm feeling the same I head towards the BBC Good Food website. Particularly the Quick & Healthy or Under 20 minutes sections.
posted by newsomz at 1:16 PM on December 20, 2014

How about quinoa with kimchi and some sunflower seeds on top? Optional sriracha or other sauce on top. Pan-fry some tofu triangles if you have the energy.
I can't remember which cookbook author it is, but somebody calls them "Buddha Bowls" and it's just grain of choice + various prepped veg + sauce + nuts/seeds. You could buy pre-prepped veggies and sauces so that all you have to do is prepare a grain. As things start to feel a little less overwhelming, you can get back into homemade sauces etc.
Seconding taking a vitamin D supplement.
posted by bluebelle at 1:20 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

As many others are saying, you need simple things to make for weeknights. Being a foodie does not have to mean complicated meals. Channel Alice Waters or Mark Bittman.

This may sound obvious, but it was kind of a revelation to me when I realized that a slab of meat/protein+veggie+optional starchy side was both easy to do and very quick.

For instance, let's say I had a steak or pork chops in the fridge, as well as a head of broccoli. I'd heat up my skillet in the oven at about 375, while I chopped the broccoli (or better yet, buy pre-chopped florets) and dried/salted/peppered the meat. Once the pan is good and hot, I'd take it out and sear the meat on one side over a hot burner. Flip it and then put it back in the oven. While the meat is roasting, I'd steam or sautee the broccoli. The broccoli would be done by the time the meat is, 6-8 minutes. If I wanted a starch, I'd microwave a potato, sweet or regular.

Alternatively, you could start the process by putting some veggies in the oven to roast while the pan is heating. Roasted veggies are so great in the winter.

Or if you're in a pasta mood, it only takes a few extra minutes to make pasta+sauce from the store a little more special. Sautee some really nice sausage. Add some sliced mushrooms and the sauce. Doctor it with red pepper flakes, basil, whatever. Let it bubble away while you boil the pasta, then add a bit of the pasta water at the end. It's not a fancy meal but it's reasonably healthy and exactly the kind of thing that is appealing in the middle of the winter.

If all this sounds really boring and Cooking 101, well, that's where high-quality ingredients come in. And I bet you've got an amazing pantry to really take these kinds of simple meals and make them delicious, with a pretty minimal level of effort.
posted by lunasol at 2:38 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Rice bowls? Pre-cook a few days worth of rice, buy several different gourmet jar sauces; shake open a bag of sliced veggies and sautée with the sauce (+ meat if required) and top with chopped peanuts or sunflower seeds. All of this can be chopped in advance so when you come home it's just 10min to sautée and dump on top of the reheated rice. (Add bean sprouts or cilantro if you're feeling fancy.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:15 PM on December 20, 2014

Miso soup with a few thinly cut veg is fast and nutritious. An egg poached in it is superb. I find miso reminds me to eat more thoughtfully, as it transmits such a sense of well-being.
posted by Riverine at 5:24 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most grocery stores carry those various flavors of chicken sausages nowadays, and I buy at least a package per week. I typically slice them up and saute with whatever veggies (broccoli, kale, asparagus, mushrooms) I have on hand, then serve over pasta or quinoa with olive oil/butter and some fresh grated parm cheese. It feels like cheating because it's sooo quick and easy.

I haven't been into it much this winter, but in past years I get really into making quick stovetop soups; as long as you always have chicken or veggie stock/broth on hand, just about any ingredients - veggies, meats, starches, beans - can be pulled together into a soup pretty quickly! This is good for using those veggies that are just starting to turn. If you have an immersion blender, don't forget about that. Blending a potato-cauliflower or potato-leek soup, for example, can make it feel rich and comforting but doesn't have to have much/any milk/cream in it.

Last night I just nuked some sweet potatoes and sauteed some week-old soggy broccoli until it had some nice browned edges and that's gotta be pretty healthy for a lazy night meal, right?

Good luck, and don't beat yourself up too much about this. Everyone goes through phases like this in our lives when things are a bit upended.
posted by misskaz at 5:24 PM on December 20, 2014

Something that works for us is central staple + varied side dishes. So we might make a big pot of dal at the beginning of the week and then Monday is rice, dal, and coconut-creamed spinach; Tuesday is flatbread, dal, and zucchini with cumin; Wednesday is rice, dal, and cabbage with black mustard seed, etc.

Also, coming up with basic recipes that meet your standards for nutrition and can be varied. Variations on "soupy noodles" appear regularly on our weekly menu — it starts with aromatics (garlic/shallot/other allium/ginger if appropriate) sauteed until golden/fragrant; add whatever vegetables are on hand (bok choy/chard/carrot/mushroom/you name it) then choose flavor profile: tom yum paste/coconut milk/lime juice, or coconut milk/miso/lemon juice, or a yellow/red/green Thai curry paste plus coconut milk… add enough water to make as much broth as you want, then cooked noodles (rice vermicelli like the kind used in pho is nice, or ramen-type). Pretty quick, fairly simple, and very tasty.
posted by Lexica at 8:25 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I came here to suggest Tamar Adler. Also, David Tanis's One Good Dish.

Do a quick inventory of your seasonings and spices, throw out the old ones and and give yourself a new years gift of some new ones you can get excited to try. I've been cooking a lot with omnivore salt and can't wait to try their new sauce. Also, get some very seasonal produce.
posted by BibiRose at 7:05 AM on December 21, 2014

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