Trick That Lasts A Week – Simple Daily Dinners for Busy Diabetics
We are extremely busy. If someone we know is not busy, we start suspecting that something is not going well for that person. Some level of concern and compassion is always appreciated, and busy or not, everyone benefits from a good practical advice on clean and healthy eating. I respect people who find ways and make time for things that are important – health, education, family, fitness, community, planet, peace, and, of course, eating well and clean. When you are on a mission to control or fight diabetes, staying on your eating plan is of most importance. Commitment, planning, consistency, inspiration, enthusiasm are your good allies to achieve your goals.
Here is what inspires me. What we put in our mouths and our bodies means being fit and athletic versus being out of shape or overweight, ability and energy versus disability, good life versus pale existence… We are not going to nag about what we can or cannot do, and “beat ourselves down to death” for our mistakes and shortcomings. Instead, we will “love ourselves back to life”, really good life, by correcting those mistakes and creating new good habits, new lifestyle and new long-term assets like good health. If you want something, you must do it yourself – great motto. And certainly, we must feed ourselves well and clean with no compromise. This is my regular reminder to myself and to my family. If you agree with my words, adopt them; I will ask for no credit – this is not my idea but centuries-old wisdom. I am just trying to help the interested and myself.
Busy lifestyle should never equate to the situation where we willingly give up cooking and responsibility over food choices. This is especially important when managing diabetes and/or weight loss. Here I share one way on how to tackle the dilemma of wanting to eat healthy while having a busy working week schedule. The trick is simple: strategically grocery shop on Saturday or Sunday and prepare the big chuck of food on Sunday afternoon. This will leave you with a very small amount of work in the kitchen to throw together a dinner that is not compromised with typical offenders like sweet food, food that’s too salty, food from cans and boxes, etc. You will plan your diabetes-friendly dinners for the week ahead. As you read further, you will notice that there are no recipes that require precision. Plus, you can easily substitute some ingredients to something of you choice as long as those substitutes are also diabetes-friendly foods. We will be efficient and flexible.
Here is what we will cook during the week:
- Sunday: we roast two whole chickens and vegetables and cook lots of rice.
- Monday: we fix Italian-style chicken and vegetables pasta. We also make chicken bone broth on Monday or Tuesday that will be used as the base for our soup on Thursday.
- Tuesday: we serve chicken fried rice, Chinese-style.
- Wednesday: we assemble quick chicken tacos for dinner.
- Thursday: we have soup for dinner.
- Friday: I recommend inserting a meat-free meal at least one evening during the week, and I would choose Friday to do this by simply making a big cabbage and apple salad loaded with various other vegetables that you have on hand. Alternatively, you can “carefully” go out for some sushi (explanation follows).
After trying this plan, you will be able to come up with similar weekly plans with different proteins and vegetables – all it takes is just some up front creativity and planning.
Please, do you grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday. Here is what you need to buy, and you may already have some healthy staples in your pantry.
- TWO whole chickens for roasting, preferably organic, free-range
- Herbs and spices for roasting the chickens: Cajun spice blend, Adobo spice blend, fajita and/or tacos spice blend
- Bay leaves for soup
- Dried oregano and dried basil
- Vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom powders for smoothies (your choice)
- Garlic – 5 heads
- Onion – 5
- Red bell pepper – 2-3
- Lemons – 5-10
- Limes – 5-10
- Grape seed or avocado oil for cooking and extra virgin cold press olive oil for dressings
- Fresh vegetables for roasting: broccoli, asparagus, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash – pick and choose based on your preference and take into account how many people will be eating with you during the week
- Salad and soup “material”: 5-7 tomatoes (regular or cherry tomatoes), several firm cucumbers, cabbage (1 large or 2 small heads – it goes into soup and salad), 5-10 of carrots, celery (2 plants, for soup and salad), 1 celery root (for soup), 1 large sweet potato (for soup), 1-2 rutabagas (for soup), a box of fresh baby spinach (optional for salads)
- Basmati or brown rice
- Brown rice or quinoa pasta
- Frozen green peas – 1 bag
- Frozen corn tortillas – 2-4 packages based on how large is your eating crowd
- A jar of salsa of your choice – I prefer mild to accommodate kids
- Eggs – 2 dozens – organic, range-free if possible
- Tamari soy sauce (wheat-free)
- Toasted sesame oil
- Broth to dilute soup, 1 quart: chicken or turkey or vegetable broth (you may skip that and use water instead)
- Fruit: apples, pears, Asian pears, a few bananas (buy them slightly green so that they last through the week), frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries), frozen mango
- Optional: sour cream, parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, Asian oyster sauce, cayenne pepper, dried coriander, hard avocados (you will eat them later during the week on Wednesday with tacos), shredded cheese – Mexican blend for tacos, spinach for salad and smoothies, Applegate brand sliced roasted chicken and/or turkey cold meat (2 packages for snacks and breakfasts), Applegate or Wellshire turkey bacon (1-2 packages for snacks and breakfasts)
Please, note that the produce choices are NOT highly perishable and typically last through the week if they are purchased fresh on the weekend. I keep everything in the refrigerator except for tomatoes (keep at room temperature, spread on a counter or tray so that they do not touch each other and covered by a kitchen towel; cherry tomatoes are fine in a box) and all other fresh fruit (apples can be kept in the fridge for slightly prolonged freshness). Frozen berries and frozen tortillas should be kept in the freezer until needed. Dried spices, of course, can live in your pantry or kitchen cabinet for a long time in a tightly closed dry jar/container.
Quick Word on Some Snack Ideas: Have some choices for snacks ready at all times: hard-boiled eggs (boil for 10 minutes in salted water for easy pealing), Applegate turkey and/or chicken cold cuts, turkey bacon (bake it in the oven), cut up carrots and celery, slices of bell pepper (cut it up and keep refrigerated in a zip lock), cucumbers, apples, pears, Asian pears, occasional bananas and smoothies. Despite the high sugar content, for diabetics, bananas are typically ok to eat due to high nutritional content but in moderation if permitted by your doctor. Smoothies can be treated as a snack and a dessert, too, as long as you add no sugar or other sweeteners. Blend a couple of hand-fulls of frozen berries and a scoop or two of frozen mangoes (can also add chopped up fresh fruit that you have) with some water or favorite herb tea (no sugar) and a pinch of each – vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom powders.
Here is my warning on nuts and seeds: they are popular for snacks among people who know for sure they have no nut/seed allergy. This type of allergy is hard to deal with: it can change over time for the same person; one person can be allergic to one nut or seed but not the other nuts or seeds; someone can have a reaction by smelling nuts hidden in someone else’s bag… For these reasons, I strongly recommend NOT experimenting with nuts and seeds on my account, as I know very intimately how dangerous and scary allergic reactions can be.
Sunday Dinner – Roasted Chicken with Rice and Asparagus
Roast two chickens: start with washing and pat drying both chickens. Save the giblets, if any, in the freezer. Place both chickens on a large baking tray with rim to contain juices that will be released (large stainless steel trays for roasting turkey are wonderful). Rub Cajun spice blend on one chicken on all sides and staff it with 1 or 2 halved limes. Rub the other chicken with Adobo blend and staff it with 1-2 halved lemons (you may also opt for Herb de Provence or Tuscan blend as long as it is free of MSG or other unhealthy additives). Cut 2 garlic heads in halves and place on the tray with the chickens for roasting. Sprinkle a small amount of coarse sea salt and let them sit for no more than one hour at room temperature or a few hours in the refrigerator. Notice: no oil, no water and no cover. The chickens will air dry. Preheat the oven and bake the chickens for about 1 – 1.5 hours at 400F until done. Serve some chicken for dinner today along with roasted asparagus and rice (see below). Save the rest of the chicken as well as the juices and the bones left after today’s dinner (you will serve chicken during the week and you will use bones to make bone broth). Cold juice from roasted chickens can be added to any of the subsequent dishes that include chicken, especially the Italian pasta on Monday.
Roast your vegetables: if your oven has two racks, you can place the tray with vegetable for roasting on the bottom rack when the chickens are roughly half way done (otherwise, roast them while keeping the chickens warm). Use a large roasting tray and place a bunch of asparagus on one side of the tray, and broccoli and chopped carrots (or any other vegetables your decide to roast) on the other side. Vegetables should be washed and properly prepped (cut thick ends off asparagus, use florets of broccoli, cut broccoli stems, slice carrots diagonally into small enough pieces so that it cooks through), dried out and seasoned with some sea salt, black pepper and some grape seed or avocado oil. You will serve asparagus today but save broccoli and carrots for future dinners this week.
Cook lots of rice: double the amount of rice you and your family usually consumes at dinner. Cook it all and serve half of it tonight and save the other half for Tuesday’s fried rice dinner. Basmati and brown rice are good choices. Rice cooker – one of my favorite gadgets for the kitchen – would simplify your job! If you want to serve rice with tacos on Wednesday, add another cup (or so) of dry rice to your cooking bowl.
Monday Dinner – Pasta With Chicken And Vegetables
Make your dinner: cook your brown rice or quinoa pasta per package instructions. In a large pan, heat up some oil and sauté one chopped onion, a few garlic cloves and one chopped red bell pepper until slightly caramelized, then throw in some chicken (along with some chicken juice and roasted garlic squeezed out of the peels) and sprinkle with dried oregano and dried basil (½ tea spoon of each). Chicken should be removed from the bones (save the bones for broth) and sliced. White chicken meat works well for this recipe. Stir and cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes and add broccoli and carrots that you roasted yesterday. Cook until everything is uniformly hot. Add salt and pepper to taste. A small splash of balsamic vinegar is optional at this stage. Gently mix chicken and vegetables with hot pasta. If desired, slightly sprinkle your dinner with grated parmesan cheese (quality, not quantity, is important here).
Make bone broth: we also make chicken bone broth on Monday or Tuesday that will be used as the base for our soup on Thursday. Remove all remaining chicken meat from the bones and split it roughly in half and refrigerate – a smaller half with dark meat is for Tuesday’s fried rice and a bigger half is for Wednesday’s tacos. Place all chicken bones into a soup pot (you can also add chicken giblets that you saved yesterday), pour water 2 inches above the level of the content, add 2 bay leaves and about 5 black peppercorns, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to medium/low and simmer the broth for 2-3+ hours. Cool it off and refrigerate.
Tuesday Dinner – Chinese Chicken Fried Rice
In a small pot, boil some water and cook frozen green peas for just a few minutes until they are done; drain them and set aside. In a very large pan, heat up some oil and sauté one finely chopped onion until slightly caramelized, add a couple of raw eggs (or one egg per person) and quickly scramble them until eggs are cooked through. After that, throw in the chicken that you saved for this dish and cooked green peas, and sprinkle with some Tamari soy sauce (about one table spoon). Stir well and cook for few minutes. Mix in the cooked rice gradually, making sure that you do not add too much rice but just enough for the amount of other ingredients and plenty for the number of eaters you have. Add some more Tamari soy sauce to taste and some toasted sesame oil. You can also add black or red cayenne pepper to taste, depending on the likes of your dinner audience, to the main pot or to individual bowls. Time permitting, you can also make a side salad for this meal: chop up one onion, some tomatoes and cucumbers and spinach (if you bought it), season with salt, pepper, dried coriander, juice of one lemon, and a splash of toasted sesame oil. If you have leftover rice, serve it with tacos tomorrow.
Wednesday Dinner — Chicken Tacos
Heat up the oven to 350F. Wrap frozen (be careful when separating them) or defrosted corn tortillas in foil or parchment paper in packages of 5-7 per wrap. Place those wraps on the oven tray and warm tortillas up for 10-15 minutes in the oven. Meanwhile, heat up a pan with some oil and warm the chicken that you saved for this dinner and add some more fajita or taco spice blend to it (about 1 tea spoon or more, per your preference). Place tacos “material” in separate bowls for serving: finely chopped onion, salsa, chicken, warmed up rice (if you have any left over), shredded cheese (if permitted on your diabetic eating plan), sour cream (if permitted), avocado (if you bought them hard a few days ago, they should be soft now – slice it and put the pit in the bowl, too – this helps to keep sliced avocado green), halved limes for juicing, chopped up tomatoes (if you have any left). Get the tortillas out of the oven but keep them wrapped until they are used to keep them warm.
Thursday Dinner – Russian Cabbage Soup
Take the chicken bone broth out of the refrigerator and drain it through mesh colander into a large soup pot; throw away the bones, giblets, bay leaves and pepper corns. While the broth is warming up on high/medium heat, chop up 1 small head of cabbage (or ½ of the large head of cabbage), a couple of carrots, a few celery sticks, celery root, sweet potato, rutabagas into bite size pieces. Here is a tip: since you have to wash and chop vegetables for the soup, go ahead and double up – wash and chop the remaining cabbage, a few more celery sticks, and a couple more carrots for your tomorrow night’s salad – put the salad ingredients in a separate container or zip lock and refrigerate until tomorrow.
“Back to our sheep” – the Russian soup: put the chopped vegetables allocated for the soup into the pot with bone broth and stir. You may need to add more liquid to the pot to achieve the desired thickness. You can use water or broth (chicken or turkey or vegetable broth) but do not put too much as your soup should be thick – it is the main course for your dinner. Cook the soup until all vegetables are soft (taste sweet potato and carrot as they take longer to cook) and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup for dinner in a large bowl. If you have leftover rice, you can add some into the serving bowl, if desired. You can also hard boil eggs (add a pinch of salt to the water for easy pealing), cool them off, peal, smash with a dinner fork, and add to the soup bowl. If your eating plan permits, you can add a teaspoon of sour cream to your bowl, a very Russian thing to do.
Friday Dinner – Self-Discipline and A Cabbage and Apple Salad
Friday calls for something social. You can go out and exercise caution when ordering your food in a restaurant: avoid heavy fatty meats, avoid anything with added sugar, stay away from too much salt and simple carbohydrates, ask questions about ingredients, request for no dressing and no sauce, do not drink your calories, do not add sugar to the drinks, no bread before or with dinner, and so one and so forth. Even going out for sushi may have consequences with hidden offenders like added MSG and added sugar – both may be present even in your sushi rice for flavor and stickiness; so if you are very strict, order salad and sashimi and use low-sodium soy sauce (a bottle with a green top, not red).
All of this is too much to worry about when you are sitting in restaurant hungry with a menu in your hands. So don’t go out then… or go but take care of yourself before you leave the house: my advice is to eat before you go out, so that when you get there you can eat something safe and small with no compromise to your eating plan. Whether you are going to a restaurant or a party, have your healthy meal at home and you will not be tempted to make regretful mistakes due to hunger. So, if you chopped your vegetables last night, your Friday dinner preparation boils down to throwing some stuff in a large salad bowl: put the chopped cabbage, carrots and celery into a salad bowl and add some salt and pepper to taste and massage it with your hand(s) for a couple of minutes; then chop up an apple (discard the core with seeds) and some onion (if desired) and add it to the bowl (you can also add some fresh spinach, if you bought it); toss and dress with some good quality olive oil. On your plate, try a bite of the salad with some lemon juice and see if you like it. Satisfied and nourished, you will proceed into your weekend feeling good about your self-discipline.
On Saturday, make an effort to make a similar commitment to eating clean and healthy. Create your simple and rough menu for the week as well as for tonight. And for tonight, choose something super fresh and highly perishable – grill some fish, sauté mixed wild mushrooms, make the freshest mixed greens salad with raw asparagus, watercress and radishes, and eat lots of fresh berries for dessert. Compile your grocery list, go shopping, do as much cooking and preparation ahead as it is reasonable, and enjoy your dinner, always. You now have the knowledge and skills to succeed!