Labor Day marks a turning point in the year. Summer is, for all intents and purposes, donezo. And, while there are some wonderful things awaiting us in fall (apples, pumpkins, Brussels sprouts [!!], and my birthday), there’s also that whole “time to buckle down and get serious before the holidays” thing that occurs this time of year. School starts, people return to work from their warm-weather haze and all of a sudden, life gets busy.
Everyone’s looking for time savers, and meal planning is a big one. I’m generally a mess when it comes to this: I make every effort to map out my lunches and dinners for the week, but inevitably, at the store I frantically run around dropping items into my basket and then come home with nothing I need. (Occasionally, this also happens when online grocery shopping.)
But scheduling out weekly meals comes with many benefits. It saves time on weeknights, since your recipes are already picked out. It can be healthier, since you’re likely to rely less on takeout and fast food. It saves you money, since your grocery shopping is strategic, and again you can avoid buying lunches or dinners. All in all, it makes life a lot easier — very necessary when you’re running around all week.
This week, knowing that I would have limited planning time since I was traveling Sunday night, I kept it simple. I wanted a versatile meal that required little effort and few ingredients, but could be eaten in a few different ways, since I get bored of eating the same thing day in and day out, and need to trick myself into making it seem new.
Enter this smashed chickpea and avocado salad. It’s a cross between hummus and guacamole, a distant cousin to the smashed chickpea and olive salad that Tom Colicchio makes, but creamier, more indulgent — it has all of the richness of an egg or chicken salad, but with none of the mayo-ness. There’s five basic ingredients and one step (smash), and you can eat it as a sandwich spread, dip or salad topping. Or best of all, on its own, straight out of the bowl you mixed it in. How’s that for saving time?
A few extra tips to cut down on cooking stress during the week:
1) My mom often cooks a bunch of meals on Saturday or Sunday, then reheats them through the week. Some nights, she’ll make a little fish or chicken quickly, then reheat spinach and rice — that way, she’s not spending hours cooking after work.
2) Make bigger batches when you do cook, so that you can use the leftovers for lunches or dinners later on in the week. Depending on what you’ve made, you can also freeze leftovers for long-term convenience. Soups/stews, casseroles and baked pasta dishes are great for freezing.
3) While fresh is usually best, frozen vegetables work great in a pinch. They’re more nutritious than canned, inexpensive and keep for a long time, so you can buy them well in advance and not worry about them.
4) Rather than packing your lunch in the morning, put everything together the night before. Store your filled lunch bag in the fridge, so that you can grab it and go when you’re bleary-eyed the next day.
5) It probably goes without saying, but invest in Tupperware. I probably own more Tupperware than I do anything else (shoes aside), and I put everything in them — sandwiches, salads, cut fruit/vegetables, dips/peanut butter, etc. Bonus: they’re more environmentally friendly than using and dumping plastic baggies every day.
What are your time-saving tips for meals during the workweek?
Smashed Chickpea and Avocado Salad
Adapted (barely) from Two Peas and Their Pod
– 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
– 1 large ripe avocado
– 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
– 1/2 small red onion, diced
– juice of half a lemon
– salt and pepper, to taste
– pinch of cayenne or chili powder
1) In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for the salt, pepper and spices. Mash everything together using a fork or potato masher. Taste, then season as necessary.
You can spread this on bread, eat it as a dip with carrots or pita chips, or combine it with salad greens for a light lunch. I tried all three versions and liked it all three ways.