I think most people assume that, because I am a nutritionist, I spend my evenings dicing kale and sweet potatoes to make a wild game stew while sipping on home-brewed kombucha. It is one of my great struggles with authenticity to admit that, after a day of telling people how to prepare amazing, nutritious meals, I am often over it by dinnertime.
Because I am a nutritionist, though, I don’t drive through the Taco Bell. Once, my mom asked me to for a patient of hers. My mom is a midwife, the woman was bearing down to give birth, and she needed a taco. The political fallout should someone see my car was too much for me to bear. I wore huge sunglasses and took my mom’s minivan, then had flashbacks of those 69-cent burritos that got me through college.
Luckily for me, I actually like to cook. On my less food-oriented days, it is highly likely I will go home and dice kale and sweet potatoes, although I’ve recently discovered a long-brew kombucha that has 5.6 percent alcohol in it, which is probably what I am actually sipping.
Cooking from scratch can be intimidating. Also, it’s summer, and it is as hot as a menopausal witch out there. No one really wants to bake a casserole. Not cooking a four-course meal from scratch does not mean we need to revert to frozen pizza or chips and salsa for dinner. Some of my favorite meals are the fastest, and especially those that are simple enough that I can tell my kid to make them (see: hotdogs).
I ran into a patient at the store the other day, both of us staring at the hot bar with all the fancy hippie food cooked for us like we had gone to some alternative college cafeteria. Nothing looked good. We weren’t standing there because we wanted to cook. We blinked at each other, me trying to hide the only two things in my basket (a bottle of red wine and a boozy kombucha) and him trying to hide the cookie in his hand.
“I’m not on the clock,” I say, half for him, and half for me. We commiserate about the options and how nothing looks good, then dive into the possibilities of our favorite fast dinners that require almost zero effort.
First, I tell him about my love of chipotle mayonnaise or the vegan version they make. This is probably the crux of most of my summer meals. I like to take a purple cabbage leave, smother it with chipotle mayo, slap a slice of roast beef on that baby, roll it, and repeat until I’m stuffed. It’s got all the goods: high vegetable content, protein, healthy fats, fibers. Tools required: A butter knife for the mayo. The plate is optional. If I don’t want to cook, I probably don’t want to wash dishes.
My more luxurious choice is a cheese and crackers tray, only I eat the vegan cheese. It has no nutritional value to speak of, but makes the dairy-intolerant feel slightly less sad about their lives. Slightly. I grab a box of nut and seed crackers, and some kind of great thing to put on top: hummus, roasted eggplant dip perhaps, or that Bitchin’ Sauce that is truly bitchin’. I grab some turkey, ham, or salami from the deli. Then I think about the vegetables: carrots, cucumber slices, or kohlrabi. It takes less than five minutes to spread that smorgasbord on a plate and call it a meal. Tools: A plate big enough for all the love, and something to cut the veggies. And maybe red wine—that seems like a nice addition.
My other favorite is lettuce wrap anything. Tuna salad lettuce wrap. Taco meat lettuce wrap. Leftover pulled-pork lettuce wrap. Baked tofu lettuce wrap. You really can’t go wrong. Place meat thing in a leaf of romaine, add some kind of flavor, shove systematically into pie hole. One can get rather ethnic with this, because I think Romaine grows all over the world. I’ve been known to have merely guacamole and salsa in my leaf, because that’s all I had in the fridge.
We don’t have to cook everything from scratch or fork up the dollars for some chemical industry food at the drive through. Not having time does not mean compromising on your health or the needs of your body. There’s a happy medium in there that meets your nutritional requirements, tastes good, and leaves you time for the things you’d rather do tonight. //
Ammi Midstokke is an adventure nutritionist and writer. In September, she’ll be hosting a sea kayaking and nutrition retreat in the San Juans with Breakwater Expeditions. To find out more, visit www.breakwaterexp.com